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Dermabrasion is the removal of the top layers of the skin. It is a type of skin smoothing surgery.
Dermabrasion is usually done while you are awake. The health care provider will apply a numbing medicine (local anesthesia) to the area of skin that will be worked on.
If you are having a complex procedure, you may be given medicines called sedatives to make you sleepy and less anxious, or you may receive general anesthesia, which allows you to sleep through surgery and not feel any pain during the procedure.
Dermabrasion uses a special device to gently and carefully "sand" the top surface of the skin down to normal, healthy skin. Petroleum jelly or antibiotic ointment is placed on the treated skin to reduce scab formation and scaring.
Why the Procedure Is Performed
Dermabrasion may be helpful if you have:
- Age-related skin growths (seborrheic keratoses)
- Fine lines and wrinkles, such as around the mouth
- Precancerous growths (keratoses)
- Scars on the face due to acne, accidents, or previous surgery
Alternative treatments such as laser or chemical peels exist for many of these conditions. Always discuss your options with your health care provider.
Risks of dermabrasion include permanent skin coloring changes (either lighter, darker, or pinker). Excessive scars or keloids may also result.
The risks of any anesthesia include:
- Reactions to medications
- Infrequent but potentially severe heart or breathing problems
The risks of any surgery include:
- Skin discoloration
After the Procedure
Your doctor will likely give you antiviral medication to prevent severe cold sores from forming.
The skin may be treated with ointment and a wet or waxy dressing. After surgery, your skin will be red and swollen. Eating and talking may be difficult. You may have some aching, tingling, or burning for a while after surgery. Your doctor can prescribe medicine to help control any pain. Your doctor may have you return for dressing changes in the days after the procedure.
Swelling usually goes away within 2 - 3 weeks. New skin starts to itch as it grows. If you had freckles, they may temporarily disappear.
You may have enlarged pores or whiteheads after the skin-smoothing surgery, but they eventually go away.
If the treated skin remains red and swollen after healing has started, this may be a sign that abnormal scars are beginning to form. Talk to your doctor. Treatment may be available.
Doctors recommend that men who have this procedure avoid shaving for a while, and use an electric razor when they do begin shaving again.
The new layer of skin will be a little swollen, sensitive, and bright pink for several weeks. Most patients can go back to normal activities in about 2 weeks. You should avoid any activity that could cause injury to the treated area. Avoid sports that involve balls, such as baseball, for 4 - 6 weeks.
Keep your face out of chlorinated water (such as that used in pools) for at least 4 weeks.
Protect the skin from the sun for 6 - 12 months until your skin coloring has returned to normal. Hypo-allergenic makeup may be worn to hide any discoloring. When full color occurs, it should closely match the surrounding skin, making the procedure almost impossible to detect.
For about 3 weeks after surgery, your skin will turn red when you drink alcohol.
Thomas JR, Mobley SR. Scar revision and camouflage. In: Flint PW, Haughey BH, Lund VJ, et al, eds. Cummings Otolaryngology: Head & Neck Surgery. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier;2010: chap 21.
Perkins SW, Sandel HD IV. Management of aging skin. In: Flint PW, Haughey BH, Lund VJ, et al, eds. Cummings Otolaryngology: Head & Neck Surgery. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier;2010: chap 27.
Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by Kevin Berman, MD, PhD, Atlanta Center for Dermatologic Disease, Atlanta, GA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.