Definition & Overview

Dermabrasion of the face is a surgical procedure used to improve the appearance of facial skin. It is an effective way to get rid of facial skin imperfections caused by ageing, injury, or disease. It works by removing the upper and middle layers of the skin little by little to get rid of blemishes and other imperfections. The procedure has been in use for a very long time; even before laser technology was used in the field of dermatology. Even now, dermatologists and plastic surgeons still use the procedure to treat major scarring on the face. However, it is not as widely used as before. Most doctors nowadays prefer to use laser-based treatments as an alternative to dermabrasion to minimise risks and possible complications.

Who Should Undergo and Expected Results

Dermabrasion of the face can be taken advantage of by patients who suffer from the following facial skin imperfections:

  • Acne scars
  • Wrinkles
  • General keratosis
  • Rhinophyma, or swelling and redness around the nose
  • Actinic keratosis, or skin patches that are potentially precancerous
  • Uneven skin tone
  • Sunspots
  • Tattoos
  • Age spots


The procedure is effective even for deeper scars because it reaches the deeper layers of the facial skin. However, it is not effective against congenital skin imperfections such as moles and birthmarks.

Dermabrasion is ideal for patients with fair skin. For those with darker skin, a less aggressive procedure called microdermabrasion is a better alternative.

Other patients who are not good candidates for a dermabrasion treatment are those who:

  • Have been taking isotretinoin orally for the treatment of acne in the past year
  • Have a family history of keloids
  • Have active acne
  • Have other skin infection that has pus
  • Suffer from recurrent herpes simplex infections
  • Have burn scars
  • Have scars caused by radiation treatments


At the end of the procedure, the patient can expect to get rid of serious scars and imperfections. The goal of the procedure is to make the face look cleaner, clearer, and smoother. The procedure is as effective as laser treatments, but it is less expensive.

How is the Procedure Performed?

Dermabrasion for the face is considered as an invasive surgical procedure. It is often performed by dermatologists and plastic surgeons in surgical suites or dermatology clinics.

The procedure works through deep abrasion, or by wearing away the upper to middle layers of the skin. By doing so, it gets rid of surface imperfections as well as some deeper ones.

The procedure is performed as follows:

  • The patient is first placed under local anaesthesia.
  • The doctor uses a wire brush, a diamond wheel, sterile sandpaper, or salt crystals that rotate rapidly when pressed against the skin.
  • The abrasive material removes the top and middle layers of the epidermis all the way down into the reticular dermis.
  • The skin is left to heal. The new skin that grows back is smoother and free from imperfections.


It is normal for patients to experience some bleeding during the procedure. If bleeding is excessive, it is often controlled using pressure. Due to this, the patient’s skin becomes red and raw after the procedure.

Patients may take anywhere between 7 and 30 days to recover depending on how aggressively the procedure was performed.

Possible Risks and Complications

Patients who undergo dermabrasion of the face for the treatment of acne scarring, fine wrinkling, rhytids, and general keratosis are at risk of:

  • Scarring
  • Skin discolouration – Treated skin often becomes either darker or lighter than normal; this is common among dark-skinned patients.
  • Infection – Although they rarely occur, bacterial, fungal, or viral infections can arise after a dermabrasion treatment.
  • Facial herpes virus reactivation (i.e. cold sores)
  • Enlarged pores – Patients may have enlarged pores after the procedure due to swelling. In most cases, however, the pores shrink back to their normal size once the swelling subsides.


These risks are often prevented through proper patient selection. Also, patients who are concerned about these potential complications can consider the following alternatives:

  • Laser facial treatments – Laser-based treatments are now the most commonly performed procedures in the field of dermatology because they are fast, effective, and non-invasive. They are also associated with fewer risks.
  • Microdermabrasion – Microdermabrasion is a lighter, less aggressive alternative to dermabrasion. It is effective in treating surface imperfections because it can remove the skin’s outermost layer. It is gentler on the skin and has fewer risks.

    References:

  • Al-Aadamy AW, Al-Hamamy H, Salman HA, Al-Waiz MM. “Sandpaper dermabrasion for treatment of acne scars and amateur tattoos in dark-skinned individuals.” The Iraqi Postgraduate Medical Journal. 2008. Vol. 7, no. 2. http://www.iasj.net/iasj?func=fulltext&aId=35608

  • Zarei M, Levy D, Kerdel FA, Salgado CJ, Romanelli P. “Dermabrasion: A novel treatment for diffuse silicone granuloma.” J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2015 May; 8(5): 47-49. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4445896/

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