What is dermabrasion?

Dermabrasion is a cosmetic surgical procedure for improving the skin's appearace and removing scars. There are several different techniques, but they all share the general principle of exfoliating, or sanding down, the outer layer of skin. Dermabrasion can be performed by plastic surgeons or dermatologists.

Dermatologists

A doctor who specialises in the diagnosis and treatment of skin disorders and related conditions.

Uses

Dermabrasion is mainly used for improving the appearance of skin that has been damaged or scarred by conditions such as:

As with most cosmetic treatments, dermabrasion is usually not recommended for people who are actively suffering from a skin condition (such as an ongoing case of acne) as it may worsen the situation. Similarly, people with a history of abnormal scarring, such as keloid or hypertrophic scars, may not be suitable candidates.

Dermabrasion is one of several surgical options for such skin conditions. The others include chemical peeling of the skin and laser surgery.

Hyperpigmentation

A darkening of the skin or nails due to overproduction of melanin.

Keloid

An overgrowth of scar tissue at and beyond the site of an original wound. The overgrowths are elevated and firm.

Hypertrophic scars

An overgrowth of dense scar tissue that occurs within the site of a wound. Such overgrowths are often pink, red or purple in colour and usually recede without treatment.

Types and procedures

Dermabrasion

The doctor will begin by administering a local anaesthetic to the scarred or damaged area via an aerosol spray or an injection. Then they will remove the outer, damaged layer of the skin using fine-grade sandpaper, emery paper, a very small wire brush, or a rotating disc. This will reveal a layer of healthy skin underneath.

Dermabrasion removes the outer, damaged skin layer. 

Microdermabrasion

The doctor, nurse or therapist will apply very fine crystal powder (commonly aluminium oxide) to the area, then use a small vacuum machine to clear the crystals off.

Microdermabrasion is less invasive than regular dermabrasion, but is also less effective. It is commonly used for more superficial, less significant skin damage. Multiple treatments (usually a series of 4-6) are often done. Microdermabrasion requires less skill than regular dermabrasion and therefore can also be performed by nurses and beauty therapists.

Dermaplaning

Dermaplaning is another procedure in which the outer layer of skin is removed. This is done using a special razor, called a dermatome.

Local anaesthetic

A type of medication that, when administered to an area, creates a localised loss of sensation by blocking nerve activity.

What happens after the procedure?

The outer layer of the skin will grow back gradually. It will take several months for the original skin colour to be restored.

In the meantime, the skin will be pinkish-red in colour and may feel swollen, sensitive, irritated and itchy. Enlarged pores and whiteheads may also appear temporarily. Your skin will flush red if you drink alcohol within the first three weeks after the procedure.

It is important to keep the skin out of harm's way until it grows back such as exposing it to sunlight, chemical exposure (aftershave lotion, chlorinated pool water, etc.), or physical contact (razor blades, accidents).

Your doctor may prescribe antibiotic or antiviral medication to prevent infection of the exposed skin and ointments to protect, soothe and moisturise the skin.

Antibiotic

Chemical substances that kill or suppress the growth of bacteria.

Antiviral

A substance that hinders the growth and reproduction of viruses.

Potential complications

Dermabrasion is a generally safe procedure when performed by a qualified medical professional. As with any surgery, it does carry some risks, including:

  • Skin pigmentation (colour) changes, especially for people with darker-toned skin;
  • Scarring;
  • Thickening of the skin;
  • General risks of the anaesthesia (allergic reaction to the injection, heart problems), and;
  • General risks of surgery (bleeding, infection).

Allergic reaction

A problematic physiological response to an allergen that comes into contact with the body.