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(Surgical Skin Planning; Skin Resurfacing)

Pronounced: derma-BRAY-shun
En Español (Spanish Version)

Definition | Reasons for Procedure | Possible Complications | What to Expect | Call Your Doctor


Dermabrasion is used to remove damaged skin. This allows healthy, smoother skin to grow in its place.

Multiple Facial Injuries with Surgical Dermabrasion

Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Reasons for Procedure

Dermabrasion is done to help repair damaged skin. The procedure may help to renew skin by stimulating new skin growth. Dermabrasion may be used to treat the following skin conditions:

  • Benign tumors
  • Chickenpox scars
  • Acne scars
  • Surgical scars
  • Scars resulting from accidents or disease
  • Tattoos
  • Age (liver) spots
  • Wrinkles

Possible Complications

Your doctor will review a list of possible complications from dermabrasion. This may include:

  • Temporary side effects such as:
    • Scarring
    • Redness
    • Swelling
    • Flare-ups of acne or tiny cysts
    • Increased or decreased color in the skin
    • Increased sensitivity to sunlight
    • Flare-ups of cold sores (caused by herpes simplex 1 virus) if done on the face
  • Less common complications such as:
    • Permanent scarring
    • Lasting redness
    • Prolonged loss of color in the skin.
    • Infection

Certain factors increase the risk of complications. Dermabrasion is not recommended if you have:

  • Active herpes or bacterial infection and sores
  • Current or recent use (less than one year) of isotretinoin (Accutane)
  • Skin, blood flow, or immune disorders that could make healing more difficult

What to Expect

Your doctor may:

  • Do a complete health evaluation and a skin exam.
  • Recommend an antiviral medication if you have a history of herpes infection.
  • Give you a prescription for tretinoin and/or a skin lightening cream.

Photographs will also be taken before and after surgery. This will help to see the changes.

A local anesthetic will be used to numb the area. A numbing spray may also be used. If the amount of work is extensive, you may need general anesthesia. In this case, you will be asleep.

A sedative medication may be given to help you relax.

The area of skin will be cleaned and the anesthesia will be applied. The doctor will use a motorized tool with a wheel or brush. The tool with be passed over the skin. Each pass will remove a certain amount of skin. The doctor will continue until the damaged area is level with the rest of the skin.

An ointment or dressing will be applied to the area.

The length of time depends on the size of the area to be treated. It can range from a few minutes to 90 minutes.

Once the anesthesia has worn off, the skin will feel raw and irritated. Over-the-counter pain relievers will help manage any pain and discomfort.

Healing normally takes 7-10 days. A steroid medication may be prescribed to reduce swelling and improve healing.

Proper care will also help you heal. Steps may include:

  • Adjust your daily activities until your doctor says it is safe to resume them.
  • Clean the skin several times a day. This will help you to avoid infection. You can also gently remove crusting that develops during healing.
  • Keep the treated area moist. Change the ointment and dressing on the wound as recommended.
  • Avoid sun exposure. After peeling has stopped, use sunscreen every day.
  • Go to follow-up visits as recommended by your doctor. They are important to monitor the skin's healing and regrowth.

Be sure to follow your doctor's instructions .

At first, the area will bleed. Once it heals, the skin should appear smoother and blend into the surrounding skin. Results are long lasting.

Call Your Doctor

After arriving home, contact your doctor if any of the following occurs:

  • Signs of infection, including fever and chills
  • Swelling, increasing pain, excessive bleeding, or any discharge from the treatment site
  • Skin redness or loss of color that does not go away
  • Pain that you cannot control with the medicines you have been given

In case of an emergency, call for medical help right away.


American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery


American Society of Plastic Surgeons



Canadian Society of Plastic Surgeons



Dermabrasion. American Academy of Dermatology website. Available at: http://www.aad.org/public/publications/pamphlets/cosmetic_dermabrasion.html. Accessed August 30, 2013.

Dermabrasion procedural steps. American Society of Plastic Surgeons website. Available at: http://www.plasticsurgery.org/cosmetic-procedures/dermabrasion.html?sub=Dermabrasion%20procedural%20steps. Accessed August 30, 2013.

Harmon CB. Dermabrasion. Dermatol Clin. 2001;19(3):439-442.

Roy D. Ablative facial resurfacing. Dermatol Clin. 2005;23(3):549-559.

Last reviewed September 2013 by Michael Woods, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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