How can I reduce scarring after surgery?

Women in hospital bed consulting with a doctor after surgery

Any time the skin sustains damage, there is the possibility of scarring. Things like skinning your knee or accidentally banging it against a sharp object usually result in a scar the heals after a few weeks. But scars following surgery are a little bit different. During surgery, cuts made to the skin are much deeper and go through many layers of skin. This makes the chances of scarring much greater and increases the length of the healing process. Here are a few things you can do to help reduce scarring after a surgical procedure.

1- Wound care

This is by far the most important thing you can do to reduce your chances of scarring. Good wound care will keep the area around the scar clean and sterile and stop it from getting infected. Wound care involves things like:

  • Using a normal saline solution (salt water) or mild soapy water to clean the wound on a regular basis –as recommended by your provider
  • Not using ointments and remedies that were not prescribed by your doctor
  • Putting new dressings on your wound exactly as your provider taught you
  • Always washing your hands before touching the wound
  • Paying attention to any abnormal discharge, increased pain, or swelling around the wound. These may all be signs of infection.

2- Smoking

If you smoke regularly, then your surgeon might have told you to stop smoking for at least 6 weeks leading up to your operation. That’s because studies show not smoking can decrease your rate of wound complications by 50%1. The same is true for the post-operative period. Smoking can slow down the healing period and have a negative effect on wound healing.

3- Nutrition

The body must work overtime to heal the wounds caused by a surgical operation. Depending on the surgery itself, these wounds can be extensive. Intaking key nutrients like vitamin A, vitamin C, and zinc will help promote the wound-healing process. After surgery, your appetite may not be at 100%. Consider using supplements to make sure you’re getting all the vitamins and minerals you’ll need.

4- Keep your alcohol intake to a minimum

Have you ever wondered why drinking even small amounts of alcohol makes you need the bathroom soon after? It’s because alcohol is a diuretic and causes your body to pass large amounts of urine. This can lead to dehydration which leaves the skin dry and brittle. Needless to say, dry skin is not ideal for wound healing so try your best to avoid alcohol during your post-operative period and stick to non-caffeinated beverages.

5- Don’t put stress on your wound

Putting stress on your scar by lifting, bending, or doing anything that puts tension on the incision should be avoided. Stress can pull apart stitches and delay healing. The first few days after surgery is a time when wounds are particularly sensitive so it’s advisable to stay in bed, rest, and avoid any aggressive movements.

6- Scar treatment creams

Creams like vitamin E, retinol cream, or cocoa butter may help prevent scarring. Although the science around their use is somewhat mixed, many people do find them helpful. Any cream you use should only be applied after the wound has firmly closed (usually 2-6 weeks after surgery).

Even by keeping these tips in mind, remember that some factors of skin healing are just beyond your control. For example, things like age, race, genetics, and the size and depth of your incision all have an impact on how your scar will heal.

 
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1- American College of Surgeon. Quit smoking before your operation. https://www.facs.org/education/patient-education/patient-resources/prepare/quit-smoking

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