by Bearden M
(Surgical Skin Planing; Skin Resurfacing)


Dermabrasion is used to remove damaged skin. This allows healthy, smoother skin to grow in its place.

Multiple Facial Injuries Treated with Surgical Dermabrasion
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Reasons for Procedure

Dermabrasion is done to help repair damaged skin. The procedure may help to renew skin by encouraging new skin growth. Dermabrasion may be used to treat the following skin conditions:

  • Benign tumors
  • Chickenpox scars
  • Acne scars
  • Surgical scars
  • Scars resulting from accidents or disease
  • Tattoos
  • Age (liver) spots
  • Wrinkles

Possible Complications

Problems from the procedure are rare, but all procedures have some risk. Your doctor will review potential problems, like:

  • Temporary side effects such as:
    • Scarring
    • Redness
    • Swelling
    • Flare-ups of acne or tiny cysts
    • Increased or decreased color in the skin
    • Increased sensitivity to sunlight
    • Flare-ups of cold sores if done on the face
  • Less common complications such as:
    • Permanent scarring
    • Lasting redness
    • Prolonged loss of color in the skin.
    • Infection

Before your procedure, talk to your doctor about ways to manage factors that may increase your risk of complications such as:

Dermabrasion is not recommended if you have:

  • Active herpes, bacterial infection, or sores
  • Current or recent use (less than one year) of isotretinoin
  • Skin, blood flow, or immune disorders that could make healing more difficult

What to Expect

Prior to Procedure

Your doctor may:

  • Do a complete health evaluation and a skin exam
  • Recommend an antiviral medication if you have a history of herpes infection
  • Give you a prescription for tretinoin and/or a skin lightening cream

Photographs will also be taken before and after surgery. This will help to see the changes.


A local anesthetic will be used to numb the area. A numbing spray may also be used. If the amount of work is extensive, you may need general anesthesia. In this case, you will be asleep.

A sedative medication may be given to help you relax.

Description of the Procedure

The area of skin will be cleaned and the anesthesia will be applied. A motorized tool with a wheel or brush will be used. The tool with be passed over the skin. Each pass will remove a certain amount of skin. The process will continue until the damaged area is level with the rest of the skin.

An ointment or dressing will be applied to the area.

How Long Will It Take?

The length of time depends on the size of the area to be treated. It can range from a few minutes to 90 minutes.

How Much Will It Hurt?

Pain and discomfort after the procedure can be managed with medications.

Post-procedure Care

Healing normally takes 7 to 10 days. A steroid medication may be prescribed to reduce swelling and improve healing.

Proper care will also help you heal. Steps may include:

  • Adjust your daily activities until your doctor says it is safe to resume them.
  • Avoid sun exposure. After peeling has stopped, use sunscreen every day.
  • Go to follow-up visits as advised by your doctor. They are important to monitor the skin's healing and regrowth.

At first, the area will bleed. After it heals, the skin should appear smoother and blend into the surrounding skin. Results are long lasting.

Preventing Infection

During your procedure, the staff will take steps to reduce your chance of infection, such as:

  • Washing their hands
  • Wearing gloves or masks
  • Keeping the treated area moist by changing the ointment and dressing on the wound

There are also steps you can take to reduce your chance of infection, such as:

  • Washing your hands often and reminding your healthcare providers to do the same
  • Reminding your healthcare providers to wear gloves or masks
  • Cleaning the skin several times a day and gently removing crusting that develops during healing
  • Not allowing others to touch your skin

Call Your Doctor

It is important to monitor your recovery. Alert your doctor to any problems. If any of the following occur, call your doctor:

  • Signs of infection, including fever and chills
  • Swelling, increasing pain, excessive bleeding, or any discharge from the treatment site
  • Skin redness or loss of color that does not go away
  • Pain that you cannot control with the medications you have been given

If you think you have an emergency, call for emergency medical services right away.


American Society of Plastic Surgeons 

The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery 


Canadian Dermatology Association 

Canadian Society of Plastic Surgeons 


Dermabrasion. American Society for Dermatologic Surgery website. Available at: Accessed September 5, 2019.

Dermabrasion. American Society of Plastic Surgeons website. Available at: Accessed September 5, 2019.

Harmon CB. Dermabrasion. Dermatol Clin. 2001;19(3):439-442.

Roy D. Ablative facial resurfacing. Dermatol Clin. 2005;23(3):549-559.

Revision Information

  • Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board Donald W. Buck II, MD
  • Review Date: 09/2019
  • Update Date: 09/25/2020