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Want a facelift? Stop smoking first

Want a facelift? Stop smoking first
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Smoking means your cosmetic procedures are compromised by blood-flow issues. 

Veronica Simons figured she was pretty healthy – she shopped at the local organic store in her Melbourne suburb, ran 10km every day, and did mindfulness exercises throughout the day. She was well, in her body and her mind. Except for the packed of Benson and Hedges she smoked every day, and had done since she was 15 and was trying to be cool.

Veronica is now 55 and wanted a facelift. She visited her Melbourne-based cosmetic dermatologist to discuss her options, and the smoking came up. They discussed the facelift, and how many times she’d tried to quit, and what methods – patches, cold turkey, seeing a hypnotist. Nothing had gotten her over that addictive hump. Until her doctor told her that he wouldn’t perform a facelift on her until she quit smoking.

Then, says Veronica, she got very motivated.

Healing properly is a high priority when it comes to cosmetic procedures like a facelift, brow lift, or other small or large interventions on flesh. Smoking severely interferes with blood supply to the skin, making healing from a facelift far less effective, where skin has to be reattached and new blood vessels need to form. This means any damage to skin takes a longer time to heal. At 55, skin is already losing some of its healing powers, and adding smoking to that was too much of a risk for Veronica’s doctor in performing her facelift.

Cosmetic surgery may be the next great motivator for stopping smoking in women, since lung cancer hasn’t done the trick so far. Vanity may be the saving grace for some women.

What does nicotine actually do?

Nicotine causes the tiny blood vessels in the skin to clamp closed or constrict, physically reducing the amount of blood that can reach the skin. Bruising lasts longer, wounds take longer to heal, and it increases the risk of scarring and infection.

Two decades ago, it might have been acceptable to perform surgery on someone who smoked that heavily, but now it’s just not an acceptable thing to do and could result in malpractice suits in some areas. Shifting skin around – referred to as ‘flap surgery’ – is a bad idea in smokers due to the reattachment issues, but smokers can also have added complications under anaesthesia.

So how long not smoking is long enough?

The body takes a while to get itself back to its new normal, especially after several decades of heavy smoking. Two weeks is usually the minimum, but some procedures or doctors require more time not smoking, more like six weeks or six months.

One of the benefits of cosmetic surgery is that it’s elective – people have time to make changes before their surgery, unlike emergency heart surgery, for example. A cosmetic surgeon may insist patients stop smoking because of outcomes to the surgeon’s stellar reputation too – someone who smokes isn’t going to heal as well as a non-smoker, and the results may be subpar. For a cosmetic surgeon who takes great pride in their work, this would be the ultimate insult.

Each procedure carries its own risks, and your cosmetic doctor will be able to advise you what the negative outcomes may be due to smoking. It’s important to ask your doctor about possible complications.

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