Dermabrasion is a method of smoothing the skin through surgical removal of the top layers of the skin. It’s commonly used for treating scarring of the skin caused by accidents, previous surgery, or other factors, or to reduce the appearance of fine wrinkles. Sometimes, dermabrasion is also used to remove precancerous growths from the skin. Dermaplaning is a related and very similar method, commonly used to treat deep acne scars; for the purposes of this page, it’s a type of dermabrasion. Dermabrasion can make the skin appear smoother and more vibrant.
If you’re choosing dermabrasion, make sure you’re choosing it because you really want it, not to please someone else or to fit an imagined ideal. No one else can make the choice for you; it’s your body, and you’re in charge of it. After you do your research and understand the procedure, if you believe that dermabrasion is right for you, then proceed. To help you in your decision-making process, we have some information about the risks and benefits of having a dermabrasion at Dermabrasion: Risks and Benefits.
Please note that this page is for informational purposes only, and is not a substitute for qualified, individualized medical advice. You should discuss your potential elective surgery with your own doctor(s), including your primary care physician and the surgeon who will perform your surgery if you decide to proceed.
How it’s done
The procedure is usually done under local anesthesia with a sedative. This means that you’ll receive oral or intravenous medication that makes you drowsy and relaxed, and shots of local anesthetic that numb your face; you usually won’t remember the procedure. In severe cases, it may be performed under general anesthesia, meaning you’ll be completely “out” for the procedure.
After the anesthesia takes effect, the dermabrasion will begin. The surgeon uses a tool to scrape away the outer layer of skin. This may be a rough wire brush, or a motorized tool with a burr containing fine diamond particles. In dermaplaning, it’s a tool called a dermatome, which works a little like an electric razor; it has a blade that oscillates back and forth to remove very thin layers of skin. The surgeon will move whichever tool is being used around the area that is being treated, gradually removing skin. This continues until the level has been reached where the skin surrounding the scar or wrinkle is even with the deepest part of the scar or wrinkle, or until the deepest safe level has been reached, at which point the surgeon has to stop removing skin.
When dermabrasion is complete, ointment may be used to cover the skin. A dressing is then placed on the skin, which may be wet or dry. Your surgeon will choose what type of dressing to use and whether or not to use ointment based on what he or she believes will best help your skin to heal.
Preparing for the procedure
Choosing your surgeon
When choosing a surgeon, you want a highly-trained professional with experience in this type of surgery. A member of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons has received at least six years of surgical training after medical school, with three of those specifically in plastic surgery. Look for the designation “ASPS” after the surgeon’s name. Also, choose a surgeon with whom you feel comfortable and safe, and who listens to you and tries to understand your goals. If you have friends who’ve had cosmetic surgery, and you like their results, ask for a referral. While cost may be a consideration, don’t allow this to override more important factors in your decision. Your safety and the quality of your results are worth a little extra spending.
For more help in your search for a plastic surgeon, visit our How to Find the Best Facial Plastic Surgeon page. At Doctor Review, you can also search providers for patient reviews to help you find the very best.
Getting ready for surgery
You will have at least one appointment with your surgeon before surgery. You’ll have the chance to discuss your goals with your surgeon in detail, to communicate what aesthetic result you’re aiming for.
The day before your surgery, you should eat and drink enough healthy food and water, and get enough sleep the night before. You will need to stop eating 8 to 12 hours before your surgery. If you smoke, you should stop for at least 24 hours before the surgery. If you take daily medications to prevent blood clots, such as aspirin, you will likely be asked to stop those for 24 to 48 hours before the surgery (proceed as directed by your doctor, and don’t stop any medication without talking to your doctor first).
You will stay at the surgical center in the recovery room for several hours following surgery, for the anesthesia to wear off. Then you’ll be discharged to your home. You’ll need to plan to spend at least the rest of the day recovering at home, as the sedatives will make you drowsy.
Your skin will feel and look irritated after surgery. It will be red and swollen, and may feel itchy or slightly painful. Depending on the type of dressing that was used, the skin may scab over in the days following the procedure. The scab will later fall off, revealing new pink skin underneath. It will be at least a few days before you can shave the skin again; your surgeon will tell you when this is safe. You should make sure to change the dressings as directed by your surgeon.
It may be up to two weeks before you’re ready to return to work, and four to six weeks before you can return to any sports activity in which your face may be bumped or submerged in pool water. You will need to be particularly careful about sun protection until your skin has fully repigmented, which can take several months or even up to a year. It’s very important to take care of your facial skin during the healing period! If you don’t, then the skin may not heal properly from the dermabrasion, leading to skin irregularities and further scarring.