What Do Plastic Surgery Scars Look Like?

By Dr Jake Lim – Plastic Surgeon | Updated: February 16, 2024

Types and Characteristics of Plastic Surgery Scars

Despite the advanced techniques used nowadays for plastic surgery, one aspect that remains a constant is the presence of scars following surgery. These marks are not just a physical reminder of the procedure but also an important consideration for anyone thinking about getting plastic surgery.

When you consider undergoing a plastic surgery procedure, it’s essential to understand that scarring is an inevitable part of the healing process. No matter the skill of your surgeon or the sophistication of the technique used, the body’s natural response to surgical incisions is to form scars.

The appearance of scars post-surgery can vary greatly depending on several factors. These include the type of surgery, your body’s unique healing abilities, the location and size of the incisions, and the care you provide during the healing process. For instance, incisions made in areas with less skin tension tend to heal with finer scars, while those in more tension-prone areas may result in more noticeable scarring.

One key aspect of managing expectations is understanding the timeline of scar maturation. Initially, scars might appear red and slightly raised but, over time, they generally fade and flatten. This process can take up to a year or more, requiring patience and consistent care.

In this blog, Sydney Plastic Surgeon Dr Jake Lim  explores various facets of scarring, from the initial formation to the long-term healing process, ensuring that you are well-informed and prepared for your plastic surgery.

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Breast Surgery Guide

Types of Plastic Surgeries and Associated Scars

When you decide to undergo plastic surgery, it’s important to understand that each type of procedure comes with its unique scarring patterns. The nature, extent, and appearance of these scars can vary significantly based on the surgery you choose. Here are some examples:

  • Facelifts: A facelift, technically referred to as a rhytidectomy, aims to create a rejuvenated appearance by minimising the sagging or folds of skin on the cheeks and jawline. The incisions for a facelift are made around the hairline, extending down around the ears and sometimes under the chin. While these incisions are strategically placed to be less visible, they do leave scars. The scars from a facelift are usually fine lines and, with time, tend to blend with the natural contours of your face and hairline. Proper post-operative care is essential to ensure these scars heal as discreetly as possible
  • Breast Augmentation: This surgery involves the placement of implants to enhance breast size and shape. The common incision sites for breast augmentation include under the breast fold, around the areola, or under the arm. Scarring from breast augmentation can vary in size, but Dr Lim tries to place incisions in less noticeable areas. The scars from under the breast fold (inframammary fold incision) are hidden under the natural crease of the breast. However, it’s important to note that factors like implant size and your body’s healing response can affect the visibility of these scars
  • Liposuction: Liposuction is a procedure to remove fat from specific areas of the body, such as the abdomen, hips, thighs, and buttocks. The incisions for liposuction are usually small and strategically placed in less visible areas. As a result, the scars are often minor and less noticeable compared to other types of plastic surgery. The size of the scar depends on the specific technique used and the number of areas treated. Consistent post-operative care and lifestyle choices can assist in the optimal healing of these small scars

Each of these procedures demonstrates how the type of surgery significantly influences the nature of scarring. It is essential for you to have a clear conversation with Dr Jake Lim about the expected scarring for your specific procedure. Knowledge about where the incisions will be made and what the scars might look like post-healing helps in setting realistic expectations.

Moreover, it’s important to understand that individual factors such as skin type, age, and genetic predisposition to scarring can also affect the final appearance of your scars. Some individuals might experience more pronounced scarring, while others may find that their scars heal to become barely noticeable.

Types of Scars after Surgery

Each type of scar varies in appearance, cause, and the way it heals. Here are some common types of scars associated with surgical procedures, highlighting their distinctive characteristics and the factors influencing their development:

Fine Line Scars

  • These are the most common type of scars following surgical incisions
  • Typically, they appear as thin, flat lines on the skin
  • Colour may start as red or pink and gradually fades to a paler tone over time
  • Usually, they are less noticeable and can be concealed easily

Keloid Scars

  • Keloid scars are thick, puckered, itchy clusters of scar tissue that grow beyond the edges of the wound or incision
  • They can appear red or darker than the surrounding skin
  • Often seen in individuals with darker skin tones
  • These scars may develop over time and can be larger than the original wound

Hypertrophic Scars

  • Similar to keloids, but they do not grow beyond the boundary of the original wound
  • They are raised and red in colour and may be uncomfortable or itchy
  • These scars usually improve naturally over time but may take years to fully mature

Atrophic Scars

  • These scars create a sunken or pitted appearance on the skin
  • Commonly result from the loss of muscle or fat beneath the skin
  • Atrophic scarring is often seen with certain types of acne or chickenpox

Contracture Scars

  • Occur when the skin shrinks and tightens, usually after burn injuries, affecting movement
  • Can go deeper, affecting muscles and nerves
  • These scars may require specialised treatment to restore movement and reduce tightness

Pigmented Scars

  • These scars show a noticeable difference in pigment compared to the surrounding skin
  • Can be either hyperpigmented (darker) or hypopigmented (lighter)
  • The colour change might be temporary or permanent depending on the scar and skin type

How Is the Healing Process

Grasping the nuances of the healing process following plastic surgery is key to managing expectations and achieving the best outcomes. This process is intricate and varies from person to person, influenced by a multitude of factors. Here are the stages of scar formation and the various elements that play a role in how your body heals post-surgery.

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Face & Neck Guide

Stages of Scar Formation and Healing:

  • Inflammatory Phase: Immediately after surgery, your body initiates the healing process. This phase, which typically lasts a few days, involves swelling and redness as your immune system works to clean the wound and fight off potential infections
  • Proliferative Phase: This stage begins a few days after the surgery and can last up to several weeks. During this period, the body starts producing collagen and new tissue to close the wound. You may notice the scar is red and raised at this stage
  • Maturation Phase: This final phase can take several months to years. The scar slowly becomes smoother and paler as the collagen remodels itself and the blood supply reduces. The scar’s final appearance will be evident at the end of this stage

Factors Influencing the Healing Process:

  • Age: Age plays a significant role in how your skin heals. Generally, younger skin tends to heal faster and more effectively compared to older skin, which might show signs of delayed healing
  • Skin Type and Colour: Different skin types and colours respond differently to scarring. For instance, individuals with darker skin tones are more prone to developing hypertrophic scars or keloids
  • Location of the Surgery: Scars in areas of high movement or tension, such as joints, often take longer to heal and may be more prominent
  • Size and Depth of the Incision: Larger and deeper incisions typically result in more noticeable scarring compared to smaller, superficial incisions
  • Nutrition and Overall Health: Your general health and nutritional status significantly impact your healing capabilities. A well-balanced diet rich in vitamins and minerals supports quicker wound healing
  • Lifestyle Factors: Habits such as smoking or excessive alcohol consumption can impair the healing process, leading to more pronounced scarring
  • Post-Operative Care: Adherence to post-operative care instructions, including wound care and avoiding strenuous activities, is crucial for optimal healing
  • Genetic Factors: Your genetic makeup can influence how you scar. Some people are naturally more prone to heavy scarring than others

Characteristics of Plastic Surgery Scars

Scars vary considerably in appearance, influenced by the specific surgery performed, your individual skin type, and your surgeon’s technique. This section outlines what you can expect in terms of the size, colour, and texture of plastic surgery scars, as well as how these factors differ based on various conditions.

  • Size of Scars: The size of the scar largely depends on the extent of the surgery. Larger procedures, such as tummy tuck – abdominoplasty, typically result in longer scars, while smaller operations like eyelid surgeries leave shorter, less noticeable scars. The length and width of a scar are also influenced by the tension on the wound and the body’s natural healing process
  • Colour of Scars: Fresh scars usually appear red or pink as they are rich in blood vessels aiding the healing process. Over time, most scars fade to a paler hue, closer to your natural skin tone, although they may remain slightly darker or lighter than the surrounding skin. The final colour of a scar can take up to a year or more to stabilise
  • Texture of Scars: Initially, scars may feel raised and firm to the touch. As the healing process progresses, they typically become flatter and softer. The texture can also be influenced by the type of suturing technique used and how the wound is cared for post-surgery. In some cases, scars might remain slightly raised or indented compared to the surrounding skin
  • Variation Based on Skin Type: Scarring can look different based on your skin type. Those with darker skin tones may be more prone to developing hypertrophic scars or keloids, which are raised, thickened areas of scar tissue. Conversely, individuals with lighter skin might notice that their scars stay redder for a longer period
  • Influence of Surgical Technique: Your surgeon’s skill and the techniques employed significantly impact scar appearance. Precision in incision making, wound closure methods, and minimally invasive techniques can all contribute to less noticeable scarring
  • Individual Healing Abilities: Your body’s natural healing ability also plays a crucial role. Some people may heal with very fine, almost imperceptible scars, while others might develop scars that are more pronounced
  • Location of the Surgery: The area of the body where the surgery is performed affects scar characteristics. Scars in areas of constant movement or tension, such as the knees or shoulders, may appear wider and more prominent

FAQs about Scars after Plastic Surgery

FAQs

What can I expect my scars to look like after plastic surgery?

  • After plastic surgery, scars can vary in appearance based on the type of procedure, your skin type, and healing capabilities. Initially, they may appear red and slightly raised, but over time, they might fade and become less noticeable. The size, colour, and texture of the scars will depend on the specific surgical technique used and the area of the body where the surgery was performed.

How long does it take for scars to heal completely?

  • The healing process for scars can take up to a year or more. Scars go through a phase where they might appear red and slightly raised. As the healing progresses, they gradually flatten and the redness fades. The complete maturation of a scar, where it reaches its final appearance, can vary from person to person.

Will my scars be visible to others?

  • The visibility of scars after plastic surgery depends on the location of the surgery, the type of incisions made, and how your body heals. Your surgeon will try to make incisions in less noticeable areas and use techniques to minimise scar appearance. However, some degree of scarring is inevitable, and its visibility can also depend on your skin type and the care you take during the healing process.

Can anything be done if I’m unhappy with the appearance of my scars after they have healed?

Yes, if you are unhappy with the appearance of your scars after they have fully healed, there are several options available:

  • Non-surgical treatments such as laser therapy, microdermabrasion, and chemical peels can improve the texture and colour of scars
  • Injectable treatments like fillers can be used to treat certain types of depressed scars
  • Prescription creams or gels containing ingredients like corticosteroids or silicone can also be effective in improving the appearance of scars
  • In some cases, surgical revision of the scar may be an option. This involves removing the scar tissue and re-closing the incision, often using advanced techniques to make the new scar less noticeable

Further Reading about Plastic Surgery Scars

Medical References about Body Surgery Scars

About Dr Jake Lim

Highly qualified and experienced specialist plastic surgeon Dr Jake Lim focuses on facial plastic, cosmetic breast and body contouring after significant weight loss

Dr Lim creates the best possible plastic surgery results for his Australia-wide and international patients.

Dr Lim is passionate about making sure each and every patient has access to the right information about available treatments and procedures and is able to make well-informed decisions.

At My Klinik, patient safety, education and achieving optimal results are our top priorities.