Plastic surgery is more popular than ever. In 2022, more than 26 million surgical and minimally invasive procedures were performed in the U.S. alone.
Although techniques have advanced greatly, recovering from plastic surgery can be long and painful. And patients can face several complications, including infection, scarring and hematoma.
There are a variety of post-operative protocols to reduce recovery times and ward off complications. However, one that’s gained popularity is hyperbaric oxygen therapy after plastic surgery.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) involves breathing 100% oxygen in a pressurized chamber. HBOT increases the available oxygen in the blood, which is an important nutrient in recovery. HBOT, for example, delivers more oxygen to wounds, which may help to reduce infection, hasten wound healing, and reduce swelling.
Recent research has explored the benefits of hyperbaric oxygen therapy after plastic surgery. And increasingly, HBOT is being prescribed in post-operative care.
Can oxygen therapy help improve plastic surgery outcomes? We’ll take a closer look at the mechanisms, benefits of HBOT in plastic surgery treatment, and outline common post-op protocols.
What Is Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy?
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) is done by placing a patient in a pressurized chamber. The chamber contains pure oxygen.
Normally, the air we breathe contains 21% oxygen. In a HBOT chamber, the air is 100% oxygen. And HBOT treatments increase the amount of oxygen that can dissolve and enter the blood stream. This oxygen is then carried to tissues throughout the body.
How Does HBOT Help Plastic Surgery Recovery?
Two key players in wound healing are oxygen and blood flow. Oxygen fuels cellular processes, like tissue formation, collagen synthesis, wound cleaning, and infection fighting. Oxygen is carried to wounds through the blood (along with essential nutrients).
After a cosmetic procedure or surgery, your body immediately begins to heal itself. Increasing the amount of oxygen in the blood can help to enhance these natural healing processes. A few reasons that HBOT after plastic surgery may help include:
- Improved blood flow (more nutrients and oxygen to the wound)
- Reduced swelling and inflammation
- Speeds up the healing process
- Fights infection through enhanced immune function
- Stimulating collagen synthesis
Recent research has also explored many of these mechanisms, offering support for reduced recovery times, improved wound healing, and more.
Hyperbaric Oxygen and Plastic Surgery: Key Benefits
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) is FDA cleared for wound healing. And this is one of the biggest benefits following surgery.
HBOT may be effective at accelerating wound healing, and some of the latest research has found positive evidence of this benefit. Here’s a look at some key benefits HBOT has for plastic surgeons:
1. Accelerated Wound Healing
Post-surgical surgery can be complex, with pain and swelling often lingering for weeks and, in some cases, even months.
HBOT may help speed recovery and reduce tissue inflammation, bruising, swelling, and related after-effects. One study found evidence that hyperbaric oxygen treatments significantly reduced wound healing outcomes following facelift procedures.
The mean time for wound healing in the HBOT group was 13.3 days, compared to 36.9 days in the non-HBOT group. Researchers believe the enhanced blood flow and oxygen delivery to wound sites is a key factor here.
2. Pain & Swelling Reduction
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) may help to decrease post-operative pain and swelling. Swelling is a common complication after cosmetic procedure, and it may be due to a cycle of hypoxia (insufficient oxygen to the tissue), inflammation and edema.
According to a review of research, HBOT may offer these benefits to treat swelling:
- Increased blood oxygen: HBOT significantly increases the amount of dissolved oxygen in the bloodstream, bypassing the need for red blood cells. This oxygen-rich plasma can reach areas with limited blood flow, directly improving oxygen supply to tissues.
- Improved cellular function: With adequate oxygen, cells function better, including those involved in fluid balance and tissue repair. This can help reduce excess fluid accumulation and promote faster healing.
- Reduced inflammation: Studies suggest HBOT might have anti-inflammatory effects, potentially reducing the release of inflammatory mediators that can contribute to edema.
- Angiogenesis: HBOT can stimulate the growth of new blood vessels (angiogenesis), which improves overall blood flow and circulation, potentially aiding in fluid removal.
3. Quick Recovery Time and Minimizes Risk of Infection
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy may reduce recovery times, especially for wound healing. However, there isn’t a lot of evidence to support this claim. A study exploring the topic was included in a recent review of research, and a statistical difference in recovery time wasn’t found.
In addition to wound healing, hyperbaric oxygen therapy may help ward off infection, which is a common cause of complications. A few reasons for this:
- Oxygen can directly inhibit the growth of certain bacteria
- HBOT may support white blood cells’ anti-bacterial function
- Improving the function of immune cells
- Faster wound healing and swelling reduces exposure risk to pathogens
4. Reduces Scarring
Scarring is a top complication of plastic surgery. Generally, the research on HBOT and scarring is limited. But a popular theory for why it may help includes:
- Oxygen can help to stimulate collagen production (reduce risk of scar formation)
- Reduced inflammation may help limit scar tissue formation
- HBOT may stimulate growth of new blood vessels, improving circulation to the wound site
- Improved cellular processes
5. Reduces Intake of Medication
Faster wound healing, reduced swelling, and a limited risk of infection all reduce the need for drugs. This can include opioid painkillers, antibiotics, and even acetaminophen (which can be dangerous in high doses).
Post-Operative HBOT Treatments
Generally, the number of sessions you need depends on the procedure and individual needs. However, there’s evidence that suggests oxygen therapy may be beneficial before and after cosmetic surgery.
Here is a general overview of how you might proceed:
- Starting HBOT therapy 24 to 48 hours before surgery: This can help to prepare the tissues for the procedure and improve healing.
- Undergoing HBOT sessions 1-3 times per day for 1-2 weeks after surgery: The exact number of sessions and duration of each session will vary depending on the individual’s needs.
- Breathing 100% oxygen in a pressurized chamber for 60 to 90 minutes per session: The pressure in the chamber is typically 2-3 times greater than normal atmospheric pressure.
This is just a general guideline. Consult with your doctor prior to undergoing hyperbaric oxygen.
Generally, hyperbaric oxygen therapy is considered safe. But some populations should avoid HBOT, including those with lung conditions, uncontrolled seizures, some medications, and severe claustrophobia.
Potential Side Effects
HBOT does have some potential side effects. They include:
- Ear discomfort: Pressure changes during therapy can cause ear pain, pressure, or popping. This is usually mild and temporary, but earplugs or other techniques can help manage it.
- Sinus pressure: Similar to ear discomfort, pressure changes can affect the sinuses, causing pressure, congestion, or headaches. Clearing your sinuses before treatment can help minimize these issues.
- Claustrophobia: For individuals with claustrophobia, the enclosed space of the chamber can cause anxiety or discomfort. Discuss options with your doctor if this is a concern.
- Fatigue: Some people experience fatigue after HBOT sessions, which usually resolves within a short time.
Preparing for HBOT Sessions
Here are a few steps that can ensure a safe and effective hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) experience:
1. Consultation with a Healthcare Provider
It is important to consult with a healthcare provider before beginning your hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT). They will understand your concerns, evaluate your medical history, check your health, and define the sessions required for optimum results.
Also, if you are operating a center, make sure you have a compulsory session with the healthcare provider for each patient. This reduces the scope for any futuristic complications.
2. Medical History and Evaluation
It is best to have your latest medical reports before undergoing the HBOT sessions. These reports can determine your health status and if HBOT is suitable for you. It is an assessment of your overall health and specific conditions.
As an HBOT center, ensure to store and safeguard these medical evaluations for further assessments.
3. Plan for Sessions
Each HBOT session lasts between 60 to 90 minutes. Thus, plan your schedule accordingly and make sure your stomach is empty.
Also, if you have further appointments, accommodate them accordingly.
4. Follow Pre-Treatment Guidelines
Make sure to follow the instructions before each HBOT session, such as wearing comfortable clothing, dietary restrictions, disclosure of medications, avoiding certain medications, and not indulging in alcohol and smoking.
As an HBOT center, ensure the device is clean after every session, check the device parameters, and ensure the patient has followed all the procedures and prerequisites.
5. Stay Hydrated
It would help if you were adequately hydrated before each HBOT session.
6. Remove Any Metal or Artificial Objects/Accessories
Make sure you don’t have any accessories while entering the HBOT chamber. These include jewelry, watches, metal objects, etc. There is a chance that these objects will react to oxygen treatment.
Do a wellness and physical check to ensure your patients do not carry metal accessories in the chamber.
As an HBOT center, you must train your staff to ensure a safe and successful hyperbaric oxygen therapy experience.
Deciding to undergo cosmetic surgery is exciting, but it can also fill people with a lot of trepidation. HBOT could be a game-changer when it comes to recovering from cosmetic surgery.
If you have experienced slow healing times, this could be a great option, as it is incredible in its ability to speed up healing time and prevent infections. It could also reduce the risk of complications and allow you to recover faster than usual.
Our team is here to explain more about HBOT, its science, and how it could work well with your unique post-operative plan. If HBOT interests you, get in touch with us—we’d be more than happy to discuss how this oxygen therapy treatment works and how it could help you in your post-operative journey.
Sources and References
American Society of Plastic Surgeons. (2023, September 26). American Society of Plastic Surgeons reveals 2022’s Most Sought-After Procedures.
Office of the Commissioner. (2021, July 26). Hyperbaric oxygen therapy: Get the facts. U.S. Food And Drug Administration.
Simman R, Bach K. Role of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy in Cosmetic and Reconstructive Surgery in Ischemic Soft Tissue Wounds: A Case Series. Eplasty. 2022 Dec 7;22:e61.
Neel OF, Mousa AH, Al-Terkawi RA, Bakr MM, Mortada H. Assessing the Efficacy of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy on Facelift Outcomes: A Case-Control Study Comparing Outcomes in Patients With and Without Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy. Aesthet Surg J Open Forum. 2023 Jul 14;5:ojad65.
Oley, M. H., Oley, M. C., Mawu, F. O., Aling, D. M. R., & Faruk, M. (2022). Hyperbaric oxygen therapy in managing minimally invasive aesthetic procedure complications: a report of three cases. Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology, Volume 15, 63–68.
Ríos-Gómez, M., Gómez-Ortega, V., Cardona, C., & De La Hoz‐Valle, J. A. (2023). Hyperbaric oxygen therapy in Plastic, Aesthetic, and Reconstructive Surgery: Systematic review. Surgical Techniques Development, 12(1), 43–52.
Cicek C, Gumus T (2022) Applications of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy in Plastic Surgery. Med Clin Rev, Vol. 8 Iss No.9: 133.
Bassetto, F., Bosco, G., Brambullo, T., Kohscheen, E., Tocco-Tussardi, I, Vindigni, V., & Tiengo, C. (2019) Hyperbaric oxygen therapy in Plastic Surgery practice: case series and literature overview. Il Giornale di Chirurgia – Journal of the Italian Association of Hospital Surgeons 40(4):p 257-275.