After Cosmetic Surgery: Taking Care of Your Skin

Try these tips for fast recovery and best results after cosmetic surgery.

Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on July 22, 2008
5 min read

When you choose to have cosmetic surgery, you take a significant step toward improving the appearance and health of your skin. For the fastest recovery and best results, it’s essential for you to take special care of your skin in the first few days and weeks after cosmetic surgery.

Your at-home skin care prescription will vary depending on which cosmetic procedure you elect to have. In all instances, make sure you talk with your doctor or aesthetician about cosmetic surgery recovery prior to your procedure.

Cosmetic procedures vary in the degree to which they affect your skin, ranging from mild procedures such as microdermabrasion, to surgical procedures, including face-lifts and eye lifts. You will be able to return to your normal skin care routine more quickly after mild, noninvasive cosmetic procedures than after surgical procedures or treatments that cause more injury to your skin.

“The principal distinction between procedures is whether the skin is intact or whether the surgery left open skin,” says Ellen Marmur, MD, chief of the Division of Dermatologic & Cosmetic Surgery at the Mount Sinai Medical Center. “No matter what, you need to stop using cosmeceuticals or topical medicines for three days after any procedure.”

Common cosmetic procedures that leave you with intact skin include:

Common cosmetic procedures that leave you with open wounds or broken skin include:

  • Deep chemical peels
  • Ablative laser resurfacing treatments
  • Surgical procedures, such as eyelifts, rhinoplasty and facelifts
  1. Baby your skin. “To optimize your results, you want to heal without any discoloration. If your skin is really red, you really want to baby it after surgery to prevent pigmentation,” Marmur tells WebMD. Make sure you’re using mild, hypoallergenic products, like non-soap cleansers and fragrance-free moisturizers.
  2. Be extra vigilant about sun protection. “The first few days after having a procedure, it’s best to avoid the direct sun,” says Steven Hopping, MD, president of the American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery. “If you go out, opt for a sunscreen that blocks alpha and beta sun rays. SPF 30 or 40 is sufficient -- the ones with higher SPF tend to block the pores, so it may be better to steer clear of them.”
  3. Let your wounds heal. No matter how tempted you are to pick at your peeling skin or scabs after cosmetic surgery in an effort to speed your recovery -- don’t. You could increase your likelihood of infection or scarring.
  4. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Whether you’ve had a minor procedure or an all-out surgery, drinking six to eight glasses of water a day will help rejuvenate your skin from the inside out and flush any toxins from your system.

Minimally invasive and less expensive cosmetic procedures with faster recovery times, such as microdermabrasion, are becoming more and more popular. These options allow women to reap many of the benefits of cosmetic surgery without needing to take weeks off from work or spend thousands of dollars on a single procedure.

“With microdermabrasion, there is essentially no downtime,” Hopping tells WebMD. “Within 48 hours, you can be back on your exfoliants and your antiaging factors.”

Even though the procedure is mild, don’t skimp on your sun protection after microdermabrasion. In some instances, too much sun in the days after the procedure can lead to unsightly hyperpigmentation.

Your skin care needs after the mildest types of chemical peels are very similar to those after microdermabrasion. After medium-depth chemical peels, such as salicylic acid peels or TCA peels, you should hold off on returning to your normal routine until at least 48 hours after your skin peels, or typically about a week.

Gentle cleansing and moisturizing are essential after all skin resurfacing treatments, ranging from microdermabrasion to ablative laser procedures. If you have peeling skin that is bothering you, Marmur recommends putting moisturizing lotion on a warm, wet washcloth and very gently massaging your skin. Make sure you don’t scrub, or you could remove additional layers of skin and cause damage.

Because resurfacing procedures may result in excessive pigmentation, ask your doctor whether you should use a skin-bleaching hydroquinone cream after your cosmetic procedure to lessen the likelihood of this occurrence.

Taking care of your skin after cosmetic surgeries is more complicated than after less invasive procedures because you need to treat your wounds, manage swelling, and keep up with everyday skin care for best results.

To minimize swelling, experts recommend regular use of ice or cold compresses, especially in the first three days after your surgery. Sleeping with you head elevated above your heart will also help avoid an increase in swelling overnight.

As for bruising, ask your doctor whether you should take Arnica montana, an herbal supplement that may help minimize bruising or discoloration.

Even though your face will be sore after cosmetic surgery, it’s important to continue to cleanse your skin regularly to help with healing and avoid build-up in your pores that might lead to breakouts. Try washing with mild astringent pads to cleanse sore areas without applying pressure. Then, be sure to apply a gentle, non-comedogenic moisturizer.

“In all cases, we keep the areas clean and moist,” says Jeffery Dover, a Chestnut Hill, Mass.-based dermatologist.

If your skin is intact and you have no open wounds, you can resume using makeup just a few days after your procedure. After deep chemical peels or ablative laser procedures, however, it’s essential to wait until your epidermis (the top layer of your skin) has fully reformed. Be sure to check with your doctor about makeup use after any cosmetic surgery.

When you do get the go-ahead to use makeup, remember the following tips:

  • Go for mineral. Many makeup manufacturers now make mineral-based lines that are gentler on your skin and provide excellent coverage.
  • Combat red with green. If you have red skin or purple bruising after cosmetic surgery, a green base will help balance out those colors and give you a more natural-looking skin tone. Top this base with a powder about one shade darker than you usually wear for best results.
  • Wash it off at night. You can’t overestimate how important it is to cleanse your skin regularly, especially during cosmetic surgery recovery. Be vigilant about washing your makeup off every night using a non-soap cleanser.