Cosmetic Procedures
Dermabrasion: What to Expect Before, During, and After

If you want to diminish deep lines above your lip, make a scar on your face less obvious, or get rid of a tattoo, your dermatologist may recommend a cosmetic procedure called dermabrasion. The following explains what happens before, during, and after this procedure.

What to Expect Before Dermabrasion
A consultation is essential. Your dermatologist will take a complete medical history. Be sure to tell your dermatologist if you are prone to cold sores, have had a cosmetic procedure in the past, scar easily, have ever had a keloid (a type of raised scar), or have taken isotretinoin (a prescription medication used to treat severe acne). These can have a tremendous effect on what you see after dermabrasion.

After the consultation and a physical exam that includes a close look at your skin, your dermatologist will explain if dermabrasion can help diminish what concerns you and if dermabrasion is right for you.

If dermabrasion is appropriate, you will receive pre-treatment instructions. This will include a skin-care plan that you may need to follow for up to 6 weeks before the procedure. You will probably be instructed to start taking an antiviral medication 2 days before the procedure and an antibiotic 1 day before.

What to Expect During Dermabrasion
Dermabrasion is generally performed in a surgical center. Before the procedure, the skin to be treated will be cleansed and anesthetized. Usually a spray is used to anesthetize the area and a sedative is given. Sometimes a general (puts the person to sleep) anesthesia is used instead.

To protect your eyes, ears, and nose, these are coated with petroleum jelly and covered with gauze. Your dermatologist may outline the area to be treated with surgical ink. A chemical peel may be applied to the edge of the treated area to blend the treated area with the untreated skin. This prevents a line from appearing later.

To perform dermabrasion, your dermatologist will move a handheld device back and forth or in a circular motion over the skin. This gradually abrades it. Dermabrasion must be performed carefully — one section at a time. If the entire face will be resurfaced, the procedure lasts about 2 hours. To treat the upper lip takes about 30 minutes.

After the skin has been treated, particles from the device are rinsed away, compresses are applied to control the bleeding, and the wound is dressed.

What to Expect After Dermabrasion
The treated skin will feel raw and sore, and you may be groggy. You will be given instructions for at-home care, which will include how to change the dressings and care for the skin. Following this at-home care is essential to prevent side effects and obtain the best possible results. If you have any questions, be sure to ask.

For the next 5 to 7 days, you will be recuperating. If the dermabrasion caused deep resurfacing, you will need to see your dermatologist the next day for a follow-up visit, and there will be more follow-up visits during the coming week to monitor your progress. All other dermabrasion procedures require at least 1 or 2 follow-up visits during the first week.

The at-home care involves changing dressings for 2 to 4 days. This will be followed by gentle soaks and applying ointments until the new skin appears — typically within 10 days. Once you see the new skin, regular moisturizing and strict sun avoidance will be necessary. Strict sun avoidance for 3 to 6 months will avoid side effects such as skin discoloring.

While new skin appears within 10 days, it is normal for the skin to continue rejuvenating for several months. During this time, you may notice slight redness and swelling.

Monheit GD and Chastain MA. “Chemcial and Mechanical Skin Resurfacing.” In: Bolognia JL, Jorizzo JL, Rapini RP et al, editors. Dermatology. 2nd edition. Spain, Mosby Elsevier; 2008. p. 2313-27.

Tanzi EL and Alster TS. “Skin Resurfacing: Ablative Lasers, Chemical Peels, and Dermabrasion.” In: Wolff K, Goldsmith LA, Katz SI et al, editors. Fitzpatrick’s Dermatology in General Medicine. 7th edition. United States of America, McGraw Hill Medical; 2008. p. 2370-71.

Tsao SS, Dover JS, Arndt KA et al. “Scar Management: Keloid, Hypertrophic, Atrophic, and Acne Scars.” In: Kaminer MS, Dover JS, Arndt KA, editors. Atlas of Cosmetic Surgery. United States of America, W. B. Saunders Company; 2002. p. 442-3.

All content solely developed by the American Academy of Dermatology

Cosmetic Procedures: Dermabrasion





© American Academy of Dermatology, 2010  All rights reserved.
Page last updated 10/8/08

Disclaimer            Copyright Information