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What is Dermabrasion?

Dermabrasion is a surgical procedure in which the physician attempts to make scars less noticeable by sanding them using a small hand held tool. The end of this tool has a metal wheel which has a rough surface. When the tool is turned on, the wheel spins rapidly. The surgeon then moves the spinning wheel gently over the surface of the scar causing the scar to be worn away. Local anesthesia is injected into the area before the treatment. When the procedure is over, the skin looks like a red brush burn or shallow wound and is tender. The wound takes a few weeks to heal.

When is dermabrasion indicated?
When dermabrasion was first developed, it was used predominantly to improve scars resulting from acne, chicken pox, and accidents. Today, it is also used to treat tattoos, age spots, chronic sun damage, wrinkling, precancerous skin degeneration, and other diseases.

How is dermabrasion performed?
Dermabrasion can be performed in the dermatologist's office or in an outpatient surgical facility. Medication to relax the patient may be given prior to surgery. The area is thoroughly cleansed with an antiseptic cleansing agent before application of a spray that freezes and numbs the skin. Alternatively, an anesthetic agent is injected to numb the skin. A high-speed rotary instrument with an abrasive wheel or brush removes (abrades) the upper layers of the skin to improve irregularities in the skin's surface. Soothing ointments and a dressing are then applied.

Possible Risks and Complications:

  • The skin that is dermabraded can end up looking darker or lighter than the surrounding skin. This can usually be treated, but can be permanent.
  • The scar can rarely end up looking worse. Sometimes new scars can form. In short, there is no guarantee that the procedure will not end up making you look worse.

What are the limitations of dermabrasion?
Dermabrasion cannot be expected to eliminate or improve all scars. Some deeper scars require the use of other procedures to obtain the best results. These include surgical removal of the scars followed by small skin grafts or suturing. Dermabrasion may be used 6 to 8 weeks later to smooth over these fresh scars. 

Some patients may benefit from repeat touch-up dermabrasion of areas that have not been sufficiently improved after the initial procedure. Other patients may benefit from the use of filling substances such as collagen, hyaluronic acid, or fat that can be used in conjunction with dermabrasion to elevate depressed scars. 

The dermatologist can give advice about the necessity for additional treatments after assessing each individual's specific condition.

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