Scars are inevitable by-products of any surgical procedure, but as the mark of plastic surgery they’re a bit ironic. The goal of cosmetic and reconstructive surgery is to improve the body’s form and function, and the fact that procedures leave their traces seems a bit unfair.
But there you have it—scarring is unavoidable. What are scars, exactly? And what can be done to minimize them?
Scars are made up of collagen fibers the body produces to close and heal a wound. Most scars lie flat and, though they may start out red, eventually take on a color slightly paler than the rest of the skin. Some scars, called hypertrophic scars, are raised above the skin level, and some, particularly acne scars, can sink into pits below the level of the surrounding skin. Keloid scars can develop into large, lumpy masses (outside the original scar) that look like tumors, although they’re benign. Keloid scars are most common in dark-skinned people.
Reducing the appearance of scars is an ongoing pursuit in the medical field, and so far limited progress has been made. Many surgeons will apply dressings made of silicone after surgery; these have been shown to help reduce scarring. Your surgeon may prescribe a special healing regimen for you if you scar easily.
As a patient, what can you do? The most important thing you can do to take care of your skin, whether it’s wounded or not, is to give up smoking. Smoking hampers circulation, therefore depriving skin of the oxygen it needs to look and feel healthy. Other steps to take are:
- Keep your wounds clean, but refrain from using drying agents like alcohol
- Resist the temptation to pick at scabs
- Keep your skin protected from the sun
- Eat a healthy diet with plenty of protein, fiber and vitamins
- After your sutures have been removed and incisions have healed, massage scars
gently to encourage tissue flexibility and discourage lumps
Sometimes, despite all efforts, patients end up with a scar that’s cosmetically unappealing or one that restricts motion. If this should happen to you, consulting a board-certified plastic surgeon is a good move.