1 What is a Dermabrasion?

Dermabrasion is a skin resurfacing procedure in which a rapidly rotating device is used to sand out the outer layers of the skin.

The skin that later grows backs usually smoother and younger looking.

Dermabrasion can decrease the appearance of facial lines and improve the look of scars, such as those that result from acne.

Dermabrasion can be done alone or in combination with other cosmetic procedures. Your skin with being numbed with anesthetics during this procedure.

You might also have the option of taking a sedative or receiving general anesthesia, which depends on the extent of the treatment.

Skin treated with dermabrasion will be sensitive and bright pink for several weeks. The pinkness usually takes about three months to fade.

2 Reasons for Procedure

Dermabrasion is used for the following reasons:

  • To remove scars caused by acne, surgery or injuries.
  • To remove fine wrinkles, particularly those found around the mouth.
  • To remove tattoos.
  • To treat sun-damaged skin, including age spots.
  • To treat uneven skin tone.
  • To treat swelling and redness of the nose (rhinophyma).
  • To treat potentially precancerous skin patches (actinic keratoses).

3 Potential Risks

The following potential risks are associated with dermabrasion:

Redness and swelling. Treated skin after dermabrasion will be red and swollen. The swelling will begin to reduce within a few days to one week, but might last for weeks or even months.

Your new skin will be sensitive and bright pink for several weeks. The pinkness usually takes several months to fade.

Acne. You might notice tiny white bumps (milia) on treated skin. These bumps usually disappear on their own or with the use of soap or an abrasive pad.

Enlarged pores. Dermabrasion may lead to the enlargement of your pores. Typically, pores shrink to near normal size after any swelling decreases.

Change in skin color. The skin temporarily becomes darker than normal (hyperpigmentation), lighter than normal (hypopigmentation) or blotchy. These problems are more common in individuals who have darker skin and can sometimes be permanent.

Infection. In rare cases, dermabrasion can lead to a bacterial, fungal or viral infection, such as a flare-up of the herpes virus (the virus that causes cold sores).

Scarring Dermabrasion that is done too deeply can rarely cause scarring. Steroid medication can be used to soften the appearance of these scars.

Other skin reactions. If you often develop allergic skin rashes or any other skin reactions, dermabrasion can cause your skin to flare up. Dermabrasion cannot, however, be recommended for everyone.

Your doctor might caution against dermabrasion in the following cases:

  • You have taken the oral acne medication isotretinoin (Amnesteem, others) during the past year.
  • You have a personal or family history of ridged areas caused by an overgrowth of scar tissue (keloids).
  • You have acne or another pus-filled skin condition.
  • You have recurrent herpes simplex infections.
  • You have burn scars or skin that has been damaged due to radiation treatments.

4 Preparing for your Procedure

To prepare for a dermabrasion, you doctor will likely do the following:

Review your medical history. You must be prepared to answer any questions about current and past medical conditions and any medications you are currently or have recently taken.

You must also tell your doctor if you have had any recent cosmetic procedures were done or any you have done in the past.

Do a physical exam. Your doctor will do a skin inspection of the area to be treated. This will help him or her to determine what kind of changes can be made and how your physical features, for example, the tone and thickness of your skin might affect your results.

Discuss your expectations. Talk to your doctor about your motivations and expectations, as well as the potential risks of the procedure.

Make sure you understand how long the healing process will take and what you results will look like. You might also need to do the following before dermabrasion.

Stop using certain medications. Before having dermabrasion, you doctor might advise you to stop taking blood-thinning medication and any other medication that causing the skin to become darker than normal (hyperpigmentation).

Stop smoking. Smoking is known to decrease blood flow in the skin and can also slow the healing process.

Take antiviral medication. You doctor will likely prescribe an antiviral medication before and after treatment to help prevent a viral infection.

Take an oral antibiotic. If you have acne, your doctor might recommend taking an oral antibiotic around the time of the procedure to help prevent a bacterial infection.

Use a retinoid cream. Your doctor might advise you to use retinoid cream (tretinoin) for a few weeks before treatment to promote healing.

Avoid unprotected sun exposure. Too much sun exposure prior to the procedure can cause permanent irregular pigmentation in the treated areas.

Arrange for a ride home. If you are sedated or receive a general anesthetic during dermabrasion, you will need assistance to get home.

5 What to Expect

Here’s what you can expect before, during, and after your dermabrasion procedure.

Dermabrasion is typically done in an office-based procedure room or outpatient surgical facility. However, if you're having extensive work done, dermabrasion might be done in a hospital.  

Before the procedure, a member of your health care team will clean your face, cover your eyes and mark the area to be treated. A topical anesthetic might be rubbed on your skin to decrease sensation.

Then your skin will be numbed with local anesthetics. You might have the option of taking a sedative or receiving a general anesthetic, depending on the extent of your treatment.

During the procedure. During dermabrasion, a member of your health care team will hold your skin taut. Your doctor will move the dermabrader — a small motorized device with an abrasive wheel or brush for a tip — across your skin with constant, gentle pressure.

He or she will carefully remove the outer layers of skin to reveal new, smoother skin. Dermabrasion can take a few minutes to more than an hour, depending on how much skin is being treated.

If you have deep scarring or you're having a large amount of skin treated, you might have dermabrasion done more than once or in stages.

After the procedure. After dermabrasion, treated skin will be covered with a moist, nonstick dressing. You'll likely need to schedule a checkup soon after treatment so that your doctor can examine your skin and change your dressing.

At home, change your dressing as directed by your doctor. Your doctor will also let you know when you can begin regularly cleaning the treated area and applying protective ointments, such as petroleum jelly.

While you're healing:

  • Treated skin will be red and swollen
  • You'll likely feel some burning, tingling or aching
  • A scab or crust will form over treated skin as it begins to heal
  • The growth of new skin might be itchy

To relieve pain after the procedure, your doctor might prescribe pain medication or recommend over-the-counter pain relief, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol, others), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) or naproxen sodium (Aleve, others).

You might prefer to remain at home while you're healing from dermabrasion, though you can usually return to work after two weeks. Keep treated areas away from chlorinated swimming pool water for at least four weeks.

Your doctor might recommend avoiding active sports — especially those involving a ball — for four to six weeks. Once new skin completely covers the treated area you can use cosmetics to conceal any redness.

If your treated skin appears to be getting worse — becomes increasingly red, raised and itchy after it has started to heal — contact your doctor. These might be signs of scarring.

6 Procedure Results

Your new skin will be sensitive and red as a result of a dermabrasion. The swelling will begin to decrease within a few day to a week.

However, it can last longer in some other cases, ranging from several weeks to even months. The pinkness of your skin will take about three months to fade.

Once the treated area begins to heal, you will not that your skin will appear smoother. Protect your skin from the sun for at least six to 12 months to prevent a permanent change in skin color.

If dark skin coloring is a concern after healing is complete, you doctor might give you a prescription of hydroquinone, a bleaching agent, to help even out your skin tone.

Keep in mind that dermabrasion results might not be permanent. You will continue to acquire lines by squinting and smiling as you age. New sun damage can also reverse your results.

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