No matter what kind of procedure you may be considering, following pre- and post-op instructions carefully will set you and your doctor up for success. Before going in for an aesthetic facial surgery like a blepharoplasty (a.k.a. eyelid lift), rhinoplasty (i.e. nose reshaping), or rhytidectomy (read: facelift), it’s important to make sure you’re fully prepared at home with a gentler skincare regimen than you might be used to. The same goes for less-invasive cosmetic dermatology procedures like chemical peels and laser treatments.
“A normal skincare regimen assumes that the integrity of the skin is not altered,” says Jonathan Cabin, MD, a board certified facial plastic and reconstructive surgeon of the Center for Advanced Facial Plastic Surgery in Beverly Hills. “Many products that we apply to the skin in a regimen are fine to use when the skin barrier is intact but, once disrupted from a procedure, can be very irritating and run a risk of scarring and hyperpigmentation.”
During a procedure, your skin undergoes trauma around the incision or area treated. For example, if you’re trying an intense pulsed light (IPL) treatment to remove a brown spot on your cheek, the skin around the brown spot can also be compromised and need to be treated more gently than normal for a period of time. If you’re undergoing surgery, the skin surrounding the incision site(s) can be stretched or temporarily disconnected from the underlying blood supply, which makes it more sensitive to chemicals and UV light.
The most important considerations for adjusting your skincare regimen after a procedure are the location and type of procedure you’re having, notes Adriana Lombardi, MD, a board-certified dermatologist at the Skin Cancer and Cosmetic Surgery Center of New Jersey. Different procedures disrupt the skin in different ways, so there’s no one-size-fits-all rule to post-op skincare. Here, we break down general guidelines for recovering from common surgical and non-surgical facial procedures.
Skincare After Surgical Procedures
When it comes to post-surgical skincare, the main objective is to protect the incision site to minimize scarring. “I give patients very specific instructions around incisions, as after care can be the difference between an invisible surgical result versus being able to tell something was done,” Dr. Lombardi explains. She gives her patients three incision-based rules to follow post-procedure.
- Don’t expose the area to water for two days.
- Starting the day after surgery, use a moisturizing barrier like Aquaphor three times a day for two weeks.
- Use a silicone-based cream that contains sun-protection, like Elta MD UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46, twice per day for three months.
Ingredients in your normal anti-aging skincare regimen can be very irritating during this time. Our experts recommend pausing on ingredients like retinol, hydroquinone, and vitamin C two weeks before surgery and discontinuing their use for four weeks afterwards. Instead, focus on a gentle regimen consisting of simply formulated, thin cleansers (like Cetaphil Daily Facial Cleanser or EltaMD Foaming Facial Cleanser) and moisturizers (like ZO Skin Health Hydrating Créme). “I see all of my patients the day after surgery, and, as long as everything looks good, I let them begin this regimen right away,” states Dr. Lombardi.
The amount of time they’re on it depends on how they’re healing, but two weeks is standard. Sun protection is also vital, because the skin can be more sensitive to UV light after surgery. Being diligent with sunscreen usage (though you should be wearing it all day, every day regardless) can help decrease the risk of post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH).
Skincare After Non-Surgical Procedures
Guidelines for non-surgical procedures generally require patients to use a refined post-procedure regimen. “There are many different lasers that target the skin in various ways,” Dr. Cabin says — and other non-surgical procedures that impact the skin barrier include chemical peels, facials, microneedling, radiofrequency, and more. While the amount of time you’re on a gentler skincare regimen varies, non- and minimally-invasive procedures often call for anywhere from three to seven days.
Just like with facial surgeries, pre-op instructions normally require ceasing use of ingredients like vitamins A and C and hydroquinone prior to the procedure (about five days before). Post-procedure, Dr. Cabin often recommends using the PCA Post Procedure Kit, which has trial-size versions of everything you need to begin your healing process.
Once your post-op care timeline is up, reintroduce the more active ingredients into your regimen one by one to help prevent irritation. “We recommend the patient start with AHAs and vitamin C and then add the retinol in last, as the skin tolerates,” he says. And, just like with surgical procedures, broad spectrum sunscreen use is imperative for optimal results.
It should be noted that in the case of deep chemical peels or ablative laser treatments that result in raw, compromised skin, very specific post-treatment protocols will be put in place by your provider that likely include medicated ointments and soaks.
Before you undergo any type of facial surgery or procedure, make sure you discuss the expected pre- and post-op skincare protocol with your provider. Using the right ingredients at the right time and incorporating gentle products during the initial healing process can make a world of difference in the way the skin heals. After all, a good skincare routine goes a long way. “Despite all the potential restrictions in the short term, it is vital to use a high-quality skincare regimen to preserve the results of any cosmetic, anti-aging surgery once you’re recovered,” Dr. Lombardi concludes.
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