Scars are the unfortunate downside to going through gender transition. However, with good care, it is possible to reduce scars.
When I share about my experience with top surgery, I receive a lot of comments about how well my scars have healed over these last five years. I am blessed to have a body that heals well. Also, I’m lucky to have developed a nice chest rug of dark hair which hides a lot.
However, I also take recovery very seriously and have looked after myself, which has undoubtedly helped. People often ask about my post-op healing and scar care routine, so here it is for you!*
Before we begin, please note that the advice here is from my independent research and experience of things that helped me in my surgical recovery. I am not a doctor, massage therapist or nutritionist.
Therefore, you should always follow your surgeon’s or doctors’ advice and seek further guidance from them if you need too.
With that out of the way, and without further ado, here are my seven tips for effective scar healing after top surgery to help reduce scars.
1) Eat Nutritious Healing Foods to help skin repair
Healing from surgery and giving your scars what they need to repair, starts with healthy food. Therefore, preparing beforehand is wise.
Try Balance Food Meal Delivery
Alternatively, you could use a meal delivery service, perhaps for just the first few days after surgery. Meal prep services are fantastic in making sure you get the healthy food you need without you having to go to any effort.
Then, you can concentrate on resting and healing.
Staples to Keep in The Cupboard
Key nutrients for healing are protein, vitamin C and Zinc. For fast, healthy food that contains these, you could try the following:
- Protein Powder – an easy way to get a healthy dose if you are struggling to eat. I often rely on a protein shake, blended with a banana and water (or almond milk for a little extra protein)
- Protein bars (find the healthy ones, not the sugar-packed ones!)
- Nuts (Plain unsalted and natural)
- Tins of no drain tuna (tip: get the ring pull version rather than trying to use a can opener, especially after top surgery)
- Hard boiled eggs
- Mackerel fillets
- Tinned baked beans
2) Drink Lots Of Water To Keep Scar Tissue Hydrated
Water is vital in healing, immediately post-op and in the weeks that follow as your scars heal. Therefore, make sure to drink tons of it! Avoid too much caffeine, because this can dehydrate you.
Try to limit coffee to only one or two cups if you can. Also, be careful with juices and cordials as they can have a lot of sugar in them.
My favorite post-op drink (actually its my favorite anytime drink!) is a splash of bottle Green elder flower cordial mixed with fizzy water, using my retro soda stream machine!
3) Take Deep Breaths
Seriously, I know we do it automatically, but often we don’t breathe properly. When we have been used to chest binding, and especially when we are in pain, breathing can become very shallow.
Oxygen is an incredible healer, so make sure to regularly spend a few moments doing some deep belly breathing, to increase the oxygen in your blood.
Meditation is a great tool to learn. Not only does this help us to breathe better, but it also helps with pain management and with difficulty sleeping.
Danny Penman also has a book specifically on mindfulness for health. This has been one of my most valuable resources through all of my surgeries, in helping me to manage both my mood and my pain.
4) Scar Massage is Key to Reduce Scars
One of the main keys to successful scar healing is to massage the incision line regularly. You will need to wait until you are about six weeks post-op to start doing this.
Once your incisions, nipple grafts and drainage holes (if you’ve had drains) are fully healed; then you can start with a very gentle massage.
I developed my own way to massage, after researching aftercare for surgery scars. It is relatively simple really, and you don’t need to be an expert.
I created a vlog, which although rather old now (check out my bare belly!) details my scar massage routine. On my YouTube Channel, there is a dedicated Top Surgery Playlist.
5) Use Massage Oils With Scar Healing Properties to Help Reduce Scars
It is crucial to use oil, for two main reasons.
- So that your fingers can move smoothly over the scarred area without pulling and irritating it.
- To help the scar area to stay moist because to heal well, scars must remain hydrated.
The oil you use is down to your personal choice. It is the act of massage, rather than the oil itself, that makes the most difference.
However, there are many oils that have become known for their healing properties and to reduce scars. These as the ones I have used for all my post-op scar massage routines.
Tamanu oil is a wonderful oil known for its skin healing properties. It does have a strong smell, I quite like it, but as others have said it can take time to get used to it.
I think it also depends on the quality of the oil. Make sure you choose one which is organic, cold-pressed and unrefined.
Rosehip seed oil
If you do find the smell of Tamanu oil overpowering, you could always mix it, as I have often done, with another excellent healing oil like rosehip seed oil.
6) Avoid the Sun on Scars
Yes I know, we have waited our whole lives to be shirtless, but for the sake of your scars, wait just that little bit longer!
It is recommended that you wait at least a year before exposing scars to the sun. This is because the sun can negatively affect scar healing and a scar will burn more easily.
Use a High-Quality Total Sun Block on Scars
If you must expose your chest in the sun (which trust me I do understand!) then make sure you use a high-quality total sunblock on the scar to keep those scars safe in the sun!
As I mentioned in the above video, check your sunscreen and make sure it has the full 5-star rating for both UVA and UVB rays. Many of the most popular brands do not have this full protection.
My scar care kit for sun protection always contains the following:
I find that for easy quick application without having to get a high factor sunblock on your hands, a stick or roll-on sunblock is incredibly useful.
Don’t forget, rays penetrate through clothing so make sure to put this on even under your t shirt!
Skin Tint Sunblock
In the early days of my surgery recovery, when my scars were still red, I found a fantastic sunblock called Zinka Nose Coat. This sunblock is designed for skiers and is highly effective.
Zinka is available in clear form and also in many bright and neon colors. It also has a ‘flesh’ color which means it has an unintentional effect that it doubles up as a concealer! Now, it isn’t designed to be used as a concealer so bear that in mind.
For example, it won’t completely hide the scar, it only comes in one skin shade, and it also will come off on your clothes.
However, for sitting out in the sun while protecting your scars and helping to deal with any self-conscious feelings around scaring, it is excellent stuff.
7) Use Silicon Scar Treatments to Reduce Scars
The effectiveness of Silicone scar treatment is backed by scientific evidence as greatly improving scar healing. They seal a barrier over the top of the scar, meaning that it remains moist at all times, which keeps it supple and allows for better healing.
Massage with oil first, once it is worked in, blot any excess and then apply a really thin layer of scar gel over the top of the incision line.
I use Kelo-Cote silicone scar gel. Although it is not cheap, a little really does go a long way. Of course, using it for larger scars is less economical.
For example, it is not cost-effective to use it for large grafts after lower surgery. However, I used it on small areas of my arm graft, along the stitch line and on some small problem areas.
I hope you find these tips useful, please do let me know in the comments below, and feel free to add your own tips too!