How to make surgical scars less visible
Surgery saves lives. It also causes scars.
Most of us are so focused on getting in and out of the operating room we don’t think ahead about incision care. Healing those cuts becomes a big issue the minute we leave the operating room.
The first step is to make sure you have clear instructions before going home. When should you remove dressings? What about stitches? What should you use when washing? What should you avoid? Should you use bandages, Steri-strips, Neosporin, expose the wound to air, or what?
Don’t Google, guess or ask a friend because the answers are highly individualized.
“Every surgeon has their own regimen for patients to follow during the first few weeks after surgery. You will get detailed instructions as to how to care for your incisions,” said Michael A. Loffredo, MD, a plastic surgeon with Cape and Islands Plastic Surgery in Hyannis.
After a few weeks, when the incision has healed, you can begin long-term care to minimize the scarring, he said.
Plastic surgeons specialize in making scars look as good as possible, and Dr. Loffredo recommends the following to help you minimize scarring after incisions have healed shut:
- Smooth a silicone-based cream over the incisions(s). Silicone is the best ingredient science has shown yet to treat scars.
- Stay out of the sun. Fresh scars that are exposed to the sun will stay red longer.
- Always use sun block.
- Wear wide-brimmed hats for scars on the face.
- Vitamin E and steroids have been shown to minimize scars.
- Avoid excessive pulling and tension, which causes scars to widen and stretch.
“Orthopedic surgeons may want patients with elbow and knee injuries to do range of motion exercises after surgery. These patients have to be careful not to exert undue tension on the skin,” said Dr. Loffredo who operates at Cape Cod Hospital.
Scars may be treated with silicone sheeting strips. These strips of silicone gel are adhesive on one side. You place the strip on the scar and leave it on during the day to help flatten the skin. The reusable strips can be washed in mild, soapy water. Silicone scar sheets or strips are sold under various brand names at drug stores and other outlets.
Plastic surgeons perform scar revisions when scars do not heal as favorably as a patient had hoped or when scars cause pain. Patients can ask their doctors if a plastic surgeon could improve their scars, said Dr. Loffredo.
“We can, for example, inject steroids into the scar to help soften and flatten a problematic scar or cut the old scar out and start fresh,” he said.
“A large part of my practice is cosmetic surgery of the face, body and breast. I perform face lifts, tummy tucks, breast implants, breast lifts, and breast cancer reconstructive surgery and treat patients of all ages who have very complex, problematic wounds.
“At the end of the day, we want each patient to scar as best as possible and heal well. It is very gratifying when cosmetic procedures improve self-confidence and self-esteem and help people feel better about themselves.”