Either before or after surgery
There is a lot of confusion about getting wet when patients have open wounds, or are immediately post-op. The general instructions that we give patients after a cleft-lift done at our clinic, is that it is OK to get the incision wet in the shower starting the day after surgery, even with the drain in place. Allowing clean shower water to cascade over the incision is safe, and helps keep the area clean.
However, we do not recommend that patients soak the incision in a pool, tub, or spa during the first four weeks after the surgery. The reason for this is not that we are concerned about the bacteria in the water, but rather that we want the scar to have a chance to mature before we soften it by soaking. A quick dip in the pool or ocean to cool off is fine, but submerging the wound for a prolonged period of time is not recommended. Of course, extremely contaminated water should be avoided at all times.
If you have a small open wound before or after surgery, there is usually no reason to fear getting them wet either. Soaking in clean bath water should be fine; and clean ocean or pool water is probably fine as well. Whether it is hygienic for you to be in a pool or hot tub with an open wound, is another matter, and concern for the other bathers should be evaluated. Again, unless you are in contaminated water, the bacteria in the water should not cause a problem with a small open wound.
Of course, diving, jumping, water slides, and “cannon-balls” are not recommended for six weeks after a cleft-lift!