Dermabrasion vs. Microdermabrasion: What’s The Difference?

Written by WD Staff, Skin Care Specialists on April 6, 2017 2 Comments

Dermabrasion vs. Microdermabrasion

Whether you’re dealing with acne, wrinkles, scarring, or pigmentation issues; skin resurfacing can help your skin look smooth and youthful. Resurfacing works by removing the upper layers of the skin in order to stimulate the natural healing process. This results in the growth of new layers of the skin that look and feel more youthful and vibrant.

Two common forms of skin resurfacing are Dermabrasion and Microdermabrasion. While sounding similar, both skin resurfacing treatments are very different in terms of results and risks.

What is Dermabrasion?

Dermabrasion is a controlled surgical method of removing the uppermost skin layers which triggers the growth of new youthful looking skin. During dermabrasion, a handheld device is used to peel away layers of the skin. This device features a rotating wheel layered with wire brushes that physically exfoliates the skin similar to sanding wood.

Dermabrasion is fairly invasive and requires the use of local or general anesthesia. Depending on patient needs, the procedure can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours to complete.

Most dermabrasion patients can expect a fairly long recovery period, typically 10-14 days depending on the degree of resurfacing done. During this period most patients will experience moderate pain which can be controlled using pain medication. The skin will also remain red/pink, swollen, and irritated throughout the healing period.

What is Microdermabrasion?

Microdermabrasion is a non-invasive procedure that removes upper layers of the skin through controlled physical exfoliation. Similar to dermabrasion, a microdermabrasion procedure uses a handheld device which is guided over the skin to provide light abrasion. The device also features suction mechanism that removes sloughed off skin as it passes.

Microdermabrasion targets dead (i.e. non-viable) skin cells while leaving viable skin alone. As such, microdermabrasion is not painful and requires minimal recovery time. Patients can expect their skin to feel renewed and refreshed immediately following treatment.

Dermabrasion vs. Microdermabrasion

The basic difference between dermabrasion and microdermabrasion is resurfacing intensity: dermabrasion is a more drastic version of microdermabrasion as the treatment forcibly removes deeper layers of the skin. While microdermabrasion removes dead (or dying) skin cells, dermabrasion goes deeper to remove layers of the dermis that are alive.

This means that dermabrasion provides a more dramatic result compared to microdermabrasion, a great benefit for individuals dealing with more severe skin issues (i.e. deeper wrinkles, intense pigmentation, acne scarring, etc.).

However, the dramatic results provided by dermabrasion can come at a cost. Dermabrasion treatments involve fairly significant pain and discomfort, along with longer recovery time. Additionally patients who undergo dermabrasion may be at risk for long-term risks including infection, permanent changes in skin color, and scarring.

Other Skin Resurfacing Options

Given the risks and required recovery time inherent in dermabrasion, we advise our patients to opt for other treatments that can offer similar results without the downside. Patients who are seeking other options can also consider chemical peels, dermaplaning, or laser resurfacing treatments:

  • Chemical Peels: Topically applied chemical formulas that produce a controlled shedding of the skin. We offer many different chemical peels that differ in terms of intensity. It’s possible to completely customize a peel to address the specific needs and characteristics of your skin.
  • Dermaplaning:  Also known as blading or microplaning, dermaplaning uses a small special blade to remove the outermost layers of skin and fine hairs on the face. The procedure is similar to shaving as the blade is stroked over the targeted skin at an angle.
  • Laser Skin Resurfacing:  Advanced technological improvements have yielded a variety of laser-based skin resurfacing treatments. Treatments like Fraxel or Clear+Brilliant used advanced laser light to remove outer layers of the skin with extreme precision. Best of all, most laser treatments require less downtime with great results.


WD Staff

A united group of skin care specialists from Westlake Dermatology & Cosmetic Surgery, Austin's leader in Dermatology and Plastic Surgery. Articles posted under WD staff are authored through combined contributions from our entire team, including Plastic Surgeons, Dermatologists, Aestheticians, Physician Assistants, Aesthetic Nurses, and Patient Coordinators.

2 Responses to “Dermabrasion vs. Microdermabrasion: What’s The Difference?”

  1. Avatar Tom says:

    What is the total recovery time for dermabrasion for deep acne scarring? thanks

    • WD Staff WD Staff says:

      Hi Tom,

      Recovery time will vary from patient to patient and can depend greatly on the level of intensiveness for the specific dermabrasion procedure you are going to undergo. That being said, most people fully recover within 5-8 days.

      I hope that helps!

      WD Staff

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