Plastic surgery is no walk in the park, but the real challenge begins once you wake up and begin to heal. After popular procedures like rhinoplasties, breast augmentations, or facelifts, you will not exactly want to get up and dance on the table. While sedated or numbed for the procedure itself, after plastic surgery, patients might find themselves swollen, uncomfortable, and impatiently awaiting their long-term results.
“Patients are always worried about downtime,” says Dr. Steve Fallek, board-certified plastic surgeon and Chief Medical Officer of BeautyFix MedSpa and Plastic Surgery. “Working from home has helped a lot over the last two years, allowing patients to recover at home.” Downtime visibly lasts for weeks or months depending upon the procedure, but can take up to two years internally. But he notes that after plastic surgery, the aftercare — which should be followed meticulously under your doctor’s supervision — is often less daunting than patients imagine, especially when you know about the best treatments to promote healing following a cosmetic procedure.
It makes sense that plastic surgeons — masters in the de- and reconstruction of the face and body — are also experts at harnessing the body’s innate healing processes. “Aftercare has an enormous effect on recovery following plastic surgery, and is critical for obtaining optimal results,” Dr. Fallek says. This is why surgeons research supplements, modalities, and practices to expedite the aftercare process — and it is critical that you follow their instructions both to reduce the risk of complications and to bring about the desired results from your treatment.
Some guidance is strictly lifestyle-related, like drinking plenty of water, gentle walking, and getting ample rest. But there are also new behaviors to adopt — like taking certain supplements and becoming strategic with your nutrition. Piret Ava, the microblading and eyebrow expert known on Instagram as @eyebrowdoctor, has been open about her experiences with rhinoplasty and brow lift surgeries, sharing that, “hyperbaric oxygen, daily lymphatic drainage at Body Roll Studio, vitamin IV’s with peptides by @lifestylemedicine, Joov LED light, and cryotherapy really sped up healing.”
Lo and behold, there is an entire world of practices that can come into handy following a surgical procedure. Keep reading to learn what the nation’s top doctors recommend after plastic surgery.
Supplements & Vitamins
Before surgery, plastic surgeons advise that you hold off on certain regimens of supplements that can actually make you have a greater risk of bruising and bleeding. Typically, a multivitamin and a probiotic are deemed OK — but anything anti-inflammatory, like turmeric or curcumin, needs to be discontinued anywhere between a week to a month before your procedure. “Ironically, the more healthy, anti-inflammatory supplements a patient takes, the more they will bruise and bleed,” explains board-certified facial plastic surgeon Dr. Ben Talei. “Once the patients begin healing, we advise resuming their normal supplements.”
Just as you are told to discontinue certain supplements, you might add others into your regimens. “Pre-operatively, we talk to patients about everyday supplements such as vitamin C, vitamin D, and zinc,” explains board-certified plastic surgeon Dr. Andrew T. Cohen. “We also have a great compound that we give our patients that has primary ingredients of arnica, vitamin C, Bromelain, and grape seed extract. Taken pre- and post-operatively, this formula supports healthy healing and reduces swelling.”
“Good nutrition is important for surgery and can speed up the healing process,” says board-certified plastic surgeon Dr. Robert Cohen, who points out that wound healing requires extra bodily energy that can be fueled in part by diet and nutrition. “The body needs increased protein in order to heal wounds, so eating clean, healthy proteins like chicken or fish can be helpful. Additionally, healthy vegetables will provide nutrients to assist with healing,” he says. For patients that find it difficult to work enough protein into their diets, Dr. Robert Cohen recommends adding a 30g protein shake twice per day.
As for foods to avoid, he points out that gluten and dairy are inflammatory in nature, so following surgery, when your body is already attempting to reduce inflammation, it might be helpful to avoid them to ease its recovery. “Certain foods should also be avoided around the date of your surgery as they can increase the bleeding risk,” he says, naming garlic, ginger, onions, and turmeric as examples to cut out pre-surgery. “At our practice, we also recommend a diet of lots of non-sugar liquids and soups — but take it easy on the salt,” adds Dr. Andrew Cohen.
Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT)
It turns out that oxygen plays an incredible role in the body’s healing process. As such, plastic surgeons might also recommend compression garments, gentle walking, and sessions of hyperbaric oxygen therapy during your downtime and healing. (Incidentally, this is also why plastic surgeons recommend that you stop smoking before and after surgery specifically — smoking constricts blood flow and limits oxygenation of the body’s tissue and skin.) Dr. Andrew Cohen notes that his practice finds HBOT sessions particularly helpful after facelifts, eye lifts, and body procedures, pointing out that the modality can be especially helpful for former smokers when healing.
“Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) works by exposing the body to an atmosphere of 100% oxygen while inside a pressurized chamber,” Dr. Fallek explains. “It helps to reduce swelling and discomfort, while providing your body with at least 10-15 times its normal supply of oxygen.”
As Dr. Talei explains, “HBOT increases the oxygen tension within the blood, decreases floating oxygen radicals, and speeds the healing process by pushing the healing cells in the right direction.” Sessions are typically 90 minutes long within a pressurized tube that can give you the same popping feeling in your ears as when you gain or lose altitude in a plane. Inside the tube, you are fitted with an oxygen mask, given a blanket, and might even have access to a streaming device to help you pass the time.
LED therapy, specifically red and infrared light, was originally developed by NASA to help astronauts in space with wound healing and loss of muscle mass, and are among the beauty world’s buzziest pieces of skin care tech for healing. The research-backed modality utilizes certain FDA-cleared wavelengths of light to charge the cell’s little “biological batteries” — officially known as mitochondria — thereby speeding up processes that include cellular repair and the creation of new structural proteins like collagen in the skin. “It works incredibly well,” says Dr. Talei. “The LED light therapy passes energy into the skin, and works with several different pathways, including the Krebs cycle, to increase cellular energy and decrease inflammation.”
Dr. Fallek adds that, “Cited benefits of red light include promoted collagen production, more rapid wound healing, improved circulation, and reduced inflammation. Infrared light helps cells regenerate or repair themselves, and also improves the circulation of oxygen-rich blood in the body, promoting faster healing of deep tissues, and relieving pain.”
Lymphatic Drainage Massage
Lymph fluid is how the body carries and excretes toxins via the various lymph nodes located throughout the body — but the body cannot innately stimulate this fundamental part of the immune system on its own. Moving lymph typically requires movement (i.e., walking around, working out, etc.) After surgery, Dr. Talei explains that lymph fluid may become especially congested due to the disruption of the lymph pathways — this is where lymphatic massage for manual drainage comes in. Hence Dr. Andrew Cohen has his patients begin light lymphatic massage as early as a few days after surgery.
Lisa Levitt Gainsley is a certified Lymphedema Therapist and a celebrity-beloved manual lymphatic drainage practitioner that often works with patients following plastic surgery. She describes the massage as a gentle, rhythmic treatment that follows the pathway of the lymph system, pushing the fluid along. “The massage reduces inflammation, puffiness, and enhances the immune system [and] scientific research has shown that lymphatic drainage is helpful after surgery as it accelerates the healing process, speeds up recovery time, and reduces inflammation faster than any other type of massage,” says Gainsley. “Furthermore, because the lymph system is systemic, when you work on one area, you will affect other areas as well.”
Depending on the procedure performed, your hygiene practice might involve drains, tending to stitches, etc. “If a drain was placed, it needs to be changed three-to-four times per day,” advises Dr. Fallek. When tending to stitches, such as following a lip lift, Dr. Talei recommends cleansing the area using a spray containing silver. “Argentine silver spray is amazing to use during healing and recovery because of its anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties,” he says. He goes onto explain that surgeons traditionally reached for hydrogen peroxide, which is “caustic to the incisions and actually may hurt healing.” Thus, he prefers using silver spray to keep sutures clean due to its potent cleansing and soothing effects.
Rest & Self-Care
Last but not least, your downtime is the time to give your body the space it needs to heal. “Proper healing after surgery involve multiple factors,” confirms Dr. Robert Cohen. This means getting plenty of rest — and depending on where your surgery was, this might mean sleeping in an elevated position or a special pillow (like the ones by Sleep & Glow) to keep your head in position — and letting the relaxation response take over so that the body’s healing capacities can kick in.
“Many patients feel emotionally different following surgery, just due to the side effects of pain meds and pushing anesthesia out of your body,” explains Dr. Andrew Cohen. He notes that many of the practices noted above — including lymphatic massage and HBOT — are also helpful for the patient’s mental state. “They feel great for the emotional side of healing, which is important,” he says.
If you are a workaholic, or find it hard to relax, this is the time to put your worries aside and allow your body to achieve states of deep relaxation — watch movies, listen to audiobooks or read, cuddle with your pet, and take naps. (And if you really need to feel productive, you can always nap under a flexible at-home LED device like Celluma.)