Dermabrasion is a surgical procedure that involves the use of a scraping tool to improve the appearance of the skin. Doctors may use it to treat scars from acne, fine wrinkles, and precancerous skin patches.

Compared to other skin treatments, the benefits include a shorter recovery time and less expense.

The most common risk is changed skin pigmentation, but other side effects may include tiny whiteheads and large skin pores.

While the surgery can produce a dramatic improvement in the skin — it may take time for that improvement to appear.

This article discusses the conditions that dermabrasion may help, as well as the associated costs. It also examines the benefits, risks, and what to expect, along with results and possible complications.

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Dermabrasion is a type of surgery that uses a power-driven hand-held tool with an abrasive end piece.

During the procedure, the doctor moves the tool gently over the skin to wear away the topmost layers. It softens surface irregularities and makes the skin look smoother.

Doctors may apply dermabrasion over the entire face or on small areas of the skin. They may also use it alone or with other procedures, such as a chemical peel or facelift.

The procedure may treat the below conditions:

  • scars from acne or injuries
  • sun-damaged skin
  • precancerous skin patches
  • fine wrinkles
  • rhinophyma, a condition that makes the nose enlarge and become bumpy and red

The average cost is $1,786, but this does not include the cost of operating room expenses, anesthesia, and other related fees.

Factors that may influence the cost entail:

  • qualifications of the surgeon
  • time and effort involved in the procedure
  • geographical location
  • type of dermabrasion — microdermabrasion is another type of cosmetic procedure

Learn more about microdermabrasion here.

Although males and females of all ages can benefit from dermabrasion, some people are better candidates.

These include:

  • Younger individuals: This may be because older adults heal more slowly.
  • Individuals with a lighter complexion or Fitzpatrick skin types I and II: This may be because people with darker complexions may develop permanent discoloration or blotchiness after treatment, and those with light complexions may have a lower risk of these side effects.
  • People with a lower risk of developing certain skin reactions: Such as cold sores, fever blisters, or allergic rashes, as there is a lower chance of a flare-up of these conditions. Flare-ups may affect the results of dermabrasion.

Who should not have dermabrasion?

Some people may be unsuitable for the treatment, including:

  • people with an active infection with herpes simplex virus
  • people with active acne, as they have a higher risk of infection
  • people currently taking certain medications, such as Isotretinoin (Accutane) for acne

People that fall into any of these categories may wish to schedule the procedure later.

Typically, people with active herpes simplex virus may need to wait until the infection has been dormant for 6–8 weeks.

Also, people who have received treatment with Accutane within the previous 6 months should wait and schedule the procedure later. This treatment for severe acne can delay wound healing and increase the likelihood of adverse effects, such as scarring.

Some benefits of dermabrasion, compared with other similar procedures, include:

  • less recovery time than other skin procedures
  • usually does not necessitate an overnight stay in a hospital or clinic
  • less costly than alternative procedures, such as chemical peels

Dermabrasion is usually safe when an experienced, board certified doctor performs it.

The most common risk is an alteration in skin pigmentation. This may involve permanent darkening of the skin following sun exposure during the weeks and months after the procedure. In contrast, the skin of some people may appear blotchy or a little lighter.

Other risks include:

  • Tiny whiteheads: These typically disappear without treatment or with the use of an abrasive soap.
  • Large skin pores: These normally revert to near typical size after the swelling disappears.
  • Excessive scar tissue: This happens rarely, and treatment is available.
  • Infections: These occur rarely.

Preparations for this procedure involve:

  • Schedule the initial doctor consultation: This will include a medical history and facial examination, as well as an explanation of the procedure, risks, recovery, and costs. It is also an opportunity to ask questions and express concerns.
  • Follow the surgeon’s instructions: The surgeon will provide guidelines on presurgery drinking and eating, along with avoiding medications that may interfere with blood clotting, such as aspirin. This will include instructions on how to care for the skin before the procedure.
  • Take heed to smoking admonitions: Smoking reduces blood circulation to the skin and hinders healing, so a doctor may advise stopping smoking for 1–2 weeks before the procedure.
  • Arrange for a ride: A person may wish to arrange a ride home after the surgery.
  • Arrange for other help: In case additional help is necessary after an individual returns home, they should arrange for this in advance as well.

Here is what to know about the venue, anesthesia, and the process itself:


People usually undergo the surgery on an outpatient basis in one of the following venues:

  • surgeon’s office
  • outpatient surgery center
  • hospital


First, a doctor will administer anesthesia. In less severe cases, this involves a local anesthetic — a medication to numb the area — and a sedative to produce drowsiness.

In more severe cases, general anesthesia may be necessary. General anesthesia will make a person sleep through the entire procedure.

The process

Dermabrasion takes from a few minutes to an hour and a half.

The surgeon scrapes off the topmost layers of skin with the motorized tool. This continues until the surgeon reaches the skin level, minimizing the wrinkles or scars without posing a safety concern.

Here is what to expect in the hours, days, and weeks after the surgery:

In the hours that follow

Immediately after the procedure, a person may experience:

  • red, swollen skin
  • difficulty in speaking and eating
  • burning, tingling, or aching, which medications can control

In the days that follow

Recovery in the days afterward may involve:

  • formation of a crust or scab over the treated area
  • scabs that begin to fall off as pink, tight skin forms underneath
  • face itchiness as the new skin grows

The surgeon provides detailed instructions on how to care for the skin. For males, this may entail delaying shaving with a razor the first day after the procedure. If the treated area becomes worse instead of improving, a person should call their doctor.

In the weeks and months that follow

New skin will feel sensitive and appear red for several weeks, but people may gradually resume their daily activities. While people may return to work in 2 weeks, they should avoid:

  • activities that could cause a bump on the face for at least 2 weeks
  • engaging in sports, especially those with a ball, for 4–6 weeks
  • exposure to wind, sun, and chlorinated water for at least 4 weeks

Also, individuals will experience facial flushing when they drink alcohol for at least 3–4 weeks.

Lastly, people should protect their skin from sunlight until the pigmentation completely returns. This may take 6–12 months.

Dermabrasion can provide a dramatic improvement in the skin surface, but it may take time to appear. Pinkness in the skin will fade in about 3 months. Once repigmentation is complete, the color of the treated skin should closely match the color of the nontreated skin.

Possible complications after the procedure

Possible post-procedure complications include:

  • too much or too little pigment in the skin
  • loss of freckles in the treated area
  • infection
  • small white bumps under the skin surface
  • scarring
  • persistent redness

Dermabrasion is a surgical procedure that uses a power-driven tool with an abrasive end to wear away the topmost skin layers. It softens skin irregularities, which may reduce the appearance of scars and fine wrinkles.

The average cost is $1,786, but this is not all-inclusive. It does not factor in operating room expenses, anesthesia, and other fees.

Although males and females of any age may benefit from the procedure, doctors do not recommend it for people who have recently had the herpes simplex virus or taken isotretinoin (Accutane), or those with darker skin tones.

Doctors usually perform dermabrasion on an outpatient basis. They use a local anesthetic in more simple cases. Following the surgery, a person may return to work within 2 weeks, but complete recovery may require much more time.