- 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 several hours to one day.
- Microdermabrasion should be avoided by those with active skin infections or a tendency to scar.
- There is no downtime following a microdermabrasion treatment, and additional sessions can be scheduled after one week.
Microdermabrasion is a skin rejuvenation procedure 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 in which a layer of skin is physically removed, the risk of side effects is low, and those side effects that may appear are mild and temporary.
Is Microdermabrasion Safe?
“Depending on the facility and the provider performing microdermabrasion, this procedure is generally considered safe,” says dermatologist, Dr. Jeanine B. Downie, MD. Microdermabrasion can be used on all skin types and tones with little to no risk.
Although 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 this procedure.
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 buffs the 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 the skin. The depth of penetration is dependent on the rate at 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 skin’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 eyes or lips, or those areas requiring a higher degree of accuracy.
In recent years, dermatologists and microdermabrasion providers have begun 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. However, patients with dark skin who undergo microdermabrasion may be slightly more at risk of developing mild and temporary side effects.
“Most procedures, as a rule, carry greater risk of adverse effects for darker skin types,” explains Dr. Downie. “To avoid a negative outcome, it is important to ensure your provider has personal experience with this device and your particular skin tone.”
Patients with darker skin tones may also opt for hydradermabrasion. This treatment can address the same skin conditions as microdermabrasion, but is considered even more gentle.
Microdermabrasion Side Effects
Many patients undergo microdermabrasion without any adverse side effects. If they 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 slightly longer than a day.
Tenderness and sensitivity
Although gentle, microdermabrasion still wounds the skin by removing its surface layer. Your skin may exhibit some of the same signs of sunburn, such as becoming more tender and sensitive to external stimuli and touch. Feelings of sensitivity will diminish within hours of treatment.
Bruising and broken capillaries
Some bruising may be visible after microdermabrasion treatment and is due to the pressure generated by the handpiece’s suction attachment. You may be more likely to bruise if you are taking blood thinners, are treating an area with naturally thin skin (such as the eye area) 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 in the hours and days following microdermabrasion.
Small colored spots, called petechiae, may present on your skin after microdermabrasion. “Petechiae is a medical term for small, red marks under the skin’s surface,” says Dr, Downie. “It is likely due to the procedure causing minor breaks in superficial blood vessels of the face.”
Like bruising and broken capillaries, petechiae is typically a side effect of prolonged contact between the microdermabrasion device and the skin, or as a result of the vacuum attachment being used at too high a pressure.
While common, petechiae is only a minor cosmetic concern that can often be concealed using makeup after your skin begins to heal – roughly 24 hours after your procedure. 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 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 notice a temporary reduction in oil 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 was not fully sterilized afterward, this infection may be transferred 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.
Some patients, especially those with darker skin tones, 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 previously had a skin infection, such as cold sores, it may be reactivated by microdermabrasion. To reduce the risk of having a breakout, inform your provider during consultation. If possible, you may be provided with 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 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 a moisturizer to the treated area. This moisturizer will help hydrate your skin to reduce the likelihood of adverse side effects or limit the effect of any that do present.
For one day after treatment, avoid using any harsh skin care products, such as chemical peels, and topical acne products. Include a moisturizer to your skin care routine if you are not already doing so.
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 following a 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, (NSAIDs) for 1 week before treatment
- Filler or Botox injections for 3–4 days before treatment
- Accutane (isotretinoin) treatment for 6 months before treatment
- Tanning or waxing for 1 week before treatment
You should also alert your provider to any aluminum allergies you may have.
Before the procedure, the treatment area will be cleansed to remove any debris or dirt from the surface. You may also be required to wear protective eyewear to protect your eyes 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 last between 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, although 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 require more dramatic skin rejuvenation, such as those with severely photodamaged skin, may require up to 16 treatments.
As microdermabrasion is a safe and gentle procedure, patients may undergo a follow-up procedure after one week. Adhering to a consistent treatment plan that allows your skin enough time to heal between sessions is crucial to obtaining ideal results. “Risks for side effects are increased if the procedure is performed too frequently,” explains Dr. Downie. “And if the recommended follow-up sessions are not respected, the procedure effects will be reduced.”
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.
Adhering to proper aftercare, including frequent moisturization 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 resolve on their own.
Patients who undergo microdermabrasion can expect a simple, quick and gentle procedure to rejuvenate the skin, with little risk of significant adverse reactions.
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