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Dermabrasion is a technique that uses a wire brush or a diamond wheel with rough edges (called a burr or fraise) to remove the upper layers of the skin. The brush or burr rotates rapidly, taking off and leveling (abrading or planing) the top layers of the skin. This process injures or wounds the skin and causes it to bleed. As the wound heals, new skin grows to replace the damaged skin that was removed during dermabrasion.
Things that affect the depth of the resurfacing include how coarse the burr or brush is, how quickly it rotates, how much pressure is applied and for how long, and the condition and features of your skin.
The face is the most common site for treatment, but other areas of the skin can be treated this way. Dermabrasion is used most often to improve the appearance of acne scars and fine lines around the mouth. It also may be used to treat an enlarged nose (rhinophyma) caused by rosacea, an inflammatory skin condition.
The areas to be treated are cleaned and marked. A local anesthetic (such as lidocaine) is usually used to numb the skin before treatment, and ice packs are applied to the skin for up to 30 minutes. A freezing (cryogenic) spray may sometimes be used to harden the skin for deeper abrasions if the anesthetic and ice packs do not make the skin firm enough. For deep abrasions, or if the entire face is going to be treated, you may need stronger anesthesia, pain killers, sedation, or general anesthesia.
One small area at a time is treated. The freezing spray (if needed) is applied for a few seconds and then the rotating burr or brush is used to take off the top layers of skin. Gauze is used to stop any bleeding, and the area is covered with a clean dressing or ointment.
Dermabrasion is almost always done in your doctor's office or on an outpatient basis.
Your recovery and healing time after dermabrasion depends on the size and depth of the area that was treated. Someone who has a full-face dermabrasion, for example, will have a longer recovery time than someone who has just a small area of skin treated. Deeper abrasions take longer to heal.
In general, regrowth of skin occurs in 5 to 8 days. This new skin is a pink or red color, which usually fades in 6 to 12 weeks. Until then, your normal skin tones can be achieved using makeup.
Many people have little or no pain and can get back to their regular activities soon after the procedure. Some people need pain relievers. If swelling occurs, a corticosteroid such as prednisone may be used to reduce the swelling.
Proper care of the treated area while the skin is healing is extremely important. This involves:
You may be given an antiviral drug called acyclovir to prevent infection if you have a history of infection with the herpes simplex virus.
Several follow-up visits to your doctor may be needed to monitor the skin's healing and regrowth and to identify and treat early signs of infection or other complications.
Dermabrasion is used to treat damage and defects in the upper layers of the skin, such as:1
You may not be a good candidate for dermabrasion if you:
Your skin type, the condition of the skin, your doctor's level of experience, the type of brush or burr used, and your lifestyle following the procedure can all affect the short-term and long-term results. Some types of skin problems or defects respond better to dermabrasion than others. People with lighter skin who limit their sun exposure after the procedure tend to have better results than those with darker skin and those who continue to spend lots of time in the sun.
In general, dermabrasion results in a smooth, even skin texture and gives scarred skin a more uniform appearance.
The removal of scars, growths on the skin, and tattoos using dermabrasion is permanent. But changes in the color and texture of the skin caused by aging and sun exposure may continue to develop. Dermabrasion is not a lasting fix for these problems.
Common temporary side effects of dermabrasion include:
Less common complications may include:
Dermabrasion wounds and destroys the skin. You need to prepare yourself for how your skin will look immediately after treatment and throughout the healing process. It is also extremely important for you to follow your doctor's instructions on caring for your skin after the treatment so you can avoid infection and help your skin heal properly.
Be sure that your doctor understands what you hope to achieve and that you understand what results you can realistically expect. Do not expect a 100% improvement. In general, a 50% improvement in the skin condition is considered a good result. Even with realistic expectations, you may not see results for several weeks or months after dermabrasion.
After dermabrasion, you will need to wear sunscreen every day and avoid sun exposure as much as possible. New skin is more susceptible to damage and discoloration from sunlight.
Dermabrasion, chemical peel, and laser resurfacing are all methods used to improve the texture and appearance of the skin by destroying and removing the upper layers of skin to allow for skin regrowth. But lasers have largely replaced the use of dermabrasion, except for the use of dermabrasion to treat small specific areas, such as a scar.
Your doctor will recommend treatment based on your skin type and condition, his or her experience, your preferences, and other things. Some people may get the best results by using a combination of techniques.
Last Revised: July 31, 2012
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