All surgical procedures have the capacity to produce scars, but abdominoplasty (aka “tummy tuck”) is not a simple surgery and will most likely leave you with a serious scar. You will certainly regain your confidence after having a tummy tuck but you should know what to expect when dealing with the potential scars and postoperative care.
A tummy tuck, or abdominoplasty, sculpts the lower abdominal area by removing loose skin and excess abdominal fat that may have accumulated after pregnancy, weight loss or age. . There are three common methods for this surgery – traditional, endoscopic, and mini – and each one will produce different potential tummy tuck scars.
Tummy tuck scars are permanent but there are ways to take proper care of them and you should be able to hide them under your clothing. Let’s examine each of the procedures and discuss each incision.
- Traditional tummy tuck scars -There are two main incisions for the full traditional abdominoplasty. The first goes straight across the body from hip to hip, as low as possible above the pubic bone, and usually tapers upward at the hip. This incision averages about 12 inches long. The second is a round incision around the navel. These incisions enable the doctor to remove excess skin and fat, tighten the abdominal muscles and sculpt the belly button.
- Mini tummy tuck scars – The partial, low, or mini, tummy tuck is sometimes called the “scarless” tummy tuck. Of course, since an incision is made, it is definitely not scarless. However, depending upon how much loose skin and fat needs to be removed, the mini tummy tuck scar will be about half the size of the common abdominoplasty. A horizontal incision is made very low above the pubic bone, but there is no navel incision.
- Endoscopic tummy tuck scars – If you have weak muscles and excess fat but no loose abdominal skin, the endoscopic tummy tuck will cause the least scarring. Several tiny incisions are made to enable the doctor to insert an endoscope (a small camera) with which he/she can tighten muscles and perform liposuction. This is the least invasive of the procedures.
Tummy tuck recovery can take a long time. The scars will probably appear raised and very red and will probably get worse during the first 3 months post-surgery. With proper care, they will improve and fade over time. You can expect significant softening and flattening of your tummy tuck scars after 1 year. So what can be done to care for the wounds and get the best results?
- Avoid infection. Make sure you follow the doctor’s instructions so that the wounds heal properly. Infections will only worsen the scarring. There will be some type of dressing and bandaging over the wound. You will also be wearing a snug compression garment or “binder” to apply pressure and help control any stretching of the wound. These should also help prevent the formation of hypertrophic or keloid tummy tuck scars.
- Refrain from lifting, driving, and strenuous activities for the first 48 hours to three weeks. This is very important. Overstretching and vigorous activity will widen the scar and make it more prominent. You will want your wounds to heal properly to prevent further problems.
- Avoid the sun. Once the wounds have completely healed, you must apply sunscreen or sunblock to the immature scars if you intend to be in the sun or wear thin clothing that the sun could penetrate. Doctors suggest sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or more, and sunblocks containing zinc and titanium are recommended. Scars are very sensitive to sunlight and sunburn easily. Once a scar becomes sunburned, it may darken or become discolored and may never fade to match the color of the surrounding skin. You can expect to shield your scars from the sun for up to a year and a half after surgery.
- Stop smoking. Smoking will increase your risk of complications. Smoking before surgery will minimize the blood flow to your heart. If you smoke, you will have a higher risk of infection. Smoking also delays healing and can cause skin death which will leave you with ugly scars. This may mean you would have to have tummy tuck scar revision surgery later. It is possible that your surgeon may refuse to perform your tummy tuck if your refuse to stop smoking.
- Stay well-hydrated, eat protein, and avoid alcohol. If you take in enough fluids you will help your body heal properly. But avoid alcohol and caffeinated beverages. They dehydrate the body and skin and will slow the wound-healing process. Protein is one of the building blocks of healing skin, so make sure your diet is balanced and includes adequate protein (meat, fish, dairy products or soy products).
- Massage the scars. Once your wounds have completely healed and you no longer need the compression garment, gentle massages will help reduce swelling and bruises by helping blood circulate and by moving around the fluid in the tissues. It will stimulate your immune system, break down the bands of collagen attached to the tissue making it softer, and help prevent the formation of problem tummy tuck scars.
- Keep the skin moist. Some research studies show that wound healing is twice as fast if not allowed to dry out. Your doctor can advise you about products you can use to help keep moisture in the skin and minimize the tummy tuck scars and speed up your healing.
Your tummy tuck results depend a lot on you and how much care you take in your healing process. With proper care and attention, your tummy tuck scars should soften and fade over time to become far less noticeable. If you know what to expect and choose a skilled surgeon to perform your tummy tuck, you will enjoy your dramatically enhanced appearance for many years.