What is dermabrasion?

Dermabrasion, or surgical skin planing, is a procedure where a dermatologist or plastic surgeon uses a specialized instrument to "sand" the skin. This abrasive or planing action improves skin contour as it scrapes away top layers of skin to unveil smooth new skin.

Dermabrasion is an option if you want smoother skin. Many people who suffer from skin irregularities such as fine lines from sun damage, wrinkles, melasma, acne scars (and more) see great improvement. But, it’s important to understand the risks as well as the rewards before you decide if dermabrasion is right for you.

Dermabrasion offers good results if you have fair skin. Darker skin tones are more prone to scarring or discoloration. If your skin is darker, you may achieve better results with alternative skin resurfacing procedures.

The word “dermabrasion” is straightforward. “Derm” means “skin” and “abrasion” means “the process of scraping or wearing something away.” The word itself means “scraping of the skin.”

When is dermabrasion used? What kinds of conditions get treated with dermabrasion?

Dermabrasion was first developed to lessen acne scars and pox marks. Today, it’s also used to reduce wrinkles and fine lines, remove tattoos and reverse sun damage. Not every skin condition can benefit from dermabrasion, but many can.

Dermabrasion can improve:

  • Age (liver) spots.
  • Crow’s feet and fine lines.
  • Melasma and other patches of dark skin.
  • Pox marks and tattoos.
  • Red, thick skin on the nose (rhinophyma).
  • Scars from acne, accidents, or surgery.
  • Skin growths that are benign (noncancerous).
  • Precancerous skin patches.
  • Sun damage and wrinkles.
  • Stretch marks.

Dermabrasion can’t improve:

  • Birthmarks.
  • Burns.
  • Moles.

Who is dermabrasion right for?

People of all ages, including children, can get dermabrasion. However, if you’re on the older side, keep in mind that you might heal slower than expected.

Two factors may keep you from eligibility: skin type and medical history. If you are Asian, Black, or have a dark complexion in general, this treatment could permanently discolor your skin. You might not want to risk dermabrasion.

If you have medical conditions like allergic rashes, skin reactions, fever blisters or cold sores, you could risk a flare-up. Also, if your acne is ongoing, dermabrasion isn’t an option because there’s a risk of infection. Infection is also a risk if you’ve had a bad burn, chemical peel, or if you’ve had radiation treatments.

One last risk is that your freckles might go away when your skin gets scraped.

Is dermabrasion an outpatient or inpatient procedure?

Dermabrasion is an outpatient procedure. That means that you’ll be in the office, surgery center or hospital for the procedure, but that you won’t stay overnight. In rare cases, if there is extensive work that needs monitored, you may be admitted into the hospital.

Can I do dermabrasion on myself at home?

Only a trained dermatologist or plastic surgeon should perform a dermabrasion. Make sure you find a qualified professional.

What’s the difference between dermabrasion and other skin resurfacing options like microdermabrasion?

Depending upon your skin type, condition and goals, you may want to consider other skin resurfacing options. Work with your dermatologist to figure out which option will work best for you.

Consider the following skin resurfacing alternatives:

  • Chemical peels use chemicals to dissolve top layers of skin of all skin types.
  • Laser skin resurfacing utilizes a laser to reduce wrinkles or scars on fair skin types only.
  • Microneedling uses a physical device to reduce wrinkles or scars on all skin types.
  • Microdermabrasion uses a spray of tiny abrasive crystals to soften all skin types. It’s a lighter procedure than dermabrasion and won’t work for deep skin issues, such as stretch marks, scars or wrinkles. It doesn’t require anesthesia and your skin recovers in 24 hours.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 09/15/2020.

References

  • American Society of Plastic Surgeons. Dermabrasion. Accessed 9/11/2020.
  • American Society of Plastic Surgeons. Microdermabrasion. Accessed 9/11/2020.
  • American Academy of Dermatology. Melasma: Diagnosis and Treatment. Accessed 9/11/2020.
  • American Society for Dermatologic Surgery. Dermabrasion. Accessed 9/11/2020.
  • Moetaz B et al. Trichloroacetic Acid Peeling Versus Dermabrasion: A Histometric, Immunohistochemical, and Ultrastructural Comparison. Dermatologic Surgery. 2004; 30:2. Accessed 9/11/2020.
  • News Medical Life Sciences. What is Dermabrasion? Accessed 9/11/2020.

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