Dermabrasion

Written by Brian Krans | Published on August 7, 2012
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD

What is Dermabrasion?

Dermabrasion is an exfoliating technique that uses a rotating instrument to remove layers of skin, usually on the face. Dermabrasion is performed in a dermatologist’s office. Your skin is numbed with anesthesia before the outermost layers are sanded away.

There are several over-the-counter devices that simulate the cleansing process of professional treatments. These typically take longer to produce the desired skin-smoothing effects of professional dermabrasion.

Why Dermabrasion Is Performed

Dermabrasion is used to remove damaged outer layers of skin. This exposes new layers of skin that appear younger and smoother.

Besides a more youthful appearance, dermabrasion can help treat or remove:

  • acne scars
  • age spots
  • fine wrinkles
  • precancerous skin patches
  • rhinophyma (redness of 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 your treatment options.

Risks of Dermabrasion Treatment

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

Other risks, specific to dermabrasion, include:

  • acne
  • changes in skin color
  • enlarged pores
  • excessive scarring (keloids)
  • loss of freckles
  • redness
  • rash
  • swelling

Some skin conditions may prevent your doctor from performing dermabrasion, including acne, recurrent herpes infections, radiation burns, burn scars, or if you’ve taken medications with skin-thinning as a side effect.

How to 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 are 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.

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.

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

  • antiviral medication: prescription medication for before and after treatment to prevent viral infections
  • oral antibiotic: this will prevent a bacterial infection, which is 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 will make driving on your own unsafe.

How Dermabrasion Is Performed

The type of anesthesia you have during dermabrasion depends on the extent of the work you are having done. Your doctor will typically give you local anesthesia, but certain cases may require general anesthesia (putting you to sleep during the procedure).

During the treatment, an assistant will hold your skin taut. Your doctor will move a device called a dermabrader across you skin. The dermabrader is a small, motorized device with an abrasive surface. On large patches of skin, the doctor will use a circular dermabrader, while on smaller places, such as the corners of your mouth, he or she will use one with a small tip. Large sections of skin may be treated in multiple sessions.

Immediately after the procedure, your doctor will cover the treated area with a moist dressing. Usually, this will be changed at an appointment the following day.

Following Up After Dermabrasion

Your doctor will give you complete at-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, the 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.

Here are some post-dermabrasion care tips from the Mayo Clinic:

  • Avoid chlorinated water for at least one month.
  • Eat soft foods because they can help reduce pain if you’ve had dermabrasion around your mouth.
  • Hypoallergenic cosmetics can be used to mask redness.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol because it may cause redness in your skin.
  • Contact your doctor if your skin appears to be getting worse (increasingly red, swollen, or itchy).
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