- Microdermabrasion is a gentle and noninvasive procedure that exfoliates skin by removing its outermost layer.
- Microdermabrasion can treat cases of mild acne by reducing oil buildup on the skin and unclogging and shrinking pores.
- It is not an effective procedure for moderate or severe acne, and cannot be used during an active acne phase.
- Alternatives to microdermabrasion for acne are generally more effective, and include topical treatments, oral medications and other cosmetic procedures.
Pores become breeding grounds for bacteria when they become clogged with dead skin cells, dirt, debris and oil. Over time, acne begins to manifest in these pores and present as different types of pimples, cysts, nodules and other unwanted and unsightly bumps.
Microdermabrasion is a gentle cosmetic procedure that exfoliates the skin to remove debris and dirt from the surface, making it a potential treatment for acne, acne-prone and acne-scarred skin.
What Is Microdermabrasion?
Microdermabrasion is a noninvasive cosmetic procedure in which a diamond-tipped handpiece or spray of fine crystal particles gently exfoliates the skin to remove the stratum corneum, the topmost layer of skin. At the same time, a vacuum attachment suctions up debris, skin cells and waste.
This process triggers your body’s reparative wound-healing process and stimulates the remodeling and production of collagen, a protein that helps give skin its elasticity. The result is a newly-restored epidermis, or outer layer of skin, with reduced appearance of blemishes, scars and signs of aging.
Can Microdermabrasion Treat Acne?
Microdermabrasion is sometimes used as a treatment for noninflammatory acne. Acne forms when pores become clogged with dead skin cells and sebum, a natural oil responsible for moisturizing skin. Once pores are clogged, bacteria starts to grow, culminating in the formation of visible acne.
Mild acne breakouts
Microdermabrasion can be used to treat mild acne breakouts in a small or isolated area where less than 20 blackheads or whiteheads, 15 pimples or 30 lesions are visible.
A microdermabrasion treatment will decrease the sebum content of the skin, lessening the amount of oil available to potentially clog pores and serve as a bacterial breeding ground.
Microdermabrasion also helps to shrink enlarged pores. This reduces the likelihood that dead cells, debris and sebum will enter and clog pores. At the same time, microdermabrasion induces antimicrobial peptides, molecules that help fight the acne infection.
Comedonal acne is the most common type of acne and occurs as a result of clogged pores. It presents as noninflamed and flesh-colored bumps and blackheads, which are open comedones, or whiteheads, which are closed comedones.
The physical exfoliation of microdermabrasion removes the dead skin cells and oil that clog pores, and result in comedonal acne. At the same time, the suctioning attachment of the microdermabrasion tool vacuums up the loose debris from the skin’s surface to reduce the likelihood of future breakouts.
Inflammatory acne is more severe than either mild or comedonal acne. It presents as many red, swollen and painful bumps and is the result of a bacterial infection that has taken place deeper within the pores than noninflammatory acne.
Because microdermabrasion has a physical impact on the skin, it can worsen the symptoms of inflammatory acne. The physical abrasion used during microdermabrasion treatment can further inflame and irritate skin and cause pain. As a result, microdermabrasion should not be used to treat inflammatory acne.
The efficacy of microdermabrasion for the treatment of acne is considered to be limited at best. While some studies have demonstrated positive results in the treatment of acne via microdermabrasion, further research is required before a more concrete determination can be made.
Though microdermabrasion alone may serve a limited role in the treatment of acne, it has been shown to increase the efficacy of other procedures, such as chemical peels, and to assist with transdermal drug delivery, helping ingredients better penetrate the skin without negatively impacting the skin’s protective barriers. As such, microdermabrasion may be used before other treatment options to increase their effectiveness.
Before and afters
Can Microdermabrasion Treat Acne Scars?
Acne causes scarring in up to 80% of people between the ages of 11 and 30, and 5% of those aged 30 or older. In 80–90% of cases, atrophic scars, the scars that heal below the top layer of skin, form as a result of collagen degradation caused by acne. In other cases, raised scars, called hypertrophic or keloid scars, form as a result of increased collagen.
Because microdermabrasion exfoliates the skin and removes the stratum corneum, a new outer layer of skin forms in its place. Atrophic acne scars are less likely to form, with existing ones more likely to fill in and heal, because of the increased collagen production following microdermabrasion treatment.
The result is a resurfaced layer of skin that is thicker and smoother, with fewer visible blemishes, such as scars, than before treatment.
The caveat, however, is that microdermabrasion is ineffective for raised scars; in fact, microdermabrasion may help contribute to their formation because of the increase in collagen production.
The microdermabrasion procedure is performed in-office by your dermatologist or in a salon or spa by an esthetician. A single session takes about 30–60 minutes, requires no sedation or anesthesia and involves no recovery time.
Microdermabrasion is considered a safe treatment for mild and noninflamed types of acne, but should not be used to treat moderate, severe or cystic acne as the physical exfoliation of microdermabrasion can increase irritation and spread the acne infection.
Microdermabrasion is a safe treatment for patients of all skin colors and types. Because it is a superficial procedure that impacts only the topmost layer of skin, side effects are mild and short-lived.
In general, patients without contraindications may experience some light tenderness, swelling, bruising, redness or petechiae, colored spots that indicate bleeding beneath the skin, after treatment. Any visible side effects tend to fade away within hours of the procedure.
Who should avoid microdermabrasion?
While microdermabrasion is safe for most people, your dermatologist is not likely to advise this procedure if you:
- Have used isotretinoin within the last six months
- Are prone to scarring, particularly hypertrophic or keloid scarring
- Have rosacea or telangiectasias
- Have an active skin infection, such as herpes simplex, varicella-zoster, human papillomavirus (HPV) or impetigo
Dormant viruses, such as herpes, may be reactivated in individuals after undergoing a microdermabrasion procedure.
Inform your doctor or esthetician if you are allergic to aluminum. If so, a different type of crystal will be used for crystal microdermabrasion, or your provider will opt to use a diamond-tipped handpiece instead.
Can you get microdermabrasion during an active acne phase?
As with other types of active skin infections, microdermabrasion should be avoided if you are experiencing an active acne breakout. Microdermabrasion, and specifically crystal microdermabrasion, can break open acne lesions to spread the infection across uninfected areas.
Though microdermabrasion generally requires no downtime after treatment, proper aftercare instructions need to be followed to protect your skin as it heals.
To begin with, avoid using any harsh cosmetics or topical acne products for at least one day after microdermabrasion. Make sure you use an effective moisturizer as part of your skin care routine, as well.
The removal of the stratum corneum leaves skin sensitive to sunlight and susceptible to sun damage. As such, you should avoid direct sunlight for 24–48 hours after microdermabrasion. In addition, use generous amounts of sunscreen before sun exposure for about three weeks after treatment.
How to treat acne after microdermabrasion
As your skin begins to heal after microdermabrasion, it may also be more susceptible to a temporary acne breakout. Products with vitamin C, such as vitamin C serums, can prevent an acne breakout and help your skin heal after the treatment.
Since microdermabrasion is a gentle procedure, you can safely undergo a repeat treatment within a week or two of the first if your skin has sufficiently healed. If you intend on treating acne scars, you may require multiple treatments for there to be a noticeable effect.
Alternatives to Microdermabrasion for Acne
Although microdermabrasion is safe, gentle and somewhat effective procedure for mild acne, there are other treatments available that you can choose from based on your budget, comfort level and, most importantly, the severity of your acne.
Topical acne treatments
Topical acne treatments such as creams and lotions, are applied directly to the skin to treat mild acne breakouts. Side effects from topical acne treatments are typically limited to local skin irritation. Topical treatments include:
- Retinoids, such as vitamin A derivatives to remove dead cells and prevent oil from blocking pores
- Antimicrobials and antibiotics, such as benzoyl peroxide, erythromycin and clindamycin, to kill acne-causing bacteria
- Salicylic acid, a beta-hydroxy acid (BHA), to dissolve sebum and dead skin cells, and exfoliate the skin
Systemic acne treatments
Systemic acne treatments, or oral treatments, are sometimes prescribed alongside a topical treatment for mild acne, and are usually required for moderate to severe acne at the risk of more adverse side effects. Oral acne treatments include:
Women may sometimes be prescribed oral contraceptives, such as spironolactone, which have been shown to reduce acne lesions.
Oral tretinoin is prescribed in cases of severe acne, although its usage requires continued monitoring because of its potential for potent side effects.
Cosmetic skin procedures
Cosmetic procedures, similar to microdermabrasion, are available for the treatment of acne. Such procedures are commonly performed in your dermatologist’s office, local spa or salon, and can be used to treat acne of varying severities. In some cases, cosmetic procedures may also be effective in treating acne scarring.
Cosmetic procedures to treat acne include:
- Chemical peels
- Intense pulsed light (IPL) therapy
- Laser resurfacing
- Comedone extraction, in which fluid is drained from acne cysts and nodules
- Corticosteroid injection, in which an anti-inflammatory ingredient is injected into cysts and nodules to reduce acne inflammation
Some essential oils such as tea tree oil, have been demonstrated to have antimicrobial effects and some efficacy in treating mild to moderate acne. However, in contrast to similar ingredients, such as benzoyl peroxide, tea tree oil takes longer to treat acne.
Microdermabrasion is a gentle cosmetic procedure that exfoliates debris, dead skin cells and sebum from the skin, ostensibly reducing the likelihood of an acne breakout. The procedure is safe for most individuals and all skin types, with very few contraindications. Microdermabrasion requires no downtime, but does need some degree of simple aftercare.
Though microdermabrasion has been shown to reduce sebum production, its efficacy as an acne treatment is limited. Microdermabrasion can be effective at treating mild acne, but other treatment options, namely topicals and oral medications, offer better and more effective solutions.
Microdermabrasion can, however, aid in the transdermal delivery of other ingredients and treatments to increase their effectiveness without compromising the skin’s protective barriers. As a result, microdermabrasion still plays a role in the treatment of acne, even if it is not wholly effective at treating acne on its own.
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