Dermabrasion: Purpose, Procedure and Risks
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Dermabrasion

What is dermabrasion?

Dermabrasion is an exfoliating technique that uses a rotating instrument to remove the outer layers of skin, usually on the face. This treatment is popular with people who wish to improve the appearance of their skin. Some of the conditions it can treat include fine lines, sun damage, acne scars, and uneven texture.

Dermabrasion occurs in a dermatologist’s office. During the procedure, a professional will numb your skin with anesthesia before removing the outermost layers of your skin. This is an outpatient procedure, meaning that you can go home to recover following the treatment.

There are several over-the-counter devices that simulate the cleansing and exfoliating process of professional treatments. These typically take longer to produce the desired skin-smoothing effects of professional dermabrasion and usually don’t achieve the full effects.

What are the reasons for getting dermabrasion?

Dermabrasion removes damaged outer layers of skin. This exposes new layers of skin that appear younger and smoother.

In addition to providing a more youthful appearance, dermabrasion can also help treat:

  • acne scars
  • age spots
  • fine wrinkles
  • precancerous skin patches
  • rhinophyma, or redness and thick skin on the nose
  • scars from surgery or injury
  • sun damage
  • tattoos
  • uneven skin tone

Dermabrasion is only one of many treatments for these conditions. For instance, advances in laser technology make laser tattoo removal quicker and easier. Talk to your dermatologist about all of the treatment options for your specific condition.

Some skin conditions may prevent your doctor from performing dermabrasion, including inflammatory acne, recurrent herpes flare-ups, radiation burns, or burn scars.

You may also be unable to receive dermabrasion if you’ve taken medications with a skin-thinning side effect. And your doctor may not recommend dermabrasion if your skin tone is naturally very dark.

How do I prepare for dermabrasion?

Before your treatment, your doctor will give you a physical examination, review your medical history, and discuss your risks and expectations. Tell your doctor about any medications you’re taking, including over-the-counter medicine and nutritional supplements.

You may need to stop taking them because they could increase your bleeding risk or adversely darken your skin. Tell your doctor if you have taken isotretinoin (Accutane) in the past year.

Your doctor will also recommend that you not smoke for a few weeks before and after your treatment. Smoking not only causes premature aging of the skin, but it also decreases blood flow to the skin and slows the healing process.

Your doctor will also advise you about sun exposure. Too much sun exposure without proper protection two months before dermabrasion can cause skin discoloration. You will also be advised to avoid sun exposure while your skin is healing and to use sunscreen daily once healed.

Your doctor may also recommend that you use the following before dermabrasion:

  • antiviral medication: use before and after dermabrasion treatment to prevent viral infections
  • oral antibiotic: this will prevent a bacterial infection, which is especially important if you have acne
  • retinoid cream: derived from vitamin A, this cream helps promote healing

You’ll also want to arrange for a ride home after the procedure. The after-effects of anesthesia may make it unsafe to drive.

What happens during dermabrasion?

The type of anesthesia you have during dermabrasion depends on the extent of your treatment. Your doctor will typically give you local anesthesia. However, certain cases may require sedation to help you relax or feel drowsy. Sometimes general anesthesia may be given during the procedure.

During the treatment, an assistant will hold your skin taut. Your doctor will move a device called a dermabrader across your skin. The dermabrader is a small, motorized device with a rough surface.

On large patches of skin, the doctor will use a circular dermabrader, while on smaller places, such as the corners of your mouth, they’ll use one with a small tip. Your doctor may treat large sections of skin over multiple sessions.

Right after the procedure, your doctor will cover the treated area with a moist dressing. They’ll usually change this dressing at an appointment the following day.

What happens after dermabrasion?

Your doctor will give you complete home care instructions about how to change your dressings, how to cover the treated area, and which products to use. You can expect to return to work in about two weeks.

Following dermabrasion, your skin is typically pink and swollen and may feel like it is burning or tingling. The skin may ooze a clear or yellow liquid or crust over while healing. It will take about three months for your skin to fully heal and for the pink coloration to fade.

What are the complications associated with dermabrasion?

Risks associated with dermabrasion are the same as those associated with other surgical procedures. They include bleeding, infection, and allergic reaction to anesthesia.

Some risks specific to dermabrasion include:

  • acne breakouts
  • changes in skin tone
  • enlarged pores, usually temporary
  • loss of freckles
  • redness
  • rash
  • swelling

Though rare, some people develop excessive scarring, or keloids, after dermabrasion treatment. In these cases, some steroid medications can help soften the scars.

Always follow your doctor’s advice and attend follow-up appointments as recommended. The most important thing is to be gentle to your skin. Avoid using harsh cleansers or skincare products, and avoid scrubbing or picking at your skin. Your doctor may recommend applying a thick moisturizing ointment such as petroleum jelly. It is also very important to avoid exposing your skin to the sun while it is healing. When your skin is healed, use sunscreen every day.

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