Rhinoplasty surgery can make many changes to the nose, from taking down a bump on the bridge to narrowing the tip. But in the end, the result that will be seen depends how the skin of the nose redrapes and adapts to the new changes that have occurred in the supporting framework underneath it. Given that removing skin from the nose or tightening it through incisions and creating external scars would be unacceptable, the wildcard in any rhinoplasty outcome is ultimately the patient’s nasal skin.
Thus, unlike any other piece of nasal anatomy, the skin is really a fixed and not a variable component of rhinoplasty. It is the one piece of nasal anatomy in which its surface area can not be reduced. It is a common principle in rhinoplasty teaching that the skin will shrink down and adapt to show the changes that have occurred in the bone and cartilage framework. But this is not always so and is not necessarily even always predictable.
How well the skin of the nose can shrink down is influenced by many variables. The two most important are the thickness of the skin and where on the nose it is located. Skin in the upper half of the nose seems to be better at adapting than the lower half of the skin. But that may be just a reflection of the complexity of the anatomy underneath it. The upper nose is like a saddle while the lower nose has a much more complex shape and is more similar to wrapping paper around one side of a ball. Thin skin is believed to shrink better than thick skin and probably reflects that it has less overall mass. In theory, thick skin should shrink more than thin skin due to a higher number of elastic fibers. But its thickness provides 50% more mass given any surface area so significant skin contraction does not occur.
When one has thick skin on the nose and is undergoing a rhinoplasty, it is important to temper one’s expectations and to have extreme patience in awaiting the final result. This is particularly relevant to many ethnic rhinoplasties including Africa-American, Hispanic, and Middle Eastern. Since one of the main objectives of these rhinoplasties is to have a more slim and refined nose, thick skin will have an influence on how achieveable that goal is. It is also important when performing these rhinoplasties to not attempt to slim the nose by removing too much underlying structure. That will cause the skin to ‘ball up’ particularly in the tip area since the now ‘excessive’ skin has nowhere to go but to contract onto itself.
Dr. Barry Eppley