- Microdermabrasion is a form of physical exfoliation that is safe for all skin tones and types.
- The possible side effects of microdermabrasion are mild and temporary and generally clear up within hours to a day of presenting.
- Microdermabrasion should be avoided by those with active skin infections or prevalence for scarring.
- There is no downtime following a microdermabrasion treatment, and sessions can be scheduled within a week of a previous session.
Microdermabrasion is a skin rejuvenation method that physically exfoliates the skin by peeling away the stratum corneum, or outer layer of skin. The body’s subsequent wound healing forms a new epidermis, effectively removing blemishes, such as scars and blotchy pigmentation, from the skin’s surface.
Despite being an ablative cosmetic procedure that physically removes a layer of the skin, microdermabrasion is considered a safe technique with a low likelihood of presenting mild side effects.
Is Microdermabrasion Safe?
Microdermabrasion is considered a safe cosmetic procedure for patients of all skin types and colors. Though it physically exfoliates the skin’s outer layer, it does so without damaging the epidermis. Because the epidermis isn’t compromised, there are no long-term complications arising from microdermabrasion.
As a noninvasive procedure, patients do not need to be sedated or anesthetized before treatment.
Microdermabrasion risks and contraindications
Microdermabrasion should be avoided if you are:
- Experiencing an active skin infection, such as herpes simplex virus, varicella zoster virus, human papillomavirus or impetigo
- Prone to hypertrophic or raised scarring
Diamond-tipped vs. crystal-based microdermabrasion
Microdermabrasion is performed with one of two types of handpieces:
- Diamond-tipped microdermabrasion uses a handpiece that physically rubs away, or buffs, your skin. The technician controls the depth of ablation based on how much pressure is applied.
- Crystal-based microdermabrasion projects a spray of fine crystals—typically made from aluminum oxide—against your skin. The depth of penetration is dependent on the rate in which the crystals flow from the device.
A vacuum device is also attached to each device, which serves the purpose of suctioning up dead skin cells, dirt, oil and other debris from the sun’s surface.
If you are allergic to aluminum and scheduled to undergo crystal microdermabrasion, your provider will instead use sodium chloride, magnesium oxide or sodium bicarbonate crystals, or opt to use a device with a diamond tip.
Because the pressure exerted during treatment with a diamond tip is more easily controlled by the operator, it tends to be used more often on sensitive treatment areas, such as the area around the eyes or lips, or those areas requiring a higher degree of accuracy.
In recent years, dermatologists and microdermabrasion providers have tended to begin phasing out crystal-based microdermabrasion systems in favor of diamond-tipped handpieces.
Is microdermabrasion safe for dark skin?
Microdermabrasion is safe for individuals of all skin types and tones, including those with dark skin. Patients with dark skin who undergo microdermabrasion may be slightly more likely to develop side effects; however, because the side effects are so mild and temporary, microdermabrasion is still safe for people with dark skin.
Still, patients with darker skin colors may wish to try hydradermabrasion instead. Hydradermabrasion can treat the same skin conditions as microdermabrasion, but is considered even more gentle than microdermabrasion.
Microdermabrasion Side Effects
Many patients undergo microdermabrasion without any adverse side effects. If side effects of microdermabrasion do manifest, they are mild and short-lived and typically last no longer than a few hours to a day.
The physical act of exfoliation, or the friction between your skin and the handpiece, increases blood flow in capillaries close to the surface. As the capillaries dilate, they become visible through the skin, causing skin redness, or erythema.
Your skin is likely to return to its normal complexion a few hours after microdermabrasion. If you have sensitive skin, you may notice skin redness lasting for a little more than a day.
Tenderness and sensitivity
Though gentle, microdermabrasion still wounds your skin by removing its surface layer. As a result, your skin becomes more tender and sensitive to external stimuli, such as touch. Your skin may feel similar to a sunburn, but feelings of sensitivity will fade within hours of treatment.
Bruising and broken capillaries
Some bruising may be visible after microdermabrasion treatment. The pressure generated by the handpiece’s suction attachment is responsible for any bruising caused during the procedure. You may be more likely to bruise if you are taking blood thinners, are treating an area with naturally-thin skin (such as the area around your eyes) or have thin skin in general.
Similarly, over-exfoliation or applying excessive pressure with the microdermabrasion handpiece may break the capillaries below your skin’s surface. When combined with the suction effect of the device’s vacuum, the broken capillaries are brought closer to the skin’s surface and become more visible.
While some bruising is unavoidable, its severity is dependent on the skill of the device’s operator. Like other side effects, bruising should clear up within hours to a day after treatment. Likewise, your propensity for broken capillaries may increase their visibility in the hours and days following microdermabrasion.
Small colored spots, called petechiae, may present on your skin after microdermabrasion. Petechiae, or a petechial rash, is a sign of bleeding beneath the skin’s surface. Petechiae is caused as a side effect of prolonged contact between the microdermabrasion device and your skin, or as a result of the vacuum attachment using too high a pressure.
Signs of petechiae may remain for up to two weeks after treatment.
Because microdermabrasion strips away the outer layer of skin, the layers beneath are exposed to external factors, such as the sun. As a result, your skin is more susceptible to photodamage, or sun damage, and can more easily sunburn as it heals.
You can expect your photosensitivity to last for about three weeks.
You may experience some dry, flaky or itchy skin in the immediate days following microdermabrasion. If you have oily or combination skin, dry skin may not be as apparent, but you may temporarily notice less oil in after a microdermabrasion session.
After a few days of aftercare and adhering to a moisturizing skin care regimen, any dryness should clear up and your skin should return to normal.
Skin rashes and infections following microdermabrasion are rare and typically limited to salons and spas that fail to properly sanitize the handpiece. If an infected patient was treated and the handpiece not fully sterilized afterward, the infection may be spread to you.
The treatment for rashes and infections depends on the specific type of infection transferred to you, such as acne. Risk of infection can be minimized by going to a professional dermatologist or clean and safe salon or spa.
Patients, and especially people with darker skin colors, may notice some temporary pigment changes or skin discoloration following microdermabrasion. There may also be some hyperpigmentation, or patches of darker skin, after the procedure.
If your skin tone is not restored after healing, your doctor may recommend or prescribe topicals, ointments, creams or other procedures.
Can Microdermabrasion Cause Breakouts?
If you have previously had a skin infection, such as cold sores, it may be reactivated by microdermabrasion. To reduce the chances of having a breakout, inform your provider during consultation. If possible, you may be given medication to help prevent a recurrence.
Can you get microdermabrasion with an active acne breakout?
Acne is a skin infection caused by bacteria that grow in clogged pores. Microdermabrasion can cause acne lesions to burst open and spread the infection across your skin, potentially exacerbating an acne infection. As such, microdermabrasion should be avoided if you have an active acne breakout.
There is no downtime or recovery time after a microdermabrasion session. Side effects, if they present, are mild and temporary and do not cause a significant impact on your daily life. Additionally, the lack of required sedatives or anesthesia during treatment means you can return to your normal schedule immediately after an appointment.
After a microdermabrasion session, your doctor or esthetician will apply moisturizer to the treated area. Moisturizer will help hydrate your skin to reduce the likelihood of adverse side effects or limit the effect of any that present.
For one day after treatment, avoid using any harsh skin care products, such as chemical peels, and stop the use of topical acne products. If you are not already, add a moisturizer to your skin care routine.
Avoid direct sunlight for 24–48 hours after microdermabrasion because of the skin’s increased sensitivity to the sun’s harmful UV radiation. In addition, use liberal amounts of sunscreen, with at least SPF 30 protection, for about three weeks after a microdermabrasion session.
How to Prepare for Microdermabrasion
Microdermabrasion is performed by an esthetician in a salon or spa or in-office by your dermatologist. During your first consultation, your provider will ask you questions about your medical history and your use of medications and cosmetics. In general, you should refrain from:
- Physical or chemical exfoliation for 3–5 days before treatment
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, for one week before treatment
- Filler or Botox injections for 3–4 days before treatment
- Accutane, or isotretinoin, treatment for six months before treatment
- Tanning or waxing for one week before treatment
You should also alert your provider to any aluminum allergies you may have.
Before the procedure begins, the treatment area will be cleansed to remove any debris or dirt from the surface. You may also be required to wear a mask over your eyes to protect them from irritation.
During the procedure, the handpiece will be passed over each treatment area up to three times. Depending on the size of the treatment area, the entire procedure will be over within 30–60 minutes.
How often can you undergo microdermabrasion?
Improvements to the skin following a microdermabrasion session are mild but clinically significant. Despite the limited efficacy, patients are generally pleased with the visible results, though repeated and consistent sessions are needed to maintain the effects of skin rejuvenation.
Four to six microdermabrasion sessions are generally required for best results. Patients who need or desire more drastic results may require up to 16 treatments. Fortunately, because microdermabrasion is a safe and gentle procedure, patients may undergo a follow-up procedure after no more than a week.
Microdermabrasion is a cosmetic treatment with an excellent safety profile for people of all skin types and colors. When compared to other forms of physical exfoliation, microdermabrasion requires no sedation, downtime or recovery period, and can be safely performed in a salon, spa or dermatologist’s office.
Potential side effects following a microdermabrasion session are limited. Patients may experience mild skin redness, tenderness, bruising or petechiae, each of which clears up within a maximum of one day after treatment.
Adherence to proper aftercare, including frequent moisturizing and protection from sun exposure, will minimize the effects of the skin’s photosensitivity and dryness. In rare cases, rashes and pigmentary changes can be treated with topical cosmetics if they don’t clear up on their own beforehand.
Patients who undergo microdermabrasion can expect a simple, quick and gentle procedure to rejuvenate the skin, with little chance of significant adverse reactions.