- Microdermabrasion is a skin rejuvenation treatment that improves the appearance and texture of skin.
- Microdermabrasion has been proven to be mildly effective in the treatment of superficial and depressed acne scars, but multiple sessions are usually needed for ideal results.
- Side effects are mild, and fade within hours to one day of the procedure.
- Compared with other acne scar treatments, microdermabrasion is a relatively low-cost procedure.
Microdermabrasion is a noninvasive cosmetic procedure that resurfaces and rejuvenates the face by physically removing the top layer of skin. This process improves the skin’s texture and reduces the appearance of blemishes including acne scars.
Due to its relatively gentle abrasion and mild side effects, microdermabrasion is a viable option for those seeking to reduce the appearance of superficial and depressed acne scars.
How Does Microdermabrasion Treat Acne Scars?
Acne scars develop when the healing process following an acne breakout is disrupted. Collagen, a protein responsible for giving skin its structure, is destroyed or lost in 80–90% of cases in which scars form. The result is an indentation or depression called an atrophic scar, the most common type of acne scar.
In some cases, the disrupted healing process results in an excessive increase in collagen production. This results in raised scars, known as hypertrophic or keloid scars.
Microdermabrasion is a form of physical exfoliation that buffs away the stratum corneum, the very thin topmost layer of skin. This triggers the body’s wound healing response and results in increased collagen production. This newly produced collagen begins to fill in and smooth acne scars, while rejuvenating and resurfacing the skin.
Microdermabrasion can be performed in one of two ways: with a diamond-tipped handpiece or a spray of fine crystals. For both, a suction device is used to vacuum away debris, dead cells and oil from the skin’s surface as it is exfoliated.
What type of acne scars can microdermabrasion treat?
Microdermabrasion is effective in treating indented or atrophic acne scars, but not raised scars. Those with raised scars should avoid microdermabrasion, because its ability to increase collagen production could result in the development or worsening of raised scars.
Of the various types of indented scars, microdermabrasion is only effective in treating shallow ones, because this treatment only stimulates collagen production on the surface of the skin. Any scars deeper than 0.5 mm will show little to no improvement.
Superficial erythematous scars
These kinds of scars are flat and shallow, and appear as a slightly red or pink discoloration of the skin. Their color indicates that these scars are relatively new; pink scars typically become white as they age.
One study found these types of scars were the most effectively reduced in appearance after undergoing microdermabrasion.
Shallow boxcar scars
Boxcar scars are depressed round or oval scars with defined edges. Although they vary, these scars are typically 0.1 mm to 0.5 mm deep. Microdermabrasion is sometimes used to treat boxcar scars, as they are more shallow than most atrophic scars, and can be addressed with minor resurfacing.
Other depressed scars
Other atrophic acne scars are rolling scars and icepick scars. Rolling scars lack defined edges and give the skin a sloping texture. Although they vary in size, they are generally the widest acne scars; icepick scars on the other hand are very narrow and deep.
While both these scars are generally too deep for microdermabrasion to fill in, the exfoliation process can help smooth out their edges to slightly reduce their visibility.
Benefits of Microdermabrasion for Acne Scars
Microdermabrasion is a gentle procedure for people of all skin colors and types and can be performed in salons, spas or your dermatologist’s office. It has a relatively low cost compared to other acne scar treatment procedures, such as surgeries.
In contrast to other more invasive procedures for acne scars, microdermabrasion requires no downtime. You are free to return to work or go about your day immediately after a session.
The exfoliation process also removes debris, dead skin cells and excess oils from the skin’s surface which reduces pore clogs. This helps to prevent future breakouts, leading to clearer skin.
What to Expect During the Procedure
Prior to your procedure, the treatment area will be cleansed to remove any debris from the skin’s surface. If your face is being treated, you may be required to wear protective eyewear.
During a microdermabrasion session, the handpiece (whether diamond-tipped or crystal-based) is passed over the treatment area up to three times. The device operator controls the depth of penetration by applying different levels of pressure or adjusting the flow rate of crystals.
Each session lasts between 30–60 minutes. At the conclusion, any remaining debris or crystals are wiped away from your skin before moisturizer and sunscreen are applied.
How to prepare
Before undergoing microdermabrasion, abstain from:
- Fillers or neurotoxin injections for 3–4 days before treatment
- Any form of exfoliation for 3–5 days before treatment
- Using nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for 1 week before treatment
- Tanning or waxing for 1 week before treatment
- Isotretinoin use for 6 months before treatment
Be sure to consult with your dermatologist while planning for a procedure. Despite microdermabrasion’s relative safety and lack of severe side effects, it does carry risks for patients with active skin infections or a tendency to develop hypertrophic or keloid scars.
Your doctor may also recommend an alternative procedure if you have rosacea or telangiectasias. If you experience an acne breakout, you will have to wait until it clears up before a session.
Inform your provider of any aluminum allergies you may have, as crystal-based microdermabrasion most often uses aluminum oxide crystals. In such cases, your provider will select a different type of crystal or opt for diamond-tipped microdermabrasion.
As your skin heals, it will be more sensitive to damage caused by the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation. For 24–48 hours after a microdermabrasion session, avoid direct sunlight. Be sure to regularly apply SPF 30 sunscreen for at least three weeks after each treatment.
Avoid using topical acne products and harsh skin care products such as chemical peels during the healing process. Include a moisturizer in your skin care routine to reduce the likelihood of side effects, and to help decrease the severity of any side effects you may already be experiencing.
Possible side effects
Side effects of microdermabrasion are mild and temporary, and typically fade after a few hours, or one day at most. You may experience:
- Skin redness
- Tenderness and sensitivity
- Bruising or broken capillaries
- Petechiae; small, dark red spots that indicate bleeding beneath the skin’s surface
- Dry skin
Microdermabrasion may very rarely cause a skin rash or infection. It may also reactivate dormant skin infections, such as cold sores.
Patients with darker skin tones may experience skin discoloration or hyperpigmentation after treatment. This discoloration usually resolves on its own, but if not, your dermatologist can prescribe a topical cream or ointment to aid in the healing process.
Results and Efficacy
Limited research has been conducted into the efficacy of microdermabrasion for the treatment of acne scars. What research has been conducted suggests moderate efficacy, with superficial erythematous scars being the form of scars most effectively treated.
Anecdotal reports suggest microdermabrasion has varying success rates in the treatment of shallow boxcar scars. Some patients report little to no change, while others see significant reduction of scarring and noticeable improvements to the texture of their skin.
Smoothing of ridges and edges around acne scars should be noticeable immediately after treatment. Your acne scars may also appear more shallow. Further beneficial effects may become apparent over the course of the healing process, as collagen begins to fill in any indentations.
How many treatments do you need?
Four to six microdermabrasion sessions are usually needed to significantly reduce the appearance of acne scars; more severe scarring may require up to 16 sessions.
Because microdermabrasion is gentle and causes only mild side effects, little wait time is needed between sessions. Procedures can usually be carried out one to two weeks apart.
Before and Afters
Cost of Microdermabrasion for Acne Scars
Microdermabrasion is performed in salons, spas and dermatologists’ offices. The cost of microdermabrasion will vary depending on where your procedure is carried out and the skill level of your provider.
A single microdermabrasion session typically costs $75–$200. Some providers offer add-ons, such as specially formulated serums, additional aftercare steps or combined treatment techniques.
These add-ons can make a procedure better suited to addressing the needs of an individual, but can also significantly raise the price. Prices may reach over $800 depending on the complexity of the procedure and the number of add-ons included.
Alternatives to Microdermabrasion for Acne Scars
A variety of alternative solutions are available for the treatment of acne scars. These treatments vary in efficacy, and each one carries a different set of side effects and contraindications. Be sure to consult your dermatologist to determine which treatment is best for your specific needs, type of scarring and particular skin type.
Nonsurgical cosmetic procedures, such as microdermabrasion, offer a means to treat acne scars without the downtime associated with cosmetic surgery. Nonsurgical treatments include:
- Hydradermabrasion or HydraFacials
- Chemical peels
- Dermal fillers
- Laser resurfacing
A dermatologist or cosmetic surgeon can perform surgery to eliminate or reduce the appearance of acne scars. Common surgeries include:
- Punch excision
- Skin grafting
Over-the-counter topicals and cosmetics can be valuable tools to exfoliate and increase collagen production. OTC treatments include:
- Salicylic acid, a type of beta-hydroxy acid
- Alpha-hydroxy acids, such as glycolic acid and lactic acid
- Vitamin C
- Face masks
Microdermabrasion uses the body’s reparative wound healing process to resurface and retexture the skin. This procedure can reduce the appearance of imperfections such as acne scars.
Microdermabrasion is not suited for all types of acne scarring, but may be effective for treating superficial erythematous scars and shallow boxcar scars. Microdermabrasion is ineffective for treating raised or especially deep acne scars, however many alternative procedures are available for treating these types of scars.
As with other skin conditions, multiple microdermabrasion sessions will likely be needed to achieve ideal results. Fortunately, microdermabrasion is a relatively low-cost procedure that requires no downtime and only causes mild side effects.
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