Protecting Your Skin After Cosmetic Surgery

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Valerie DeBenedette, Senior Medical Editor

Valerie DeBenedette is a science writer who specializes in keeping people informed about medicine and their health. She has more than 20 years of experience writing for newspapers, magazines, and websites and has written about most areas of medicine. For many years, she was a contributing writer to Cosmetic Dermatology and to Drug Topics, the leading pharmacy trade magazine. She also was a contributing editor to The Physician and Sportsmedicine for many years. She has written about most fields of medicine, including dermatology, sportsmedicine, ophthalmology, general surgery, orthopedics, and women's health; as well as public health policy and the pharmaceutical industry. In addition, she is the author of Caffeine, a book for young people. She is a member of the National Association of Science Writers.


July 17 2007

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Congratulations! You've just had cosmetic surgery or a skin glycolic acid peel and you look fabulous. Now you need to keep your new look looking new, which means that you need to use serious sun protection.

Using sun protection should already come naturally to you, since protecting your skin from the sun helps you avoid looking older. Sun exposure damages the skin and can lead to problems ranging from freckles and wrinkles to skin cancer. Tanned skin is damaged skin. Having a face lift, acid peel or a facial skin resurfacing procedure and not protecting your face from the sun afterwards is like buying a beautiful new set of china and then scratching it up with scouring pads.

A fresh cosmetic surgery scar is usually pink and can become sunburned easily if it is exposed to the sun. This is true no matter what color your skin is. If a scar tissue gets sunburned, it may never fade to your normal skin color and may always be darker than the rest of your skin. There is little that can be done once a healing scar has become sunburned, so the best treatment is prevention.

But sun protection is not just for people who have had facial cosmetic procedures. All surgical scars need to be protected from sun exposure. Any cut to the skin heals with a scar. Sun damage increases the chances that the scar will stay noticeable.

Keep incisions on your body covered by clothing, if at all possible. Although clothing stops some of the sun's damaging ultraviolet (UV) rays, few bathing suits, thin shirts, or light pants stop it all. You can now buy clothing that is SPF rated, but get into the habit of putting sunscreen on anyway. Your surgeon will probably tell you to use a good sunscreen (at least SPF 15) on your healing incision, even when clothes cover the incision.

Some sunscreen products are waterproof and sweat resistant. Read the instructions to find out how often you need to reapply. It is better to put sunscreen on too often than have your incision get sunburned.

If you have had any type of facial cosmetic procedure, put sunscreen on your face early and often. Don't leave the house without it. Your surgeon may suggest some products for you to use, but there are many good sunscreen products for the face on the market. Many makeup products now include a sunscreen. Choose one with an SPF factor of at least 15. Again, read the label and see how often you should put on more.

If you have had a face lift, brow lift, skin acid peel or resurfacing, wear a hat with a solid wide brim. The brim of a baseball cap will not give your face enough protection and the brim of a straw hat lets too much light through. Wear a hat with an all-around brim that is at least 3 inches wide. You can find good hats in lots of styles and colors for both men and women. A hat with a brim can also help disguise any bruising or sutures as you heal. As with clothes, some hats are SPF rated.