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Should you be Tanning your Cosmetic Surgery Scars?

Dr Scott Turner Blog - Tanning & Cosmetic Surgery Scars Image - Woman Floating

Learn more about the effects of tanning after your cosmetic surgery and how it can impact your surgical scars.

Does Tanning help or hurt Cosmetic Surgery Scars?

If you had cosmetic surgery like a breast augmentation or a tummy tuck, you’ll probably thinking of ways to reduce your surgical scars and improve their texture and appearance. While there are minimally invasive procedures that may help prominent scars, they may be expensive and will require additional downtime.

In order to improve the appearance of cosmetic surgery scars, some patients resort to tanning as a solution. If you’re considering a tan following your surgery, you should first determine if this is safe or not.

How do Scars Develop?

Scars are a natural part of your body’s regeneration process. Most injuries result in scarring which can alter the appearance of the skin. But how do scars form? To understand this mechanism, you must first know the different phases of the wound healing process:

  1. Inflammatory phase: When the deep, thick layer of your skin known as the dermis is damaged, the body signals the blood vessels in the wound to contract and stimulates the formation of a blood clot. Once the bleeding has stopped, the blood vessels widen to allow white blood cells to fight infection and other essential cells to repair the damaged tissues. As a result, the wound area starts to become red, swollen, warm, and painful. After a few days, a scab (brown, dry crust) forms on top of the injured area to protect the wound.
  2. Proliferation phase: This phase immediately occurs after the inflammatory phase. During this period, granulating tissue composed of collagen (the skin’s main structural protein) migrates at the site of the wound and fills in spaces. In addition, new blood vessels also form in the newly-built tissue which in turn provides oxygen and nutrients to the cells and eliminates waste products from the healing tissues. At this stage, the wound starts to close and the edges are gradually pulled together, resulting in smaller wound size.
  3. Maturation phase: After several weeks, the maturation phase begins and is considered as the longest and final phase. During this time, the blood vessels that are not needed by the body starts to thin out and is replaced by a new and stronger type of collagen. Over time, the wound continues to contract and the damaged area is permanently sealed with collagen scar tissue. The area then becomes rough, slightly elevated, and unpleasant to look at.

Is Tanning Good for your Cosmetic Surgery Scars?

Normally, cosmetic surgery scars are hypopigmented once the maturation phase is complete. However, a study in darker-pigmented and lighter-pigmented patients who had cosmetic surgery scars found that excessive sun exposure can lead to hyperpigmentation of the scars. [1]

Other studies also found that prolonged sunlight exposure during the wound healing phase among patients with surgical scars can significantly increase the risk of scar pigmentation. [2-4] These results indicate that reducing sunlight exposure may prevent hyperpigmentation of the healing wound.

With these studies, it can be concluded that tanning through sun exposure or spray tans can adversely affect the appearance of surgical scars.

How do you Protect your Surgical Scars from Ultraviolet Rays?

Tanning & Cosmetic Surgery Scars Image - Woman with Fair skin

After any cosmetic procedure, it is absolutely critical to protect your healing wounds against the detrimental effects of the sun and tanning beds. The following are some self-help strategies that you can employ during your recovery period to prevent hyperpigmentation of your surgical scars:

  • Don’t go outside during the day if not necessary: Aside from hyperpigmentation, prolonged sun exposure can cause adverse skin conditions such as itchy and irritated skin which can delay the healing of incision lines.  
  • Wear protective clothing that prevents exposure of the surgical wound: Using long sleeves, pants, or other thick clothing prevents UV rays from reaching the healing wound.
  • Use sunscreens with SPF 30 or higher: This product is good for your surgical scars as it prevents the UV rays from penetrating your skin. Sunscreens with SPF 30 or higher can block 97% of the sun’s ultraviolet rays. [5]
  • Never use spray tan on your surgical incision lines: The wound on your incision site may react differently or may reject the colour of the spray tan product that you are using. Doing so can cause the surgical scar to have uneven colour compared with the surrounding tissue. 
  • Don’t use tanning beds: Tanning beds do not only cause hyperpigmentation of surgical scars but also damages your skin cells, resulting in visible signs of skin ageing. Furthermore, the use of tanning beds is associated with a higher risk of skin cancer.

Are you willing to undergo cosmetic surgery but are having second thoughts due to the possibility of surgical scars? If so, consult with one of our highly trained surgeons now for you to gain a better understanding of your desired procedure and its related outcomes. You can also send in an enquiry form below.

Medical References:

  1. Sorg H, Tilkorn DJ, Hager S, Hauser J, Mirastschijski U. Skin Wound Healing: An Update on the Current Knowledge and Concepts. Eur Surg Res. 2017;58(1-2):81-94. doi:10.1159/000454919. Retrieved from https://www.karger.com/Article/FullText/454919.
  2. Fearmonti R, Bond J, Erdmann D, Levinson H. A review of scar scales and scar measuring devices. Eplasty. 2010;10:e43. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20596233/.
  3. Gold MH, McGuire M, Mustoe TA, Pusic A, Sachdev M, Waibel J, et al. Updated international clinical recommendations on scar management: Part 2 – Algorithms for scar prevention and treatment. Dermatol Surg. 2014;40:825–31. doi: 10.1111/dsu.0000000000000050. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25068544/.
  4. Chan KY, Lau CL, Adeeb SM, Somasundaram S, Nasir-Zahari M. A randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind, prospective clinical trial of silicone gel in prevention of hypertrophic scar development in median sternotomy wound. Plast Reconstr Surg. 2005;116:1013–20. doi: 10.1097/01.prs.0000178397.05852.ce. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16163087/.
  5. Gabros S, Nessel TA, Zito PM. Sunscreens And Photoprotection. [Updated 2020 Jul 26]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2020 Jan-. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK537164/.
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