Proper Sterile Technique is Critical for Optimal Dermal Filler Results

In surgery, sterile technique is “the law”. Any break in sterility places the patient at risk for a potentially life threatening infection. It is the duty for the surgeon(s), scrub tech, and circulating nurse to self report or call out any suspected or potential contamination risk. Immediate actions are taken to remedy the situation and to limit the risk to patient.

Why should dermal fillers be treated as anything differently? They shouldn’t! Fillers are semipermanent or permanent implants, and they must be administered in aseptic technique. The majority of injectors are not trained as surgeons and therefore don’t fully comprehend what sterile technique entails. Granulomas, one of the more serious complications from fillers, have now been traced to biofilms. Biofilms are latent bacteria that somehow get activated and present as infection or granulomas, months to years after the initial injection. Most often biofilms are deposited in the tissues during the initial injection procedure. Clearing infections or granulomas takes weeks or months to clear and often entails antibiotics, steroids, 5 FU, and hyaluronidase (if a hyaluronic acid was used).

The following guidelines should serve as a reference for physicians and nurses to minimize infectious complications during dermal filler injections.

  1. The patient should clean their face thoroughly with soap and water in the office. All make-up must be removed.
  2. Never inject someone with a current/ongoing infection. Even if the infection is not in the area of the dermal filler, bacteria can seed the filler from distant areas through the bloodstream (bactermia).
  3. If a patient is in the process of getting dental work or even dental cleanings, hold off on injections until after the work has been completed. Bactermia is well documented during dental cleanings. It is recommended to wait at least 2 weeks after fillers to get dental cleanings. The areas of filler placement will initially have increased blood flow (hyperemia) so it is best to wait until this settles down.
  4. Skin should be prepped for injection with chlorhexidine, with Hibiclens being the preferred form by the author. Although isopropyl alcohol (70%) is effective in killing bacteria and fungus, it is only effective for seconds and becomes ineffective as soon as it evaporates. Hibiclens kills germs on contact and will give persistent bactericidal effects for at least 6 hours, and up to 24 hours. It will bond with the skin even after washing to give continued killing effects. Isopropyl alcohol doesn’t give this lasting bactericidal effect, so anytime after the initial cleaning that an unsterile glove touches the skin, that area is now contaminated. (Hibiclens must be kept out of the eyes because it can burn the cornea). Technicare is also a great antiseptic but the author doesn’t have experience with it. Too many patients are allergic to Betadine for it to be used routinely.
  5. Do not use tap water when applying Hibiclens or to clean the face after completion of the injections. There are several bacteria, fungi, as well as mycobacterium in water which can seep through the injection ports and cause infection.
  6. If the filler is prepared by mixing lidocaine or saline, this must be done in a sterile fashion. The female/female connector used to connect the 2 syringes together must not be reused. It can only be used for the current patient and cannot be sterilized for use on other patients. The tops of all the solutions used must be wiped with an alcohol wipe. Routine use of blending fillers opens up more avenues for filler contamination and must be done with the strictest of sterile technique. If any of the solution vials becomes unsterile, all future filler patients using that vial will become infected.
  7. Blunt tip cannulas can be used for multiple injection sites ON THE SAME PATIENT and are not intended to be used for multiple patients. When changing the cannulas between syringes, they should be recapped first. It is not sterile technique to lay the cannula on an unsterile tray or even a sterile drape when uncapped. After a syringe of filler is removed from its sterile packaging, the areas touched with the exam gloves become “contaminated”. Therefore, the sterile drape is not a sterile field anymore, once the syringes is placed on it. Best practice is to cap the syringe every time it is laid down.
  8. Blunt cannulas are much longer than needles and must be kept sterile throughout their entire length. The cannula is contaminated if anywhere along its length it touches non sterilized skin, gloves, or hair.
  9. It is never appropriate to touch a needle or cannula with unsterile gloves. The needle/cannula are now contaminated and must be exchanged.
  10. The introducing needle for the pilot hole with cannula use must be recapped as well to maintain sterility.
  11. Unless the gauze used during the procedure is specifically labeled as sterile, it is not, and introduces another route of contamination. Gauze that comes in sealed pull away packs and labeled as sterile is best to use. The author will take unsterile gauze, place in autoclave packs, and place in the autoclave to obtain sterility.
  12. Frequent “re-sterilization” of the areas being treated with Hibiclens soaked gauze is done by the author.
  13. If ice or devices for vibration are used to control discomfort, these should be cleansed with Hibiclens prior to applying to the skin. In addition, the areas where these were applied should be “re-sterilized” prior to injections.
  14. When the procedure is complete, sterile water or saline on sterile gauze should be used to clean the patient. Again, if tap water is used, this can seep through the injection ports and lead to infection. Also, when soaking the gauze, best practice is to pour the water/saline over the sink onto the sterile gauze so as to keep the remaining fluid in the container sterile. By tipping the water/saline onto gauze that is covering the top, there is risk of contamination going back into the container.
  15. Make-up should not be applied to the skin until the morning. At this point, the injection ports have all healed and there is no risk of contamination.
  16. Dental procedures, even cleanings, should be postponed for at least 2 weeks.

Although the details above are fairly lengthy, any break from any step will lead to a possible source of granuloma or infection in the future. Strict sterile technique will lead to better outcomes and happier patients,

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