How nicotine can affect cosmetic surgery

We’re all aware of the risks to our health that can come from smoking and therefore there are many benefits to quitting if you can. But did you know this is even more important if you are planning to have cosmetic surgery.

Smoking before and after cosmetic surgery can really affect the way that your body heals after your procedure as well as putting you under more risk during the actual surgery itself.

Therefore, if you are planning on having surgery its’s strongly advised that quitting becomes a priority. Of course, quitting smoking can have lots of benefits for your overall health in the long term as well.

The problem is nicotine

But it’s not just cigarettes that can affect your recovery. The nicotine that is contained within tobacco is the ingredient that can really affect your healing following surgery. You might be using nicotine gum or patches to try to quit but make sure you wean yourself off these too before your procedure.

Snuff, chewing tobacco, pipes, cigars and e-cigarettes or vaping all also contain nicotine and so should be avoided both before and after cosmetic surgery.

When should you stop smoking?

If you are a smoker, it’s a good idea to start your journey to becoming nicotine free as soon as you start thinking about having a cosmetic procedure.

Try to stop three to six weeks before surgery and don’t smoke again for three to six weeks afterwards. The longer before your surgery you try to stop, the easier it will be as the more time you have to get used to it.

The risks for surgery associated with nicotine

When you smoke, the risks associated with your cosmetic procedure and the healing process afterwards are affected. Here we explore some of those risks.

Delays with healing

Smoking affects the nutrients in your blood, and you may find that you lack vitamin C which is needed to help with wound healing and the proper formation of scars. Both your health and immunity are impacted by nicotine.

Nicotine is a vasoconstrictor which means that it causes the blood vessels to shrink. This results in less blood flow and therefore less oxygen flow to the tissues which can have a negative effect on the healing process.

A smoother recovery and better scarring

Non-smokers tend to experience a better healing process and have fewer complications that are related to wounds. This means that non-smokers are more likely to have a smoother recovery and experience neater scarring.

Risks of infection

When healing is delayed, it can lead to an increased risk of infection as your wounds will be vulnerable to infections over a longer period of time. Nicotine compromises your immune system which means that your body will be less effective in fighting off infections on its own.

You may be at risk of getting a serious bacteria contamination or even, in the most serious cases, a staph infection which causes blood poisoning or even toxic shock syndrome.

Infections can also be more difficult to heal if you are still smoking.

Risks of losing skin

As we’ve already mentioned, nicotine causes the blood vessels to contract and affects the oxygen supply to the tissues. During surgeries like breast augmentations and tummy tucks, the incisions that the surgeon makes already starts to restrict the blood flow and oxygen supply to the skin and so nicotine reduces this even further.

If the skin is starved of oxygen, it can die and this could result in the loss of cheek skin after a facelift, loss of nipple or areola during breast surgery or loss of tummy skin after a tummy tuck.

Increased risk of complications

Nicotine increases the risk of serious complications both during cosmetic surgery and afterwards, during the recovery process.

Carbon monoxide can also affect surgery

There is carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke. Carbon monoxide decreased the oxygen carrying capacity of the haemoglobin in the blood. This has the same effect as the vasoconstrictor effect of the blood vessels and so has the risk of tissue death.

Risks of blood clots

Smoking can elevate your risk of developing blood clots or deep vein thrombosis as well as other circulatory diseases and strokes. There are already risks that are associated with cosmetic surgery and being under general anaesthetic and so you wouldn’t want to add to these risks.

Tips for stopping smoking

Lots of people find it very difficult to quit smoking as nicotine is physically addictive. However, having a cosmetic procedure can prove to be a great catalyst to helping you stop.

We’ve put together these quick tips to get you started.

Make a plan

Plan the date for when you’re going to quit. For some people it works better to go “cold turkey”, for others it’s easier to cut down before stopping altogether. Be honest with your plastic surgeon about your smoking and make a plan together regarding the time you need to abstain from smoking before your surgery goes ahead – the time will depend on a few factors including your overall health and what procedure you will be having.

If there are going to be social occasions where it may be difficult not to smoke, think about what you could do instead. Maybe you could go inside when other people are smoking or is there another habit you could replace the smoking with?


Research says that even five minutes of brisk walking or stretching can help to reduce your cravings. Why not try doing this when you feel a craving coming on?

If you have an active lifestyle and regular exercise routine before you undergo a cosmetic procedure, this can also really help with the healing process.

List your reasons

Make a list of reasons why you should quit smoking and keep coming back to these whenever you feel like you want to go back to your habit.

Top of the list can be your cosmetic procedure – after all, you wouldn’t want to unnecessarily put yourself at risk while having surgery to improve your wellbeing.