Liposuction Surgery Scars


Beth Longware Duff, Medical Editor

Beth Longware Duff is an experienced writer and reporter whose work on a wide variety of topics has been published in numerous newspapers and magazines. Her health and medical writing credits include nationally distributed videos for the March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation, and she is the recipient of numerous awards including an American Cancer Society Media Award and a New England Press Association Award for Health Reporting. She holds a degree in Communications from Ithaca College.

August 06 2008

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Liposuction (also known as lipoplasty) is a surgical procedure that removes excess and unwanted fat that has not responded to diet and exercise. It can be performed almost anywhere on the body, including the face and neck, chest, abdomen, back, "love handles", buttocks, hips, and thighs. While not a substitute for weight loss, it works well as a spot reduction and body contouring tool. When performed well on a candidate who's well suited for liposuction surgery, it results in a leaner, smoother appearance – and scars. Small scars, even tiny scars, but scars nevertheless.

Liposuction consistently ranks high in the top five surgical cosmetic procedures performed in the United States. In 2007, in fact, it ranked first overall ahead of breast augmentation, eyelid surgery, abdominoplasty and breast reduction. More than 450,000 liposuction procedures were performed in the U.S. in 2007, according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery statistics.

In simplest terms, liposuction is performed with an instrument called a cannula that is connected by a tube to a vacuum pump machine. A small incision is made in the skin and the cannula is inserted into the targeted pockets of fat. The surgeon moves the cannula tip back and forth to break up the fat, which is then sucked out through the tube. Several different liposuction techniques are currently in use, including dry, tumescent, super-wet, internal and external ultrasound-assisted liposuction (UAL), and power-assisted liposuction (PAL). Newer and experimental procedures, like laser liposuction, emulsify the fat, which is then drained or absorbed by the body with no vacuum required.

How Big Are Liposuction Scars?
Regardless of the type of liposuction, incisions are standard operating procedure. One of the first rules of surgery is: Make an incision, get a scar. There's really no way around it. Luckily, liposuction scars are typically so small (between 4 and 10 mm, or 0.2 and 0.4 inches) that, once healed, they border on invisible. Or they're strategically placed in an area of the body (within natural skin creases, pubic hair, or the navel) where they're not easily visible. And postsurgical scar treatment can be used to minimize their appearance.

There are two types of scars that can remain on the skin after liposuction. One is a true scar, the kind left behind by an incision; the other is called dyschromia, which is the term for any abnormality in the color of the skin. Dyschromia can be seen as either dark (hyperpigmentation) or light (hypopigmentation) spots on the skin.

The degree of scarring depends on several factors including the patient's genetic tendency to scar and the surgeon's technique. The very small cannulas, referred to as microcanulas, used in modern liposuction require very small incisions, resulting in very small scars. Most will fade with time, although they tend to remain more visible in patients with darker skin.

What Can Be Done to Minimize Scarring After Liposuction?
Several techniques can be used to minimize the appearance of liposuction scars once they are healed. Massaging them with a fingertip and protecting them from the sun can keep them from hardening or darkening in color. There are also scar minimizing creams and gels (Mederma, Kelocote, Cimeosil) that work well for some people. Topical vitamin E is highly touted by some, although there is scientific evidence that it can worsen the appearance of scars in many cases. Silicone sheeting is gaining in popularity, as are surgical paper tapes like Steri-StripsĀ®, which flatten and fade the scars. Some surgeons recommend using Retin A, an acne medication, along the healed incision line in conjunction with the paper tapes.

All of these therapies will not work for all patients, so it's important to consult with your plastic surgeon for advice on how to deal with your liposuction scars. He or she may even have some different recommendations that will help keep scarring to a minimum.