Risks of Tanning after Plastic Surgery
Written By Joe Gryskiewicz, MD, FACS
Plastic surgery is more and more popular nowadays. However, after surgery, it’s important to take certain precautions to ensure proper healing and minimize scarring. One of these precautions includes avoiding sun exposure, as the sun’s harmful UV rays can have negative effects on scars. Tanning after cosmetic surgery can potentially increase scarring and delay the healing process. Therefore, it’s crucial to understand how the sun affects scars and when it’s safe to tan after cosmetic surgery.
Minnesota plastic surgeon Dr. Joe Gryskiewicz has over three decades of experience performing breast and body contouring procedures. He can help you achieve your aesthetic goals while also reducing the risks and complications associated with any surgical intervention.
Types of Scars after Cosmetic Surgery
The type of scars that develop after cosmetic surgery will depend on several factors, including the type of procedure performed, the location of the incision, and the individual’s genetics and healing process.
One type of scar that may develop after cosmetic surgery is a hypertrophic scar. These scars are raised and often appear red or pink in color. Hypertrophic scars can occur when the body produces an excess of collagen in response to a wound. They usually stay within the boundary of the original incision and gradually fade over time. In some cases, hypertrophic scars may require additional treatment, such as steroid injections, to reduce their appearance.
Another type of scar that may develop after cosmetic surgery is a keloid scar. Keloid scars are thicker and extend beyond the original wound area, and are more common in people with darker skin tones. These scars are the result of an overproduction of collagen and can be more difficult to treat. Keloid scars may require more invasive treatments such as steroid injections, surgical removal or radiation therapy.
Some cosmetic surgery procedures, such as breast lifts, and tummy tucks, may leave longer, more visible scars due to the extent of the incisions required. However, a skilled surgeon can often place incisions in areas that are less visible or can be concealed by clothing or natural body contours.
Healing Stages of Scars
The wound healing process involves four distinct stages: hemostasis, inflammation, proliferation, and remodeling.
- Hemostasis is the first stage of the wound healing process. It occurs immediately after the injury and involves the constriction of blood vessels and the formation of a fibrin clot. This process stops the bleeding and helps prevent infection.
- Inflammation is the second phase of the wound healing process, which immediately follows hemostasis. This phase involves the recruitment of immune cells to the wound site. The increased blood flow and presence of immune cells help promote the healing process.
- The third phase is called proliferation. This is the period in which cells begin to divide and repair the wound. Cells such as fibroblasts, keratinocytes, and endothelial cells all come together to heal the wound.
- The final stage of the wound healing process is called remodeling. This occurs after the wound is closed and involves the reorganization of collagen and other proteins in the wound area. This helps create a strong, flexible wound that is resistant to further damage.
How Tanning Can Impact Your Cosmetic Surgery Scars
Tanning after cosmetic surgery can cause harm to the appearance of scars, as the sun’s UV rays can have negative effects on the healing process. Prolonged exposure to the sun can cause the scar tissue to become thickened, which can lead to an increased risk of hypertrophic scarring or keloid formation. Hyperpigmentation is also a common issue with tanning, and it can make the scar darker and more noticeable.
In addition to these potential issues, UV rays can damage the skin’s integrity, causing it to lose moisture and elasticity, which can delay the healing process and potentially increase scarring. Therefore, it’s essential to protect the scar from the sun’s harmful rays, especially during the first year after surgery.
It’s recommended to avoid direct sun exposure and wear protective clothing, such as a hat and long sleeves, when spending time outside. Using a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 is also crucial to protect the skin from the sun’s harmful rays. Additionally, it’s recommended to wait until the scar has fully healed before exposing it to the sun.
Alternative methods, such as self-tanning products or spray tans, can be used to achieve a tan without exposing the scar to harmful UV rays. However, it’s important to patch test any new self-tanning product to ensure it doesn’t cause an adverse reaction on the skin.
Tips for Protecting Scars from the Sun after Surgery
After surgery, protecting scars from the sun is crucial to minimize scarring and promote proper healing. Here are some practical tips for protecting scars from the sun:
- Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen: Applying sunscreen with a high SPF rating and broad-spectrum protection can help protect the scar from the sun’s harmful UV rays. Choose a sunscreen that’s water-resistant and apply it liberally to the scar and surrounding area at least 30 minutes before going outside. Reapply every two hours, or more frequently if you’re swimming or sweating.
- Wear protective clothing: Clothing can also be an effective barrier against the sun’s UV rays. Covering the scar with clothing, such as a long-sleeved shirt or a wide-brimmed hat, can help protect it from the sun. Clothing with a tight weave and a dark color can offer the best protection.
- Avoid midday sun exposure: The sun’s rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Avoiding sun exposure during this time can help reduce the risk of sun damage to the scar. If you need to be outside during these hours, seek shade or use an umbrella to create your own shade.
- Be cautious of reflective surfaces: The sun’s rays can reflect off surfaces such as water, sand, or concrete, increasing the risk of sun damage to the scar. Take extra precautions to protect the scar when you’re near these types of surfaces.
- Avoid tanning beds at all costs. Not only can they cause hyperpigmentation of surgical scars, but they can also damage skin cells, leading to visible signs of aging. Additionally, using tanning beds is linked to an increased risk of skin cancer.
- Follow aftercare instructions: Your healthcare provider will provide you with specific aftercare instructions to promote proper healing and minimize scarring. Follow these instructions carefully and avoid any activities that could damage the scar, such as excessive stretching, pulling, or rubbing.
FAQ’s About Tanning after Plastic Surgery
When is it safe to tan after cosmetic surgery?
Since it takes up to 12 months for scars to fully heal, it is best to avoid sun exposure on the incision lines for a year or longer to promote the fading of scars. Tanning after surgery and before the scars have fully settled is not recommended as it can have a negative impact on the aspect of the scars. Exposure to UV rays from the sun or tanning beds can cause scars to darken and become more noticeable, making them take longer to fade. UV radiation from the sun also slows down the healing process, which can lead to hypertrophic or keloid scarring. To avoid sun exposure and promote the fading of scars, it is important to take extra precautions when outdoors. This includes wearing protective clothing, such as long sleeves and wide-brimmed hats, and applying a broad-spectrum sunscreen to the scar and surrounding area. It is also recommended to avoid being outdoors during peak sun hours, which are typically from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Is it safe to use sunscreen on scars after plastic surgery?
Yes, it is safe to use sunscreen on scars after plastic surgery. In fact, applying a broad-spectrum sunscreen to the scar and surrounding area can help protect it from UV radiation and minimize scarring.
What can I do to minimize scarring after plastic surgery?
To minimize scarring after plastic surgery, it’s important to follow aftercare instructions provided by your surgeon. This may include keeping the incision clean and dry, avoiding activities that may stretch or pull the wound, and avoiding sun exposure on the incision lines for at least 12 months.
Does vitamin E help with scars?
Vitamin E is often used as a treatment for scars, as it is believed to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that may promote healing. However, the evidence supporting the effectiveness of vitamin E in scar treatment is limited and mixed. Some studies have found that topical application of vitamin E can improve the appearance of scars, including reducing their size, redness and thickness. However, other studies have found that vitamin E can cause allergic reactions or even worsen scarring in some cases. It’s important to note that vitamin E should not be used on open wounds or fresh scars, as it may actually hinder the healing process. Additionally, some experts caution against the use of vitamin E for scar treatment, as there are other, more effective treatments available.
The top shelf treatment based on scientific studies is silicone gel sheeting.
Further Reading about Recovery after Plastic Surgery
Medical References about Recovery after Plastic Surgery