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.”
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:
Dermabrasion can’t improve:
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.
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.
Only a trained dermatologist or plastic surgeon should perform a dermabrasion. Make sure you find a qualified professional.
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:
You’ll meet with your dermatologic or plastic surgeon before the procedure to discuss your goals and expectations. During the consultation, your plastic surgeon or dermatologic surgeon will describe the type of anesthesia, the procedure and what realistic results you can expect. A 50% improvement in your skin’s condition is considered a good result.
To be considered a good candidate for dermabrasion, you need to prepare yourself for how you’ll look while your skin is healing. Your skin will be very pink and raw; without proper post-procedural care, a scab-like crust will form, potentially delaying healing and worsening the outcome. Your skin may ooze and it will have a moist dressing on it for the day immediately following surgery, prior to starting wound care at home. It’s critical to stay out of the sun during the healing period so that the new skin heals evenly and doesn’t become discolored. You may want to take at least two weeks off from work for your skin to heal properly. It may take several months for the full results to emerge.
Dermabrasion is typically an outpatient procedure performed in your healthcare provider’s office where your skin is numbed with a local anesthetic. But, if you’re having other cosmetic procedures at the same time (such as a facelift), you may have your procedure done at an inpatient surgery center and receive general anesthesia. Your healthcare provider will also explain the risks and complications that may occur and will take photographs before and after the procedure to evaluate your results.
Be prepared at the consultation to discuss the following with your healthcare provider:
Once you’ve scheduled your dermabrasion procedure, your healthcare provider will give you preoperative instructions. To prepare for your procedure, your healthcare provider may instruct you to:
Your skin will be cleansed with an antiseptic and your healthcare provider will give you any or a combination of the following to make you comfortable during the dermabrasion procedure:
Once the numbing medication has taken effect, your healthcare provider will use a high-speed rotary instrument with an abrasive diamond wheel or wire brush to scrape away the outer layers of skin and reveal the fresh layers underneath. Once the procedure is complete, your healthcare provider will apply a moist dressing to your skin to keep it protected while it heals.
The length of the procedure depends on how much of the skin will go through dermabrasion. It may take a few minutes, or it may take more than 90 minutes.
You will be awake during the procedure but the area will be numbed. Sometimes general anesthesia is necessary.
Be sure to arrange for someone to drive you home after surgery. You won’t be able to operate a vehicle.
Before you leave the healthcare provider’s office, you’ll receive instructions about when to return for a follow-up visit and how to change the dressing. Your healthcare provider will prescribe an antiviral and an antibiotic to help you avoid infections. They also may suggest you use a retinoid ointment (Retin-A®). This vitamin A treatment can boost skin rejuvenation.
After dermabrasion you’ll have to do the following to avoid any problems:
You’ll attend one or more follow-up visits so that your healthcare provider can monitor your condition. They will want to double-check that you’re healing that there are no signs of infection.
Dermabrasion will permanently remove tattoos.
Some medical conditions and medications you have may mean you’re not a good candidate for dermabrasion. Dermabrasion is not ideal if you have:
Side effects of dermabrasion are uncommon but can occur. The most common complications include:
Your skin will be numbed using local anesthesia or a freezing spray during the procedure so that you won’t feel any pain. After the procedure, you may feel like you had a bad sunburn. If there is a severe stinging sensation, your healthcare provider may prescribe pain medications.
There are benefits you may get from dermabrasion that you may not get from a chemical peel. Benefits of dermabrasion vs. chemical peels include:
After the procedure, your skin may feel as though you have a bad sunburn for a few days. You’ll have a follow-up appointment with your healthcare provider to check your skin and re-apply a dressing to keep your skin moist and protected. Your healthcare provider may prescribe medications to help reduce the sting you may feel. Healing usually occurs within 10 to 14 days. The newly formed skin, which will be very pink and tender at first, will gradually develop a normal color over the course of about three months. Makeup can be used as a cover-up as soon as the skin is healed. Most people can resume most of their normal activities seven to 14 days after dermabrasion.
Your dermatologist or plastic surgeon will give you an after-care leaflet so that you know how to take care of your newly-exposed skin while it’s in the delicate stages of healing. Here’s what to expect in your post-procedure after-care routine.
For your post-procedure routine you will need to:
It will likely take at least two weeks for your skin to heal. Several weeks (or even months) might pass by before you’ll see the full, complete results.
Be sure to follow your healthcare provider’s instructions closely as some people may receive specific instructions intended to keep certain health conditions they have in check while they heal.
Dermabrasion is a terrific tool to improve your skin’s appearance and may give you the added benefit of increased confidence.
Contact your dermatologist as soon as possible after you notice the wrinkles, sun damage, melasma, scars and more.
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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 09/15/2020