What Are the Pros and Cons of Dermabrasion for Acne?

Nicole Etolen

Dermabrasion for acne is a cosmetic procedure that uses a special wire brush or diamond wheel to sand away scarring caused by the skin condition. Removing the top layer of skin reveals the smoother layer beneath, once the skin heals. Like most medical procedures, it has its benefits and risks. While dermatologists consider dermabrasion to be one of the most effective methods for removing shallow scars and rejuvenating skin, it requires a longer recovery period than less invasive types of cosmetic surgery, and can be very painful.

Excessive sebum often causes acne.
Excessive sebum often causes acne.

Acne is a condition that causes blackheads, whiteheads, or other types of pustules, papules, and cysts to appear on the surface of the skin. The skin contains million of tiny holes called pores. When bacteria, dirt, and other debris clog those pores, the buildup forms a plug, commonly referred to as a pimple. Severe acne can result in pitting and scarring of the skin. Dermabrasion for acne may help reduce or eliminate the appearance of the scars, typically in just one treatment. The procedure cannot be used on active breakouts, however, so it cannot be used to cure acne itself.

A patient with acne scarring may notice improvements from dermabrasion.
A patient with acne scarring may notice improvements from dermabrasion.

In addition to removing acne scars and inactive blemishes, dermabrasion may improve skin tone and texture. It may also reduce the appearance of fine lines or wrinkles, and leave the skin feeling stronger and more supple. With proper sun care, a single treatment can provide results that last 10 years or longer.

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Common side effects of dermabrasion for acne include red, swollen skin and light scarring that can take up to several weeks to heal. Infection can also occur, especially if the wounds are not properly dressed and cared for. In some cases, dermabrasion can actually worsen acne by triggering a breakout. The procedure is typically not covered by medical insurance and can be costly.

Dermabrasion for acne is usually performed in a sterile surgical center. Depending on the extent of the procedure, some patients receive a sedative to help them relax while others are put under general anesthesia. During the procedure, the dermatologist moves a handheld wire brush or diamond wheel across the surface of the skin being treated, either in a back and forth or circular motion. Dermabrasion for acne scars can take up to two hours, depending on the amount of skin being treated.

After the procedure, patients are given instructions on how to care for the skin at home. Recovery takes between five to seven days, and the treated area will feel raw and sore. If the procedure required deep skin resurfacing, patients will need to return for a follow-up visit the next day, and then several times during the first week. Antibiotics or antivirals may be prescribed to reduce the risk of infection, and patients are instructed to stay out of direct sunlight or to use sunscreen when going outside. Results are typically seen once the skin heals.

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