Looking for ways to drastically improve the appearance of your skin? With an ability to address everything from fine lines and wrinkles to stubborn scars and texture irregularities, dermabrasion is a worthy option for those looking to seriously overhaul their complexion. Not to be confused with microdermabrasion, dermabrasion is an in-office exfoliating treatment that leads to refreshed, revitalized skin that looks a heck of a lot smoother—and younger (not to be ageist, of course).
Thinking dermabrasion might be exactly what you’ve been searching for? Keep reading to learn what two dermatologists have to say about the popular skincare treatment.
Meet the Expert
What Is Dermabrasion?
As the Cleveland Clinic describes, “Dermabrasion is a procedure in which the skin is cooled and then a specialized high-speed rotary instrument is used to ‘sand’ the skin.”
With terminology like “high-speed rotary instrument” and "sand," you might be nervous to embark on a dermabrasion treatment. But not so fast. According to board-certified dermatologist Dendy Engelman, MD, the exfoliating treatment is a godsend for those looking to target signs of aging, like uneven skin tone and texture, fine lines, and acne scars. What’s more, she says that it can even be used to remove potentially harmful spots on the skin (like those thought to be precancerous).
Benefits of Dermabrasion
- Sloughs away dead skin cells
- Facilitates cell turnover
- Brightens the skin
- Smoothes the skin
- Diminishes the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles
- Reduces the appearance of acne
In short, cosmetic dermatologist Michele Green, MD, agrees that dermabrasion can result in an overall more radiant, even skin tone and texture.
But that’s not all. According to the Cleveland Clinic, dermabrasion can even be used on tattoo scars—including those associated with laser removal. As such, dermabrasion presents itself as a universal solution for some of the most-pressing skin concerns.
How to Prepare for Dermabrasion
While you might not think that much preparation goes into an exfoliating treatment, Engelman says that getting your skin ready ahead of time can help you get the best possible results out of your dermabrasion treatment.
“It is recommended that patients avoid sun exposure and smoking for a few weeks to months—both before and after the procedure—as this can put you at risk of skin discoloration and delayed healing, respectively,” she explains. Speaking with your dermatologist will help you nail down a precise time frame based on your specific complexion. And, while you’re chatting, it’s important to disclose the medications you’re on, as they, too, can play a role in how your skin takes to the deep-exfoliating treatment.
What to Expect During a Dermabrasion Treatment
As dermabrasion goes beyond your typical at-home exfoliation, remember: It "sands" your skin, so the treatment will begin with anesthesia. “They’ll usually use local anesthesia, but in some cases general anesthesia might be appropriate,” Engelman shares.
Once numbed, Green says that a rapidly rotating, motorized skin device (aka a dermabrader) will be moved across the skin with gentle pressure. “The outside layers of the skin are exfoliated off with the use of the skin device,” she explains, noting that, depending on the size of the treatment area, the procedure can last anywhere from a few minutes to over an hour.
Speaking of timeliness, Engelman points out that larger sections of skin may require multiple sessions to fully (and safely) exfoliate.
After the exfoliating is complete, Engelman says your dermatologist will apply a bandage to the area. Most times, a next-day appointment will be scheduled to check on healing and remove the bandage.
One more thing to note is that, thanks to the anesthesia, you may need a ride home following treatment, so be sure to set that up ahead of time.
Dermabrasion vs. Microdermabrasion and Other Resurfacing Treatments
Dermabrasion is often mistaken for microdermabrasion, which is a much gentler, at-home alternative. While microdermabrasion doesn’t require any downtime—it’s just a quick and easy exfoliating treatment with immediately visible results—dermabrasion does. “You should see and feel improvement within a week or two, but it will take about three months to fully heal from a dermabrasion treatment," Engelman explains.
Of course, microdermabrasion isn’t the only treatment comparable to dermabrasion. Engelman compares it with chemical peels and dermaplaning. “In terms of results and recovery time, I would consider dermabrasion to be a greater commitment but it also offers a greater reward than most available exfoliating treatments,” she says. “When compared with chemical peels (either at home or in-office) and dermaplaning (which is a similar but less intense procedure that has no downtime), dermabrasion is riskier and requires a greater time investment. However, it provides permanent results (versus the several-weeks-to-months duration of chemical peels and dermaplaning).” Additionally, she points out that, unlike most other exfoliating procedures, dermabrasion addresses “more serious concerns like precancerous spots and rhinophyma (a condition that causes redness and thick skin on the nose).”
While Engelman is a fan of dermabrasion, Green says there are a number of skin resurfacing treatments that don’t require anesthesia, require little downtime, and have minimal side effects. As such, her vote stands with them.
“Fraxel Laser is a skin resurfacing technique I recommend to correct an uneven skin tone and texture,” she shares. “Fraxel can treat textural irregularities like fine lines and pores, wrinkles, sun spots, acne scars, and surgical scars.”
Another treatment she prefers over dermabrasion? Radiofrequency microneedling.
“Vivace Microneedling is a non-surgical treatment I recommend that combines two forms of skin therapy: microneedling and radiofrequency (RF) energy,” she explains. “Vivace Microneedling is used to diminish the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, while minimizing the appearance of pores, boosting the overall health and appearance of skin. Radiofrequency energy heats the middle layer of the skin in order to stimulate elastin and collagen production, tightening the top layer of the skin to reduce skin laxity.”
Potential Side Effects
Thanks to the deep-exfoliating nature of dermabrasion, Engelman says it’s normal for skin to feel sensitive, swollen, and tingly, and to look pink and potentially covered in ooze that’s likely to crust over. “Potential side effects include changes in skin tone or color, temporarily enlarged pores, swelling, redness, rash, scarring, acne breakouts and, in rare cases, infection,” she adds.
Because of the common side effects, dermabrasion requires a significant amount of downtime—it’s not a lunchtime cosmetic treatment. And, in rare cases, Green points out the side effects can be more severe. “Skin can become scarred, hypo- or hyper-pigmented, and blotchy after a dermabrasion procedure, and can be an even greater frustration when it requires weeks or months of recovery time,” she explains.
Like all cosmetic treatments, the cost of your dermabrasion treatment will be dependent upon your location, the area you’re getting treated, and the expertise of the dermatologist performing the treatment. However, generally speaking, Engelman says that you can expect to spend around $1,200—though, that doesn’t include anesthesia or any of the associated additional costs (such as those required during healing). In other words, it’s pricey. But, as Engelman said earlier, it’s permanent and pays off.
The best way to speed up healing after a dermabrasion treatment is to regularly (and amply) apply soothing and moisturizing topical products. What’s more, Engelman says to avoid sun exposure until you’re fully recovered (i.e., six to 12 months post-treatment). However, in the event that you absolutely must be in the sun, ensure that you’re wearing SPF 30 or higher.
While taking care of your skin at home following treatment is incredibly helpful, Engelman says that follow-up appointments with your dermatologist are beneficial, as they’ll be able to evaluate your healing and suggest products and methods to accelerate recovery.
The Final Takeaway
Dermabrasion is permanent. The treatment itself takes a bit longer than other resurfacing treatments, but rest assured that the results will last. That said, you’ll have to be patient through the recovery stage—which is notably longer than that of other treatments. Nevertheless, if you can stomach the idea of "sanding" your skin and shielding it from the sun for up to a year post-treatment, then the effects of dermabrasion might be worth it for you. After all, the benefit of achieving smooth, bright, un-scarred, un-wrinkled skin? Priceless.