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What is Dermabrasion?

By K. Powell
Updated May 21, 2024
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Dermabrasion is a surgical procedure used to "refinish" skin so that any irregularities on the surface of the skin are smoothed out. Dermabrasion is useful in removing acne and chicken pox scars, pits in the face, precancerous growths called keratoses, and tattoos. It is also useful in wrinkle reduction and to correct pigmentation problems. Before having any cosmetic surgery completed, make sure that the physician performing the procedure is board-certified and experienced.

Dermabrasion involves removing surface layers of dead skin using abrasive sandpaper with rotating wire brushes. It is usually conducted in a physician's office or on an outpatient basis. A doctor may recommend that a patient use an ointment, such as Retin-A, in the weeks before the procedure. On the day of the procedure, the skin to be "refinished" is frozen using a Freon spray.

Doctors may also substitute a local anesthetic with sedatives, or use general anesthesia alone to minimize any discomfort to the patient. Once frozen, the outer layer of the skin is sanded off, revealing the fresh new layer of skin cells. After the procedure, skin may feel sensitive and tingly with some burning and swelling. The swelling usually goes away after about a week and the recovery time takes about 10 days.

During the recovery period, patients are advised not to use any make-up, avoid outdoor ball sports, and avoid sun exposure as this may lead to abnormal scarring or pigmentation problems. If during the healing process the skin becomes red, itchy, or show abnormal scarring, it is recommended that the patient call the doctor to correct the problems.

Anybody can get dermabrasion, and money is the only deterrent in obtaining the procedure. Although youth and vitality are the motivating factors in getting the surgery, one must consider the background of the patient in analyzing any potential side effects that may accompany the procedure.

The outcomes depend on the skin type, coloring, and medical history of the individual. Individuals seeking the surgery who are of African American or Asian heritage and have darkly pigmented skin run the risk of pigmentation irregularities. Also, it is useful to remember that the elderly heal more slowly, so an elderly person seeking dermabrasion may take the risk of infection and other complications.

The most significant risks associated with dermabrasion include allergies, infections in the area of the face to be refinished. The sensitivity of the skin following the procedure may predispose an allergy sufferer to increasing flare-ups. Pigmentation problems are also common with too much sun exposure immediately following the procedure. Excessive scar tissue may form, but this can be resolved using a steroidal injection. Enlarged skin pores may occur as well, but these tend to disappear as the skin begins to heal.

Dermabrasion, as compared to chemical peels, appears to be an effective method for removing those nasty scars, to reduce wrinkles and the appearance of skin lesion. Precaution dictates that an individual interview the physician so that the patient can get adequately understand potential risks and side effects associated with the procedure. Choosing a board-certified physician with experience and attention to a patient's medical history will go a long way in preventing surgical errors and the consequent damage that may ensue.

BeautyAnswered is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By anon111964 — On Sep 18, 2010

Post-op two days. Very swollen. When can I shampoo my hair. Lost post-op instructions, can't believe I did--what psychological meaning does that have?

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