Dermabrasion is a modern skin care treatment technique (like Intense Pulsed Light Therapy) that exfoliates the outer layers with a rotating instrument. It is usually applied on the face and is a popular treatment for cosmetic interventions that improve the overall skin tone and appearance. It is especially effective against minor skin issues such as acne, fine lines, uneven texture or sun damage.

The procedure is performed in the dermatologist's office and can be quite painful. This is why a local anesthetic is usually needed to numb the skin before removing its outer layers. The technique is not very invasive and recovery is done at home, without the need of admission to a hospital.

The pain caused by dermabrasion has to be reduced but an anesthetic is not always necessary. If the procedure is not very complex, a painkiller pill might be enough. However, there are also severe cases where a general anesthetic is mandatory.

Dermabrasion can also be performed at home, using one of the tools that can be bought without a prescription. These can be helpful but are never as effective as the medical version of the treatment. It takes a lot longer until the skin is improved and these devices mainly simulate the action of the professional tools.

The principle behind dermabrasion is very simple. A tool with a head that rotates rapidly is used to peel the outer layers of skin, similar to sanding. This forces it to regenerate and a new skin layer grows on that location. The new skin is usually in better condition than the old one and some of the issues are eliminated permanently. These include acne scars, fine lines or various other problems. Dermabrasion is effective on its own but can be combined with other treatments for a stronger effect.

It is normal for the skin to be irritated by dermabrasion and it will stay tender, with a pink color, for several weeks. The normal color is only restored after three months or more. However, this technique eliminates the worn out layers of skin and forces new ones to grow, which will have a younger and more balanced look.

This treatment is commonly used to fix cosmetic issues and make the skin appear younger but it can also cure numerous other issues. These include precancerous skin patches, age spots, fine wrinkles, acne scars, scars from surgery or injury, tattoos, sun damage, uneven skin tones and rhinophyma, a condition that causes nose skin to become thick and red.

Alternative treatments also exist for many of these conditions and some of them can be more effective. Tattoos for example are easier to remove with modern laser surgery. You should let your dermatologist decide on the best removal options for your condition.

In some cases, dermabrasion can't be performed due to some skin problems that prevent it. These can be burns caused by radiation, burn scars, inflammatory acne or herpes outbreaks. Medications that make the skin thinner can also prevent dermabrasion, so you should tell your doctor if you have been using such medication. People with very dark skin should also be careful and ask for medical advice before attempting this procedure.

What are the risks of dermabrasion?

Dermabrasion has a number of side effects, some of them quite common. It is normal for the skin to become red and swollen after the procedure. Swelling starts to reduce after a few days, maximum one week. In rare cases, it can last for weeks or even a few months. The new skin is also quite sensitive and will keep a pink look for some weeks. Normal color is only completely restored in a few months.

The new skin is vulnerable to infection and small white bumps might appear in the area. These are actually a form of acne named milia. They heal up without treatment but can simply be removed with soap. Dermabrasion can also enlarge the skin pores, especially if there is swelling. This usually disappears after the swelling is gone.

The treatment can affect skin color as well. The skin can either become darker than usual (hyperpigmentation), the opposite can happen (hypopigmentation) or patches can alternate between the two tones. People with darker skin have a higher risk and should be very cautious, since some of these changes can be permanent.

There is also a small chance that dermabrasion can cause an infection in the area. This can be a viral, bacterial or fungal one, most commonly cold sores caused by a herpes virus outbreak. If the procedure is not performed right and goes too deep into the skin, scars can develop. These can be treated with steroid drugs, which reduce the visibility of these scars.

It is also possible for sensitive people to experience other side effects. People who have allergies or suffer from skin rashes can have these effects boosted by dermabrasion.

There are a number of conditions that prevent dermabrasion or make it very risky. If in the past year you have taken isotretinoin, an oral medication against acne usually sold as Amnesteem, your doctor might advise against it. Other cases when this treatment should be avoided are: skin infections like acne or others that produce pus, a genetic predisposition to keloid scars, which are large scar tissues with a ridged aspect, frequent outbreaks of the herpes simplex virus or the presence of burn scars on the skin, often as a result of radiation therapy.

What are the results of dermabrasion?

Dermabrasion replaces your old worn out skin with a new one that will be red and sensitive for a while. Swelling is also possible and will persist for a few weeks or months. After approximately three months, the skin will no longer be pink and revert to its original color.

As the new skin heals completely, it should have a much smoother aspect. However, it remains very vulnerable to sunlight and direct exposure should be avoided for at least one year, in order to prevent skin color changes. Sometimes the skin has an uneven color at the end of the treatment. To correct its tone, your doctor can prescribe a bleaching product based on hydroquinone.

You should be aware that dermabrasion is not a permanent fix. The same skin issues, such as fine lines or age spots, will return in time. Exposure to direct sunlight can be especially risky for your new skin.