Recovering from surgery doesn’t fall under anyone’s idea of “fun.” I understand that. However, your recovery is one of the most important stages of your cosmetic surgery journey.
I’ve performed over 20,000 plastic surgery procedures over my career. Across the board, the patients who follow their instructions for recovery and wound care after surgery are those who have the fewest complications, least downtime, and best long-term results.
Conversely, the few who don’t stick to their recovery protocol are the ones I see back in the office to treat problems that could have been avoided had they followed our instructions. They are also the most likely to have problems with asymmetry and/or less attractive scarring in their results.
Approached with a positive attitude and your “eyes on the prize,” your cosmetic surgery recovery can be a smooth, restful experience. Your reward is a beautiful look you can enjoy with confidence for years to come.
While your instructions will be personalized based on your procedure, age, health, and lifestyle, there are some critical aftercare instructions that apply to nearly every patient. Ignore the following at your own risk.
1. Never remove bandaging until directed by your plastic surgeon
Preventing infection and ensuring incisions heal correctly after surgery are utmost priorities. Surgical tape and bandages protect fresh incisions from potentially life-threatening—and results-damaging—microbes. Additionally, bandaging helps support incisions so your scars heal as thinly and flatly as possible and your results take their intended form. Leave tape and bandages on until your plastic surgeon removes them or tells you it’s okay to do so.
What can happen if you ignore this rule: Removing bandaging on your own is a terrible idea and can expose you to a myriad of problems: infection, bleeding, stretched or darkened scars, and uneven results. Please don’t ignore this.
2. Do not take any herbs, supplements, or medications without clearing it first with your plastic surgeon
Ibuprofen (Advil), essential oils, Vitamin E supplements, and many other normally-safe everyday items can pose a serious risk during and after surgery. Therefore, it is critical to tell your plastic surgeon about any and all medications, herbs, and supplements you take normally well before your procedure date, as you may need to temporarily stop using certain items. Likewise, do not start taking anything—even “natural” supplements—without asking your plastic surgeon first if it is safe to do so.
What can happen if you ignore this rule: Many substances, such as ephedra (in diet pills), can interact with anesthesia. Others, including aspirin and even fish oil, can lead to internal bleeding. Nicotine and many other items compromise circulation, which can slow healing and lead to poor scarring or worse.
3. Do not drive when you are taking pain medication.
Prescription pain medication can help you stay comfortable during the first 3 to 5 days, when post-operative swelling and discomfort typically peak. However, it is extremely dangerous to drive while you are taking pain meds. Have a trusted adult drive you everywhere until you are completely finished taking the prescription pain meds. Designate this person before your procedure so you don’t end up in a jam, and/or use a ride-sharing service as needed.
What can happen if you ignore this rule: You could endanger your life and the lives of others. Stay out of the driver’s seat, even if you think you feel up to it. Most patients are able to switch to Tylenol for pain management within one week at the latest.
4. Wear post-surgical garments as instructed, and use what your plastic surgeon provides
After breast surgery, liposuction, or a tummy tuck, you will need to wear a supportive, front-close bra and/or compression garments 24/7 for up to 4 weeks, depending on the procedure, and then at night for the next few months.
Post-surgical underwear isn’t fashionable, but it will help you enjoy a more comfortable recovery and better results by:
- Protecting healing incisions
- Helping your results take their intended shape
- Minimizing post-operative swelling
- Helping keep your recovery on track, thereby allowing you to resume activities in a more reasonable timeframe
It’s very important that post-surgical garments fit you appropriately. Too little compression and you will get no benefit, and too much compression could restrict blood flow. How to know what compression is right? Use what your plastic surgeon provides or recommends. Do not purchase your own unless cleared by your plastic surgeon—9 times out of 10, patients who do so are using the wrong type of compression.
What can happen if you ignore this rule: Ditching supportive garments too soon after body or breast contouring, or using the wrong type of garment, is a little like pulling Jell-O out of a mold before it is 100% set—you’ll probably be okay, but it’s possible that your results won’t end up their very best, and you may be dealing with unnecessary swelling and stretched scars. Not worth the risk.
Live in a sunny climate, like Hawaii? Protect your incision sites! Scars can permanently darken if left unprotected. You’ll also need to stay out of the water for at least one month for best results and to avoid risk of infection.
5. Stay out of the ocean, pool, and hot tub for until your plastic surgeon gives you permission.
Many patients are excited to show off their new bodies in a swimsuit after surgery, and here in Hawaii staying out of the ocean is a lot to ask. However, the ocean, pool, hot tubs, and other bodies of water are full of microbes and debris that can irritate healing incisions and potentially lead to infection if you jump in too soon. Your plastic surgeon will tell you when it’s okay to swim, typically around 1 month after surgery, depending on the procedure you had.
What can happen if you ignore this rule: Infection is the biggest risk. Also, swimming uses your core muscles and raises blood pressure, which can slow healing and place undue strain on your incisions and could lead to poor scarring.
It’s usually safe to shower 1 to 2 days after surgery with your plastic surgeon’s blessing. Ask for help as needed so you don’t strain or bend to reach certain areas. Once bandages are off, don’t be tempted to direct a shower sprayer onto incision sites. Instead, follow instructions you are given, which are typically to gently rinse incision sites and then pat them dry with a clean cloth.
6. Do not sunbathe without SPF or use a tanning bed
Healing skin is very sensitive to the sun, so you must keep incision sites covered with clothing and/or broad spectrum sunscreen, SPF 30 or higher, every single time you go outdoors for at least 90 days. Again, that’s tough in Hawaii, but wearing sunscreen is a small tradeoff for the confidence you’ll gain with being happy with your appearance.
What can happen if you ignore this rule: scars can darken permanently if left unprotected, even years after surgery. While somewhat treatable with skin resurfacing, it’s far better (and less expensive) to keep scars from darkening in the first place. Your plastic surgeon can recommend a safe, effective sunscreen if you need help choosing a product.
Have questions? Please call us.
When approached with a positive attitude and your “eyes on the prize,” your cosmetic surgery recovery can be a restful experience full of some well-deserved self care. Your reward is a beautiful look you can enjoy with confidence for years to come. If you have questions, or you are ready to begin your Honolulu cosmetic plastic surgery journey, I invite you to call my office to schedule your consultation with me at Breast Implant Center of Hawaii.