Dermabrasion and Microdermabrasion

  • Medical Author:
    Gary W. Cole, MD, FAAD

    Dr. Cole is board certified in dermatology. He obtained his BA degree in bacteriology, his MA degree in microbiology, and his MD at the University of California, Los Angeles. He trained in dermatology at the University of Oregon, where he completed his residency.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

What are dermabrasion and microdermabrasion?

Dermabrasion vs. microdermabrasion

Dermabrasion produces substantial changes in the appearance of the skin by injuring it in a controlled manner using an abrasive. Dermabrasion is most often used to treat certain types of scarring and aged skin. Other options that produce similar results include laser surgery, moderate to deep skin peels, and the injection of fillers. Most often the facial skin is treated, but skin at any site can be treated. Dermabrasion is performed by dermatologists and plastic surgeons.

Microdermabrasion is a nonsurgical technique that affects only the superficial dead layer of the skin, producing transient changes. Microdermabrasion is often administered by nonphysician professionals.

Who is a candidate for dermabrasion and microdermabrasion?

Dermabrasion produces controlled skin damage involving the deeper layers of the skin. The resulting wound heals with a scar that is cosmetically superior to what was there originally. The conditions that seem to respond best to this approach include acne scarring, traumatic scars, rhinophyma (nose enlargement in rosacea), wrinkles, tattoo removal, and actinic keratoses (very early stage of skin cancer). Currently, there are other available modalities, including laser surgery, which are more popular and probably more effective because they seem to be more controllable. Lighter-skinned individuals generally get more reliable results because they are less likely to develop increased pigmentation after the procedure. Patients who have recently been treated with isotretinoin (Accutane) should avoid dermabrasion for at least six months.

Microdermabrasion is a technique that affects only the most superficial layer of the skin, the stratum corneum. This layer is composed of dead horny cells that are exfoliated by this procedure. This procedure is safe for most people because it should not produce any significant damage to the skin. Patients who have an active skin disease such as acne should not receive treatment to the affected skin.

Dermabrasion vs. Microdermabrasion

Microdermabrasion is a painless, noninvasive, skin-rejuvenation procedure using a combination of a fine abrasive tip or crystals and vacuum suction applied to the skin. There are no needles or anesthetics required for microdermabrasion.

Microdermabrasion should not be confused with dermabrasion which is an invasive surgical procedure performed typically by dermatologists or plastic surgeons under local or general anesthesia. Dermabrasion is a procedure for deeper acne scars. Dermabrasion requires anesthesia and would be too painful otherwise.

How are dermabrasion and microdermabrasion performed?

Since dermabrasion is a surgical procedure, local anesthesia is required and is occasionally supplemented by intravenous sedation. When the skin is appropriately numb, an abrasive device is applied to the skin. This device could be a rapidly rotating wire brush or a diamond encrusted wheel or even abrasive screening. The choice depends on the anatomical location as well as the particular area to be treated. A refrigerant spray is often used to reduce the movement of the skin during the procedure. The ability to perform this procedure is very dependent on the skill and experience of the operator.

Microdermabrasion involves spraying an inert crystalline material or rubbing a so-called crystalline impregnated wand with sufficient force to dislodge superficial skin cells without damaging the deeper layers of living cells. Aside from this superficial debridement, it produces mild inflammation and temporary swelling.

What specialists perform dermabrasion and microdermabrasion?

Dermatologists and plastic surgeons are most likely to perform dermabrasions. Microdermabrasion requires no specific expertise.

What should people expect after dermabrasion and microdermabrasion?

The wound produced by dermabrasion, like any other wound, must be kept clean and moist. Gentle removal of crust and debris can occur after removal of the postoperative dressing (usually 24-48 hours after the procedure). Petroleum jelly is generally applied to the wound surface frequently. Healing usually occurs within 10 days and redness dwindles after three to six weeks.

Since microdermabrasion does not produce a wound, there is no postoperative issues aside from mild redness. Over the short term, there may be some subtle decrease in wrinkling due to the swelling.

Are there any adverse side effects with dermabrasion and microdermabrasion?

As with any surgical procedure, infections can occur and these are treated with antibiotics. Undesirable color is more common in darkly pigmented individuals. Keloids and hypertrophic scars can occur, especially in patients with a genetic predisposition to scar.

Microdermabrasion has few side effects, but it is best avoided if you are taking isotretinoin.

Does insurance cover the cost of dermabrasion and microdermabrasion?

Since both of these procedures are almost always cosmetic, insurance coverage is usually not available.

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Medically Reviewed on 12/13/2016

Alkhawam, L., and M. Alam. "Dermabrasion and Microdermabrasion." Facial Plastic Surgery 25 (2009): 301-310.

Smith, Jesse Ellis. "Dermabrasion." Facial Plast Surg 30 (2014): 35-39.