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Dermabrasion is the removal of the top layers of the skin. It is a type of skin-smoothing surgery.


Dermabrasion is usually done while you are awake. Your health care provider will apply a numbing medicine (local anesthesia) to the area of skin that will be treated.

If you are having a complex procedure, you may be given medicines called sedatives to make you sleepy and less anxious. Another option might be general anesthesia, which allows you to sleep through surgery and not feel any pain during the procedure.

Dermabrasion uses a special device to gently and carefully “sand" the top surface of the skin down to normal, healthy skin. Petroleum jelly or antibiotic ointment is placed on the treated skin to prevent scabs and scars from forming. 

Why the Procedure Is Performed

Dermabrasion may be helpful if you have:

  • Age-related skin growths
  • Fine lines and wrinkles, such as around the mouth
  • Precancerous growths
  • Scars on the face due to acne, accidents, or previous surgery

There are other treatments, such as laser or chemical peels, for many of these conditions. Talk to your health care provider about treatment options for your skin problem. 


Risks of dermabrasion include lasting changes in skin color changes, with the skin remaining lighter, darker, or pinker. Large scars may also result.

The risks of any anesthesia include:

  • Reactions to medicines
  • Serious heart or breathing problems (rare)

The risks of any surgery include:

  • Bleeding
  • Infection
  • Scarring
  • Changes in skin color

After the Procedure

Your health care provider may give you antiviral medicine to prevent severe cold sores from forming.

Your skin may be treated with ointment and a wet or waxy dressing. After surgery, your skin will be red and swollen. It may be hard to eat and talk. You may feel some aching, tingling, or burning for a while after surgery. Your provider can prescribe medicine to help control any pain. You may need to have follow-up visits with your provider for dressing changes in the days after the procedure.

Swelling usually goes away within 2 to 3 weeks. The new skin will itch as it grows. Freckles may temporarily disappear.

You may have enlarged pores or whiteheads after the skin-smoothing surgery, but they will go away in time.

If your treated skin remains red and swollen after healing has started, it may be a sign that abnormal scars are beginning to form. Tell your provider if this happens. Treatment may be available.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Men who have this procedure may need to avoid shaving for a while, and use an electric razor when shaving again.

The new layer of skin will be a little swollen, sensitive, and bright pink for several weeks. Most people can go back to normal activities in about 2 weeks. You should avoid any activity that could cause injury to the treated area. Avoid sports that involve balls, such as baseball, for 4 to 6 weeks.

Keep your face out of chlorinated water (such as that used in pools) for at least 4 weeks.

Protect your skin from the sun for 6 to 12 months until your skin coloring has returned to normal. You can wear hypoallergenic make-up to hide any changes in skin color. New skin should closely match the surrounding skin when full color returns.

Your skin will turn red when you drink alcohol for about 3 weeks after surgery.


Monheit GD, Chastain MA. Chemical and mechanical skin resurfacing. In: Bolognia JL, Jorizzo JL, Schaffer JV, et al, eds. Dermatology. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2012:chap 154.

Perkins SW, Sandel HD IV. Management of aging skin. In: Flint PW, Haughey BH, Lund VJ, et al, eds. Cummings Otolaryngology: Head & Neck Surgery. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2010:chap 27.

Thomas JR, Mobley SR. Scar revision and camouflage. In: Flint PW, Haughey BH, Lund VJ, et al, eds. Cummings Otolaryngology: Head & Neck Surgery. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2010:chap 21.

Review Date:12/2/2014
Reviewed By:Richard J. Moskowitz, MD, dermatologist in private practice, Mineola, NY. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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Outcome Data

No data available for this condition/procedure.

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