If you’ve talked to a surgeon about having plastic surgery, he or she probably told you not to smoke. This is amazing advice for many reasons. Many people may turn to smoking substitutes, such as nicotine patches, nicotine gum, or even electronic cigarettes to keep those cravings at bay. However, these can be just as harmful as smoking. Studies have shown that nicotine can impact your body’s ability to heal, and this may derail your efforts.
Plastic Surgery vs. Traditional Surgery
Before you can fully understand how and why nicotine can impact your ability to heal after a plastic surgery, it’s important to look at the differences between plastic and traditional surgery. When you have your gallbladder removed, for example, your surgeon can make a simple incision, remove your gallbladder, and then close that incision with stitches and/or staples (depending on the procedure). These incisions can heal quite simply because there’s minimal damage to the skin other than the incision itself.
When you have plastic surgery, it’s more traumatizing to your skin. Your doctor can’t simply make a small incision; he or she must cut through the top layer of your skin, then move it around, stretch it, pull it, and place it just so. This is quite traumatic, and it requires all your body’s healing capabilities.
It’s All About the Blood Vessels
During a traditional surgery, your doctor can work around blood vessels when necessary. With plastic surgery, there’s no way to avoid severing some of those blood vessels to provide you with the best possible results. Your surgeon works hard to leave some of the blood vessels intact, but he or she cannot preserve all of them. The ones left behind must have adequate blood flow. Otherwise, your skin will not heal properly. Nicotine can affect this by dilating the blood vessels, restricting the flow of blood, and compromising your body’s ability to heal properly.
Some of the Side Effects of Nicotine Use
Restricting the flow of blood inside your blood vessels can have some significant consequences. For example, it can result in:
- Infections that may become severe, even with treatment;
- Slow healing of wounds;
- Potentially fatal blood clots;
- Hard lumps caused by the death of fat cells;
- Permanent damage to small blood vessels;
- Loss of skin flaps following a surgery, including tummy skin, check skin, or even nipples;
- Larger scars; and
- Other potentially life-threatening complications such as pneumonia, heart attack, or stroke.
What to Do If You Smoke
If you’re a smoker – or if you use nicotine in any form – it is best to quit at least six weeks prior to your surgery and to stay away for at least six weeks after. This way, you can help your blood vessels remain as open and unrestricted as possible, which facilitates better, faster healing and helps ensure that you’ll get the results you wanted. Stay away from cigarettes, cigars, pipes, chewing tobacco, nicotine patches and gum, and even electronic cigarettes.
Nicotine is bad for your body in many ways, and while you might think that you’ll be okay if you don’t use nicotine during the healing process, this is often not the case. Nicotine affects your body for long after you stop using it, and that’s why you should quit weeks before your procedure.