Information on Skin Dermabrasion

By removing the skin's top layer, under controlled conditions, dermabrasion can help smooth out the skin. Since sharp edges of irregularities in the skin will be softened, dermabrasion is most often used to improve the appearance of scars.

The procedure can be performed on smaller, isolated areas or entire areas of the skin, such as the face. Often skin dermabrasion is used together with another procedure to get the best possible result. An example is treatment of, so called, ice-pick scars. These scars often appear as small holes in the skin, but performing dermabrasion might unroof tunnels under the skin. In this case, these can be treated by skin grafting. Other procedures often combined with dermabrasion includes facelifts and chemical peels.

The Procedure

Usually the procedure will be performed while the patient is under local anesthesia. A sedative is given to keep the patient calm and relaxed, while the anesthesia will keep the area numb, this way the patient will feel next to no discomfort. If its a larger procedure, it might be carried out under general anesthesia, meaning that the patient will be asleep during the operation.

Depending on the size of the area treated, the procedure will take from a few minutes to about an hour and a half. Again depending on the size of the area and the severity of the skin irregularities, the procedure might be carried out in stages or multiple times.

The surgeon will scrape away layers of skin until the safest point is reached, where the irregularities will be less pronounced. Usually a rough wire brush, or a burr with diamond particles attached to a motorized handle, will be used.

After scraping off the top layers, the skin might be treated in a number of ways. Examples are dry treatment, ointment, and a wet or waxy dressing.

Risks of Dermabrasion

As with all surgical procedures, dermabrasion carries some risks, these will obviously be reduced by choosing a well-qualified, experienced surgeon.

The most common side effect of skin dermabrasion is change in pigmentation. Exposure to the sun should be avoided in the months following the procedure, as it might lead to permanent darker skin in the treated areas. Other possible changes in skin pigmentation include lighter skin or "blotchiness".

After the surgery, some patients develop tiny whiteheads, these will usually disappear on their own but even if they do not, they are relatively easy to get rid of. Another possible side effect that will usually disappear on its own, is enlarged skin pores.

A very serious, but luckily also very rare, risk of skin dermabrasion is infection or scarring. As mentioned earlier the best way to reduce this risk is by choosing a competent surgeon.

Additional risks include those present at every surgical procedure, such as infection (as mentioned), bleeding and reaction to the anesthesia.

Downtime and Recovery

The procedure involves a period of downtime and recovery.

The skin will be red and swollen right after the procedure. The patient will very likely feel some pain, burning and soreness. To relieve these, the surgeon can prescribe pain medication. Usually after a week, or even a few days, the swelling will start to subside. A crust will begin to form over the treated area, under it will be formed fresh, pink skin, which will be revealed as the crust slowly starts to fall off. To get an idea of the process, imagine the scrapes you got as a child.

The period in which your skin will be slightly swollen, sore, sensitive and bright pink will typically last several weeks. At what point you can resume your normal activities varies greatly from person to person, both because of different reactions of the body and because of different personalities. As a general guideline, patients can often begin work in about two weeks after the procedure. Several activities should be avoided in about four to six weeks; these include swimming, active sports and consumption of alcohol.

In general patients should be very protective of their skin. Most importantly, be sure to avoid exposure to the sun, until your normal skin color has returned, this means avoid the sun in 6 to 12 months after the procedure.

Is Skin Dermabrasion for You?

Comfortable communication with your surgeon is extremely important. You need to be able to precisely describe what you wish the result to be and the surgeon needs to be able to explain exactly what the outcome realistically will be. Having realistic expectations is paramount for the patient to be happy about the outcome. Very likely, the procedure will not be able to remove all scars or imperfections. Likewise, it will not stop the skin from aging.

That said, if you are unhappy about the appearance of your skin and you feel it is hurting your confidence and self-esteem, dermabrasion can help. In the end it is your decision, and you need to decide if this will improve the quality of your life. Obviously something you, and only you, can possibly know.

Other considerations for possible candidates are age, skin coloring, skin type and medical considerations. While the procedure can help the appearance of the skin in people of all ages, the healing process will usually take longer the older you are. More importantly, some skin types and colors feature a higher risk of discoloring and/or "blotchiness". Patients who often experience allergic skin reactions, cold sores or blisters risk a flare up of these conditions. Additionally it is highly recommended that patients still suffering from acne waits to have the procedure done, until the problem is gone.

Alternative Procedures to Improve Skin Surface

An alternative to skin dermabrasion is chemical peels. Both procedures remove the top layer of skin, but while dermabrasion does so surgically, a chemical peel uses a caustic solution. Generally, chemical peels are used for minor imperfections, such as wrinkles, while dermabrasion is used for deeper imperfections and irregularities, such as acne scars. An additional consideration is skin color; here dermbrasion might be preferred for people with darker skin, as it is less likely to produce change and contrast in the skin color. This issue is especially important, if the procedure is limited to a smaller area of skin.

To find out which procedure is the right one for you, be sure to establish good communication with your plastic surgeon. As always this is essential for a successful treatment. Be aware that some surgeons perform both procedures, while others use one for all cases of repair of the skin surface.


If you are unhappy about the appearance of the surface of your skin, you might consider having a skin dermabrasion performed. This is not a cure all, but it does often lead to significant improvement. As always, be sure to find a well qualified doctor, with whom you communicate well. You should be aware of what results you can realistically expect, as well as you should be aware of the risks and recovery period involved.

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