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(Surgical Skin Planning; Skin Resurfacing)

Pronounced: derma-BRAY-shun

En Español (Spanish Version)


Dermabrasion is used to improve the appearance of the skin. Using controlled abrasion, the top layers of skin are removed to promote the growth of new skin.

Parts of the Body Involved

Typically, facial skin is treated, but other areas of the body can be treated as well.

Reasons for Procedure

Multiple Facial Injuries with Surgical Dermabrasion


© 2008 Nucleus Medical Art, Inc.

Dermabrasion is intended to help repair damaged skin by removing the top layers. The surface trauma to the skin is believed to promote skin rejuvenation by stimulating the production of skin cells and collagen. Dermabrasion is used to treat the following skin conditions:

  • Benign tumors
  • Superficial malignancies
  • Chickenpox scars
  • Acne scars
  • Surgical scars
  • Scars resulting from accidents or disease
  • Tattoos
  • Age (liver) spots
  • Wrinkles
  • Certain types of skin lesions

Risk Factors for Complications During the Procedure

Dermabrasion is not recommended for those with the following conditions:

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

What to Expect

Prior to Procedure

A complete medical history is taken and a general health evaluation is conducted. Facial scars and conditions are also evaluated. Antiviral medication is sometimes given to reduce the incidence of infection after the surgery.

Immediately prior to the procedure, medication may be given to help with relaxation. Some physicians may administer an IV sedative. Areas to be treated are cleaned and marked. Typically, a local anesthetic is used to numb the skin. Photographs are taken before and after surgery to help evaluate improvement.


A local anesthetic (Lidocaine or Epinephrine) is applied prior to surgery.

Description of the Procedure

A high-speed rotary instrument with an abrasive wheel or brush is then used to remove the upper layers of the skin.

After Procedure

Skin will feel raw and irritated. Healing normally takes 7-10 days. Your physician will recommend when to resume normal activities.

How Long Will It Take?

The length of time is dependent on the number of areas and size of areas to be treated.

Will It Hurt?

Once the local anesthetic has worn off, the skin will feel raw and irritated. The physician will recommend over-the-counter pain relievers to alleviate pain and discomfort.

Possible Complications

Common temporary side effects of dermabrasion include:

  • Scarring
  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Flare-ups of acne or tiny cysts (which can often be treated successfully with Accutane [isotretinoin] or antibiotics)
  • Increased color in the skin (hyperpigmentation)
  • Increased sensitivity to sunlight

Less common complications may include:

  • Permanent scarring
  • Lasting redness
  • Prolonged loss of color in the skin.
  • Tissue damage caused by excessive freezing (when a freezing spray is used)
  • Infection

Average Hospital Stay

No hospital stay is necessary. Dermabrasion is typically conducted in a doctor’s office or on an outpatient basis.

Postoperative Care

Proper care of the treated area to promote healing is extremely important and involves:

  • Cleansing the skin several times a day to avoid infection and to remove the crusting that develops during healing.
  • Keeping the treated area moist by changing the ointment and dressing on the wound.
  • Avoiding sun exposure and, after peeling has stopped, using sunscreen every day.
  • Several follow-up visits to your doctor may be needed to monitor the skin's healing and regrowth.

An antiviral drug called acyclovir may be given to prevent infection if there is a history of infection with the herpes simplex virus . Pain relievers and a corticosteroid, such as prednisone, may be prescribed to reduce swelling.


Dermabrasion injures the skin causing it to bleed. As the skin heals, new skin replaces the damaged skin that was removed during the procedure. The new skin generally has a smoother, more uniform appearance. Results are long-lasting.

Call Your Doctor If Any of the Following Occurs

  • Infection
  • Severe pain
  • Lasting redness
  • Prolonged loss of color


American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery

American Society of Plastic Surgeons

Cleveland Clinic Department of Plastic Surgery


The Canadian Society for Aesthetic (Cosmetic) Plastic Surgery

Canadian Society of Plastic Surgeons


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

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

Skin-smoothing surgery. MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. Available at: . Accessed January 18, 2006.

Last reviewed November 2007 by Ross Zeltser, 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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