Dermabrasion, also called dermaplaning, is the “controlled scraping and resurfacing of the skin,” says Alan M. Engler, MD, FACS, a prominent author and New York plastic surgeon. For this reason, one of the biggest risks of dermabrasion lies in selecting a doctor or aesthetic professional who is inexperienced to perform the procedure. Dermabrasion is considered safe and risks are minimal when the treatment is conducted by a qualified individual. Especially since the introduction of more advanced, controlled and gentler skin correction options like laser skin resurfacing, ensuring you select someone who still utilizes the technology is paramount to the success of your treatment, according to Dr. Engler.

Your results have “a huge amount to do with the professional performing the treatment. The two things you can change [with regard to your cosmetic procedure are] the modality and the person performing it,” says Engler.
Scarring is one of the two most common risks of dermabrasion. The procedure itself is done using a tool with a tip — either a bit or brush-like structure — that acts as sandpaper, grinding and abrading away the layers of damaged skin. If the person performing the procedure goes too deeply, scarring can occur.

You can help to minimize this risk by preparing well for your procedure. Stop smoking and drinking alcohol for your doctor’s recommended period of time (at least two weeks prior to your treatment is a good standard to follow); stay hydrated; and refrain from taking any medications that will cause the blood to thin, such as Aspirin.

If you are prone to scarring, you may elect to receive several light, more superficial treatments. The risk of scarring increases with medium and deeper treatments where more layers of the skin are removed in a single session.

Pigmentation is the second dermabrasion risk. These problems resulting from dermabrasion can be diverse “depending on the depth of the treatment and the type of skin,” says Engler. The darker skin tones you have and the deeper the treatment, the more likely your risks of seeing dark, spotty patches. “Fair skin can actually lose pigment and become paler in color,” says Engler. He adds that this is not always a “fair trade” to take on pigmentation problems in exchange for improved scars.

Engler explains that there are six types of skin, ranging from fair to dark. You and your doctor will evaluate your skin type and the condition you’re hoping to correct to decide how deep your treatment should be to avoid the risk of pigmentary changes.

With any procedure, there is always a risk of improper healing, notes Engler. Swelling, bruising, infection and other similar side effects can develop into serious dermabrasion complications. “Followups are extremely important,” says Engler, to ensure that you heal as quickly and as properly as you can. If you are given dressings to wear, keeping them dry and clean will minimize this risk, as well. Also, refrain from sun exposure because it can lead to burning, improper healing and pigmentary problems.

Other considerations include the more temporary risks of dermabrasion. Some patients will see whiteheads or blackheads develop after the procedure. This is because the pores can enlarge for a period of time as new skin develops, making it easier for them to become dirty. Your doctor will discuss gentle rinses, washes and methods of keeping the skin moisturized and sterile to reduce this risk.

It’s also important to note: newer, more superficial treatments — such as microdermabrasion, chemical peels and laser skin resurfacing options — carry similar risks. However, because the technology used to perform them is more advanced and controllable, these possibilities and chances of seeing adverse side effects have been greatly diminished.

If you’re considering dermabrasion — regardless of the modality you choose to achieve the best results — be sure to educate yourself about the risks, and discuss all your cosmetic options with your doctor or aesthetician. Each patient differs, and each dermabrasion treatment can be customized to meet your specific needs.