- Microdermabrasion is a skin resurfacing and rejuvenation procedure that relies on physical exfoliation.
- This procedure can address a range of skin concerns, including acne, scarring, hyperpigmentation and signs of aging.
- Microdermabrasion can be used in combination with other skin rejuvenation procedures for enhanced results.
- Although the efficacy of this procedure is limited, its mild side effects make it a viable treatment for most patients of all skin types and colors.
Microdermabrasion is a noninvasive cosmetic procedure in which the skin is physically exfoliated. Microdermabrasion benefits include improved skin elasticity and firmness, and an overall brighter complexion.
This procedure is less abrasive than other types of physical exfoliation, and serves as a gentle skin resurfacing technique that can improve the texture and appearance of skin. It can address a wide array of conditions, including acne, acne scars, stretch marks, large pores, pigment irregularities, fine lines and wrinkles.
How Microdermabrasion Works
Microdermabrasion triggers the body’s wound healing process by physically buffing away the stratum corneum – the skin’s outermost layer. This results in a renewed layer of surface skin with less pronounced blemishes and a more even complexion.
Microdermabrasion furthermore stimulates the production of collagen, the protein that gives skin its shape, structure and suppleness. As such, the renewed surface skin will feel smoother and firmer to the touch, with improvements in texture and contour.
Microdermabrasion procedures do not require sedation or anesthesia, and are offered in many salons and spas, as well as most dermatologists’ offices.
Before your treatment begins, your skin will be cleansed and you will be provided with protective eyewear. The treatment itself is performed with one of two types of devices: diamond-tipped handpieces or crystal-based devices, which buff away surface skin using a jet of fine crystals.
As the device passes over your skin, a vacuum attachment suctions away any dead skin cells, debris and waste. Over the course of the session, the handpiece typically passes over the treatment areas two or three times. Sessions typically take 30–60 minutes to complete in total, and require no downtime.
Microdermabrasion sessions should be performed at least one week apart to ensure that the skin has sufficient time to heal. Patients with more sensitive skin may need up to 8 weeks to recover completely from a session.
The total number of sessions needed to achieve ideal results will vary depending on the severity of the condition being treated. Anywhere from 4–16 sessions may be needed. Once an ideal skin texture and appearance has been achieved, results can be maintained with one session every 4–6 weeks.
Benefits of Microdermabrasion
Microdermabrasion treatments are intended to treat skin in order to improve and reduce the appearance of many skin concerns.
- Wrinkles and fine lines, including those caused by photoaging
- Uneven skin tone, including hyperpigmentation and melasma
- Scarring, including acne scarring
- Enlarged pores
- Stretch marks
Acne breakouts occur when pores in the skin become clogged with dead skin cells and sebum – an oil produced by glands within the skin to maintain hydration. When pores become clogged with debris, bacteria begins to proliferate within, leading to the formation of blackheads, whiteheads, and more severe forms of inflammatory acne.
Smooths fine lines and wrinkles
Fine lines and wrinkles are caused by aging, genetics and sun damage. Over time, these factors contribute to the degradation of collagen. As a result, the skin gradually loses elasticity and firmness, leading to increasing signs of aging, such as fine lines and wrinkles.
Microdermabrasion treatments stimulate an increase in collagen production; newly developed collagen contributes to filling in and smoothing wrinkles and fine lines. As such, microdermabrasion procedures can improve the appearance and texture of aging skin.
Hyperpigmentation is a condition in which scattered patches of skin appear darker than the surrounding skin. Hyperpigmentation is typically caused by acne, inflammation or sun damage. Some cosmetic procedures, such as laser treatments and chemical peels, can also trigger hyperpigmentation if they are performed with a poor technique or improper tools.
Melasma is a form of hyperpigmentation that presents as blotchy patches of darkened skin. It affects women more often than men. Although its precise causes have yet to be determined, melasma is believed to be exacerbated by sun exposure and hormonal changes, particularly those experienced during and after pregnancy.
Hyperpigmentation occurs as a result of increased production of melanin – the pigment that darkens the skin. Microdermabrasion helps even out skin tone by slowing melanin production.
Decreases visibility of acne scars
Degradation and unstable production of collagen may result in scarring along the area in which acne breakouts are healing. The most common type of acne scar is an atrophic scar, an indentation that develops when damaged tissue below the surface skin is unable to regenerate.
Microdermabrasion treats acne scars by stimulating an increase in collagen production, which fills in the scars to smooth and resurface the skin. The treatment is clinically effective in treating atrophic acne scars, but is ineffective for the treatment of raised or keloid scars.
Large pores can be a result of acne, photodamage, collagen loss or the buildup of excess sebum, cosmetic products and other debris. In addition to being an aesthetic issue, enlarged pores can easily become clogged, leading to the formation of acne.
Due to its exfoliating effects, microdermabrasion is effective in removing dirt, debris and oil from pores. This in turn reduces the visibility of large pores, as well as their likelihood of becoming clogged in the future.
Manages stretch marks
Striae distensae, or stretch marks, are commonly visible after a dramatic and sudden change in weight, especially after pregnancy. They are the result of lower melanin production and changes to the collagen fibers present within the skin.
A recent study found microdermabrasion to be as effective as topical tretinoin cream for reducing the visibility of stretch marks. The same study found that microdermabrasion was even more effective when combined with platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapy.
Enhances transdermal absorption
By ablating surface skin, microdermabrasion temporarily weakens the skin’s protective barrier function, and thus increases skin permeability. These effects enhance the skin’s ability to absorb serum infusions, which are often included as part of microdermabrasion treatments. This ultimately enhances the overall skin rejuvenating effect of the procedure.
Microdermabrasion has also been found to increase the skin’s ability to absorb certain medications, including insulin and vaccines.
Enhances efficacy of other cosmetic procedures
Because microdermabrasion exfoliates the top layer of skin without compromising deeper tissues, it boosts the efficacy of other skin rejuvenating procedures. Chemical peels and cavitation peels have both been shown to provide more effective results when combined with microdermabrasion treatments, without causing an increase in adverse side effects.
Limitations of Microdermabrasion
Although microdermabrasion is effective at treating a number of skin conditions, its efficacy is mild at best, and not as dramatic as other procedures. Many treatments are usually needed to achieve the best possible results.
Microdermabrasion is not recommended for those who:
- Are experiencing an active skin infection, such as herpes simplex, varicella-zoster virus, human papillomavirus (HPV) or impetigo
- Are experiencing an active acne breakout
- Have rosacea or telangiectasias
- Scar easily, or are prone to hypertrophic or keloid scarring
- Have applied topical isotretinoin within the last six months
Microdermabrasion may also reactivate dormant viruses, such as herpes, in those who have previously had the disease.
Crystal microdermabrasion handpieces typically use jets of fine aluminum oxide crystals to buff away surface skin; if you are allergic to aluminum, inform your doctor or esthetician before the procedure. In such cases, a diamond-tipped handpiece or another type of crystal can be used instead.
Microdermabrasion is gentle, requires no sedation or anesthesia and is safe for all skin types. As such, side effects are mild if they present at all.
Side effects may include:
Petechiae, or colored spots that indicate bleeding beneath the skin, may also present. In most cases, side effects clear up within hours of treatment.
Skin will be more sensitive to sun exposure following a microdermabrasion procedure. Patients should take special care to avoid spending prolonged periods of time in direct sunlight, wear protective clothing and regularly apply sunscreen for up to three weeks following this procedure.
Regular moisturization will support the healing process and reduce discomfort, as well as any redness or mild irritation that may result from the procedure.
Alternatives to Microdermabrasion
One of the major downsides of microdermabrasion is its limited efficacy in treating moderate to severe skin conditions. Although microdermabrasion can reduce the appearance of atrophic scarring, it is ineffective at treating deep or raised scars.
Alternative skin care methods that treat the same conditions as microdermabrasion include:
- Dermabrasion, a type of physical exfoliation in which the surface skin is completely removed to trigger the wound healing response; it can also treat skin lesions, growths and other types of scars.
- Hydradermabrasion, a type of microdermabrasion that uses a jet of oxygen and water-based solutions to buff away surface skin; well-suited for patients with sensitive skin.
- Chemical peels, a type of chemical exfoliation procedure that can be custom-tailored to specific skin type and condition; also treats age spots, rosacea and more severe acne and scarring. In some cases, microdermabrasion may serve as a precursor to chemical peels.
- Dermaplaning, a type of physical exfoliation in which a blade is used to shave off the outermost layer of skin; can also remove peach fuzz and pockmarks
- Microneedling, or collagen induction therapy, uses sterile needles to microscopically pierce the skin, triggering the body’s wound healing process and stimulating collagen production in targeted areas; cannot treat acne but can reduce the appearance of burn scars and treat alopecia.
Additionally, there are topical treatments, such as retinoids, salicylic acid and prescription products for the treatment of mild acne, hyperpigmentation and photoaged skin. Lastly, there are oral prescription medications for moderate to severe acne.
When selecting an appropriate treatment, be sure to consider your specific skin conditions, skin type, budget and tolerance for potential side effects.
Microdermabrasion is a gentle and noninvasive method of skin rejuvenation. By physically removing the skin’s outermost layer, the body’s wound healing process is triggered, stimulating collagen production and resurfacing the outer layer of skin.
Microdermabrasion improves the texture, firmness and appearance of the skin. It can be used to reduce the appearance of skin conditions such as acne, wrinkles and fine lines, hyperpigmentation and melasma, acne scars and enlarged pores.
The efficacy of microdermabrasion is mild and is ineffective for moderate to severe skin conditions. However, these treatments require no recovery time, cause few side effects and can be had as often as one week apart.
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