Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS

What is dermabrasion?

Dermabrasion is a surgical procedure to soften and smooth skin irregularities. It is a skin refinishing treatment that refreshes or improves the look of skin, reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Dermabrasion is a type of acne scar treatment and improves the look of scars due to trauma or surgery. It can also remove some types of precancerous growths.

Dermabrasion involves using a special device to scrape down the top surface of skin. As the abraded skin heals, new skin grows in its place.

Dermabrasion is only one method of improving the look of scars and wrinkles. In some cases, doctors recommend less invasive treatments, such as chemical peels or laser treatments. Discuss all of your options with your doctor to understand which one is right for you.

Why is dermabrasion performed?

Your doctor may recommend dermabrasion to treat:

  • Fine lines and wrinkles on your face that have not responded to other treatments

  • Facial scarring from acne, a previous surgery, or an injury

  • Precancerous skin lesions

Dermabrasion can help boost your self-confidence and make you feel better about your appearance. It can also reduce your risk of skin cancer by removing precancerous areas.

Who performs dermabrasion?

Dermatologists and plastic surgeons typically perform dermabrasion. Dermatologists specialize in the medical and surgical care of the skin, hair and nails. Plastic surgeons specialize in cosmetic surgeries and procedures and reconstructive surgery.

How is dermabrasion performed?

Your dermabrasion will take place in a doctor’s office, outpatient surgery center, or hospital, depending on the extent of the procedure. The length of the procedure also depends on how large the area of skin is. It can range from a few minutes to over an hour and generally includes these steps:

  1. You dress in a patient gown and lie down on a procedure table.

  2. Your doctor will inject a local anesthetic into the area. Sometimes, doctors also use a numbing spray on your skin to minimize pain during the procedure. You may also receive sedation to keep you relaxed and drowsy during the procedure. For very large areas of skin, you may receive general anesthesia so you will sleep through the surgery.

  3. Your doctor will use a rough wire brush or a motorized burr to scrape away the upper layer of skin and wear away imperfections.

  4. Your care team will clean and dress the area.

Will I feel pain?

Your comfort and relaxation is very important to you and your care team. You should not feel pain during your procedure with a local anesthetic. Tell your doctor or a member of your healthcare team if you are uncomfortable. If you have a general anesthetic, you will be asleep during the procedure.

What are the risks and potential complications of dermabrasion?

Complications after dermabrasion are not common, but any medical procedure involves risk and potential complications. Complications may become serious in some cases. Complications can develop during the procedure or your recovery. Risks and potential complications of dermabrasion include:

  • Bleeding

  • Infection

  • Reactions to the anesthetic or anesthesia

Temporary side effects of dermabrasion may include:

  • Changes in skin tone

  • Flare up of acne or cold sores

  • Increased sensitivity to sunlight

  • Lasting redness or changes in skin tone

Less common but potential complications of dermabrasion include redness, swelling, and scarring. Some scars may be permanent. When performed by a skilled doctor, dermabrasion is typically safe and effective.

Reducing your risk of complications

You can reduce the risk of certain complications by:

  • Following activity, dietary and lifestyle restrictions and recommendations before your procedure and during recovery

  • Informing your doctor if you are nursing or if there is any possibility of pregnancy

  • Notifying your doctor immediately of any concerns, such as bleeding, fever, or increase in pain

  • Taking your medications exactly as directed

  • Telling your care team if you have allergies

How do I prepare for my dermabrasion?

You are an important member of your own healthcare team. The steps you take before your procedure can improve your comfort and outcome. You can prepare for dermabrasion by:

  • Answering all questions about your medical history, allergies, and medications. This includes prescriptions, over-the-counter drugs, herbal treatments, and vitamins. It is a good idea to carry a current list of your medical conditions, medications, and allergies at all times.

  • Caring for your skin as your doctor recommends

  • Stopping smoking because it can impair healing

  • Taking or stopping medications exactly as directed. This may include not taking aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), and blood thinners.

Questions to ask your doctor

Preparing for dermabrasion can be stressful. It is common for patients to forget some of their questions during a doctor’s office visit. You may also think of other questions after your appointment. Contact your doctor with concerns and questions before the dermabrasion and between appointments.

It is also a good idea to bring a list of questions to your appointment. Questions can include:

  • Why do I need dermabrasion? Are there any other options for treating my skin?

  • How long will the procedure take? When can I go home?

  • What kind of restrictions will I have after the procedure? When can I expect to return to work and other activities?

  • What kind of assistance will I need at home? Will I need a ride home?

  • What medication plan should I follow before and after the procedure?

  • How will you treat my pain?

  • When should I follow up with you?

  • How should I contact you? Ask for numbers to call during and after regular hours.

  • What other treatments might I need?

What can I expect after my dermabrasion?

Knowing what to expect after dermabrasion can help you get back to your everyday life as soon as possible.

How will I feel after the dermabrasion?

Your skin will feel raw and irritated and will be red and swollen after dermabrasion. You might also feel a little drowsy from the sedative medications you were given. Pain is usually minimal. However, you may receive medication to control your pain if necessary. Tell a member of your care team if your pain is not well controlled by your medication because it can be a sign of a complication.

When can I go home?

You should be able to go home soon after the dermabrasion procedure. Arrange for a friend or family member to drive you home after dermabrasion because you may be drowsy from the sedative medicine.  

As your skin begins to heal, it will itch and a crusty scab may form over the wound. Try not to scratch or pick the scab. It will fall off on its own. Your doctor can prescribe an ointment and a steroid cream to ease swelling. Your skin may be swollen, sensitive and pink for a few weeks after the procedure. Eating and talking may be difficult for a day or two following the procedure. You might have mild pain.

Most people return to work and other activities with a couple of weeks. However, your doctor may recommend avoiding strenuous activities for up to six weeks. You will need to protect your skin from sun exposure and use sunscreen until your skin pigment is back to normal, which can take up to a year. Follow your doctor’s instructions on how to care for your skin after dermabrasion.

When should I call my doctor?

It’s important to keep your follow-up appointments after dermabrasion. Contact your doctor if you have any concerns between appointments. Call your doctor right away or seek immediate medical care if you have:

  • Bleeding

  • Fever

  • Pain that is not controlled by your pain medication

  • Unusual amount of swelling
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Apr 16
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
  1. Dermabrasion. American Society for Dermatologic Surgery. 
  2. Dermabrasion. American Society of Plastic Surgeons.
  3. Dermabrasion. University of Michigan Medical School.