Dermabrasion: Everything You Need to Know

Dermabrasion is a surgical procedure used to resurface the skin. It is done to remove wrinkles or scars and improve the appearance of the skin. It uses a tool that removes the upper layers of the skin. As the wound heals, new skin grows to replace the damaged skin.

This article will discuss all the aspects of dermabrasion. Its purpose, how it is done, and recovery. It will also cover the risks and contraindications of (reasons to avoid) the procedure.


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What Is Dermabrasion?

Dermabrasion is an outpatient cosmetic procedure that utilizes a tool to remove the outer layers of the skin. It is performed to improve the skin's appearance. On the face, it is commonly done to lessen the appearance of wrinkles and scars.

Not everyone is a good candidate for dermabrasion, and results will vary.

Who Is It For?

A plastic surgeon or dermatologist will examine your skin and review your health history to determine if your skin concerns can be helped with dermabrasion treatment.

Dermabrasion vs. Microdermabrasion

Dermabrasion and microdermabrasion are cosmetic procedures that offer similar yet distinct results.

Microdermabrasion is a less-invasive form of dermabrasion. It uses a tool that removes the top layer of the skin. It can treat:

  • Discoloration
  • Sun damage
  • Stretch marks
  • Light scarring

Dermabrasion is more invasive and uses a tool that removes more than one layer of the skin. It causes significant injury to the skin to remove scarring and wrinkles.


Dermabrasion is a significant procedure that is not for everyone. While almost anyone can get dermabrasion, a few contraindications need to be considered. They are:

  • Active infections: Anyone with an active skin infection like herpes simplex virus (HSV) should wait until their infection has been dormant (inactive) for six to eight weeks before getting dermabrasion.
  • Claravis (isotretinoin): People who are on isotretinoin or have used it within the past six months should not get dermabrasion. It can increase healing time and increase the likelihood keloid or hypertrophic scarring.
  • Active acne: Dermabrasion on those with active acne can cause an infection after the procedure.
  • Darker skin: People with darker skin tones are more likely to experience hypopigmentation (decreased pigmentation) or hyperpigmentation (increased pigmentation) after dermabrasion.

While these contraindications can cause undesired results, they may not entirely exclude someone from getting the procedure. Consult with a healthcare provider for an individualized assessment.

Potential Risks

Dermabrasion is generally considered a safe procedure, but with any surgical procedure, there are potential risks. The risks that surround dermabrasion involve the postoperative healing period. The risks are:

Purpose of Dermabrasion

Dermabrasion is an elective cosmetic procedure. It is done to smooth or improve the appearance of the skin.

Dermabrasion can be used to improve scars from acne, accidents, or previous surgery. It is also used to smooth out wrinkles or remove keratoses (noncancerous skin growths).

An alternative to dermabrasion is a chemical peel. This option may be better for someone who is looking to smooth out the surface of their skin but does not have deep scars.

How to Prepare

Some steps need to be done to properly prepare for dermabrasion. They are listed below.


Dermabrasion is an outpatient procedure that can be done in a surgical center, a healthcare provider's office, or a hospital. An overnight stay is typically not necessary.

Food and Drink

The sedation level used for the procedure will determine what someone can eat and drink before their dermabrasion procedure.

In many cases, the patient will receive local anesthesia along with sedative medication, less likely general anesthesia will be used. These patients should fast for eight hours before their procedure.

A numbing spray can be used instead of local anesthesia. When this is used, there are no restrictions on food or drink.


Before a dermabrasion procedure, a healthcare provider will review current medications. They will look for blood-thinning medicines like aspirin and may ask the patient to stop taking them in preparation for the procedure.

What to Bring

Going into a surgical procedure can be nerve-wracking. Make a list of items to bring so the morning of the procedure, everything is set. Bring any assigned preoperative paperwork.

If sedation or general anesthesia is to be used, arrange for a ride home ahead of time. Some surgical centers and hospitals will not begin a surgical procedure if a ride home has not been secured.

Pre-Op Lifestyle Changes

The two major pre-op lifestyle changes that need to be made before dermabrasion are:

  • Keeping sunlight off the skin
  • Smoking cessation

For two months before dermabrasion, patients should keep the skin that will receive the procedure out of sunlight. This is to reduce the risk of skin color changes.

Smoking decreases blood circulation in the skin and hinders healing. Stop smoking for one to two weeks before and after surgery.

What to Expect on the Day of Surgery

The day of the procedure will involve preparations by the hospital staff and healthcare providers. This may include questions, vital signs, and education about the procedure.

Before the Surgery

Once a person arrives, they will be greeted by the staff and asked a few questions. The questions may include:

For patients who will have sedation or general anesthesia, vital signs will be checked, and an intravenous line (IV) will be placed. An anesthesiologist and surgeon may check in with the patient before the procedure to answer any questions.

During the Procedure

The procedure begins with the anesthesiologist ensuring the patient is comfortable. This is accomplished with numbing medicine placed on the face, local anesthesia, sedation, or general anesthesia. The patient should not feel any pain during the procedure.

Dermabrasion is performed by a plastic surgeon or dermatologist. They may have an assistant present to hold the skin taut.

The procedure can take a few minutes to 90 minutes, depending on the area. Dermabrasion may be done only once or may happen in several stages if there is significant scarring.

Once the patient is comfortable, the procedure can begin. The surgeon cleans the skin, then uses a rough wire brush or a burr with small diamond pieces connected to a motorized tool. The skin will be scraped with the tool until the desired depth is achieved.

The surgeon will then apply an ointment and dressing to the skin.

After the Procedure

After dermabrasion, the skin will be red and swollen. Eating and speaking can be hard. There will be some burning or aching. Swelling will decrease in a few days to a week. Pain can be controlled with medication prescribed by the healthcare provider.

If general anesthesia or sedation is used during the procedure, there will be a brief monitoring period while the patient wakes up.


After a dermabrasion procedure, patients can expect to return to work in about two weeks. They should avoid activities that could cause them to hit or bump their faces for two weeks. Sports should be avoided for four to six weeks.

Avoid the sun until the skin pigment has entirely returned. This can be for six to 12 months. Failure to do so can result in skin color changes, either lighter or darker.


The surgeon will give detailed instructions on how to care for the skin after the procedure. The instructions will outline dressing changes, ointments, and changes expected to occur to your skin.

When an area begins to get worse after it has gotten better, call your healthcare provider. This could be a sign that abnormal scars are forming.

Long-Term Care

After dermabrasion has healed, the skin will be pink and can remain that color for about three months. If wearing makeup, choose nonallergenic brands.


Dermabrasion is a cosmetic surgical procedure that is done by a dermatologist or plastic surgeon to improve the appearance of the skin. It can lessen the look of scars and wrinkles by removing the top layers of the skin and allowing new skin to grow back. It is an outpatient procedure that can take several weeks for a full recovery.

7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Dermabrasion and dermaplaning.

  2. American Society of Plastic Surgeons. Microdermabrasion.

  3. American Society of Plastic Surgeons. Dermabrasion.

  4. American Society of Plastic Surgeons. What are the risks of dermabrasion?

  5. American Society of Plastic Surgeons. What are the steps of a dermabrasion procedure?

  6. Practice guidelines for preoperative fasting and the use of pharmacologic agents to reduce the risk of pulmonary aspiration: application to healthy patients undergoing elective proceduresAnesthesiology. 2017;126(3):376-393. doi:10.1097/ALN.0000000000001452

  7. American Society of Plastic Surgeons. What should I expect during my dermabrasion recovery?

By Patty Weasler, RN, BSN
Patty is a registered nurse with over a decade of experience in pediatric critical care. Her passion is writing health and wellness content that anyone can understand and use.