- Microdermabrasion is a cosmetic treatment that physically exfoliates the skin to improve its appearance and leave skin smoother.
- This treatment is safe and effective for all skin types, but should not be performed on those with certain skin conditions.
- Microdermabrasion is a viable alternative to harsher procedures or plastic surgery.
- Side effects are milder and more temporary than many alternative skin rejuvenation techniques.
The desire for skin rejuvenation has led to the rise of many skin care products and cosmetic treatments intended to restore a more youthful appearance to the skin. Microdermabrasion is one of many such options for those seeking to improve their skin tone and texture and treat a variety of common skin conditions and flaws.
Skin conditions, blemishes and photodamage—the damage caused by overexposure to the sun—all play a role in making your skin appear dry, dull and wrinkled.
Genetics and aging can contribute further to the appearance of fine lines and sagging skin, especially as collagen and elastin, the protein fibers responsible for giving your skin its elasticity, degrade over time.
How Microdermabrasion Works
Microdermabrasion is a noninvasive cosmetic procedure that uses a handpiece to physically remove the stratum corneum, the outermost layer of the skin. “By mechanically abrading the superficial layer of the skin, microdermabrasion exfoliates to rid the skin of its damaged layers more aggressively than through the nature of time,” says dermatologist, Jeanine B. Downie, MD.
Additionally, new collagen and elastin fibers are present in the healed skin, improving skin elasticity. This treatment can also help oily or acne-prone skin by reducing the production of sebum, an oil that can contribute to the development of acne. Melanization, the process in which melanin, the pigment that darkens your skin is decreased, is also seen following this procedure.
Types of microdermabrasion
A microdermabrasion procedure uses one of two types of handheld devices: a diamond-tipped or a crystal-based device.
Diamond-tipped handpieces sand the stratum corneum from the skin, then uses an attachment to vacuum dead skin cells, debris and waste from the surface. The device operator can control how deep it penetrates into the skin by adjusting how much pressure is applied.
Crystal microdermabrasion uses a handpiece that projects a flow of fine crystals – typically aluminum oxide, but sometimes sodium chloride, magnesium oxide or sodium bicarbonate.
The crystals peel away the stratum corneum as a vacuum attachment suctions away the debris. The crystals’ flow rate can be adjusted to control the device’s depth of penetration and effectiveness.
Although diamond-tipped devices tend to be used on more sensitive areas, such as around the eyes, the two options offer similar results and can generally be used interchangeably.
Who is microdermabrasion for?
Candidates for this treatment are those looking to improve aging skin, including fine lines or wrinkles. Microdermabrasion can also be used to treat common skin conditions and issues such as acne, stretch marks, scarring, uneven skin tone and texture, melasma, seborrheic skin and enlarged pores.
With that said, this procedure should not be used in every case. “An ideal microdermabrasion candidate is someone who requires deeper therapy for their skin issues, has relatively ‘tough’ skin and is able to accommodate a longer period of downtime,” says Dr. Downie.
Those with sensitive skin are therefore more likely to face longer recovery times and side effects following microdermabrasion. As a result, they should approach this procedure with caution, as it may not be well suited to their needs.
Additionally, microdermabrasion is more likely to cause complications when performed on those with darker skin tones. “Darker skin types may be at higher risk for hyperpigmentation and scarring from the procedure if it is performed too aggressively or in combination with other treatments,” says Dr. Downie.
Side Effects and Contraindications of Microdermabrasion
- Herpes simplex virus
- Varicella-zoster virus
- Human papillomavirus (HPV) or
Dormant viruses, such as herpes, may be reactivated by microdermabrasion. If you have an aluminum allergy, a different type of crystal or a diamond-tipped handpiece will be used during this procedure. Consult your doctor before treatment if you scar easily or contend with rosacea or telangiectasias.
The risk of side effects following microdermabrasion treatment is minimal if no contraindications are present. You may experience mild tenderness, swelling, bruising or redness on the skin, which should clear up within several hours. Temporary petechiae, or colored spots that indicate bleeding under the skin, may also present for a few hours after treatment.
Microdermabrasion vs. Dermabrasion
Dermabrasion is a minimally-invasive procedure in which the epidermis is completely removed by mechanical means to stimulate collagen remodeling and trigger wound healing in the dermis, the layer of skin below the epidermis. It is used to treat many of the same skin conditions as microdermabrasion, as well as skin lesions, growths and abnormal scars.
In contrast to microdermabrasion, dermabrasion is moderately effective at rejuvenating the skin, although its side effects may be harsher and longer-lasting. Additionally, while microdermabrasion carries additional risks for those with dark skin, dermabrasion can only be performed safely on people with lighter skin tones.
Microdermabrasion vs. Hydradermabrasion
Hydradermabrasion treatment is similar to microdermabrasion, with one key difference: as the skin is exfoliated, it is simultaneously moisturized by the liquid, leading to less irritation and discomfort.
An added benefit of hydradermabrasion is that the liquid solution used can be formulated to specifically target a given skin condition, which makes it a potentially more attractive option. Furthermore, the solution often includes antioxidative ingredients, such as vitamin C, that can help give the skin a more youthful appearance.
Because hydradermabrasion is so gentle on the skin, it may be a more viable alternative to even microdermabrasion, particularly for those who have sensitive skin.
Microdermabrasion vs. Chemical Peels
Where microdermabrasion exfoliates the skin using physical means, chemical peels are a type of chemical exfoliant. Chemical peels are available both over-the-counter (OTC) and through in-office treatment, with the latter available in higher and more effective concentrations.
During a chemical peel, a chemical solution is applied to the face to remove layers of skin; the new skin that is revealed is unblemished and smoother.
Chemical peels can be used to treat:
Although chemical peels may be performed on patients of all skin types, your particular skin type and the concern you want treated dictate the type of chemical peel to be used.
Chemical peels, in contrast to microdermabrasion, offer a tailored solution for treating a specific skin concern. However, microdermabrasion is much less harsh on the skin, can be used on all skin types and can more easily penetrate the skin without causing long-lasting irritation.
Microdermabrasion vs. Dermaplaning
Dermaplaning is a noninvasive method of physical exfoliation that is similar to shaving. A sterile blade, called a dermatome, is passed over the skin to remove dead skin cells, debris, peach fuzz and blemishes—such as scars and pockmarks—from the skin’s surface.
“Dermaplaning is much like microdermabrasion in its intended action,” says Dr. Downie. “By removing the top layer, or layers of the skin, this procedure gives the face a rejuvenated look and feel.”
Dermaplaning is used to treat:
- Aging and sun-damaged skin
- Scars, including acne scars
- Wrinkles and fine lines
Dermaplaning treatment is safe for all skin types and tone. In some cases, whiteheads may develop on the skin in the days following dermaplaning. Scarring, infection and changes to pigmentation are also possible, although rare, after a procedure.
“If performed improperly, like microdermabrasion, follicular plugging or acne-like lesions can occur,” says Dr. Downie. “Minor cuts to the skin can also increase the risk for postprocedure infection and scarring.”
While dermaplaning does provide some degree of visible skin rejuvenation, its effects are temporary and tend to last about three weeks. More research is required to better understand the full potential and limitations of this treatment.
Microdermabrasion vs. Microneedling
Microneedling, or collagen induction therapy, is a minimally-invasive cosmetic procedure in which a tool, called a dermal roller, is rolled over the skin, piercing it with sterile microneedles to create thousands of microscopic wounds to provoke the body’s wound-healing response. As a result, growth factors are released and collagen and elastin production is stimulated.
Microneedling is used to treat and improve the appearance of:
- Aging skin
- Enlarged pores
- Pigmentary disorders and melasma
- Scars, including acne and burns
- Wrinkles and fine lines
Microneedling is safe for all skin types, but should be avoided by those who:
- Are pregnant
- Scar easily
- Have an active acne breakout, local skin infection or open wounds
- Have recently undergone radiation or chemotherapy
Side effects of microneedling are comparable to microdermabrasion. In most cases, patients will have temporary mild-to-moderate skin redness and irritation following treatment. There is a noticeable improvement to the skin within months of the first microneedling treatment; however, as with microdermabrasion, results are more visible after consecutive treatment sessions.
One strong benefit of microdermabrasion is its ability to rejuvenate the skin with mild—if any—side effects. It is a gentle and easily accessible procedure that can be performed in-office or at your preferred salon or spa, and requires no downtime. Results are immediate, but typically require multiple treatment sessions for the best results.
When compared to microdermabrasion, dermabrasion offers more moderate results, although side effects are harsher and the best results are dependent on the operator’s skill and expertise. Hydradermabrasion provides similar or better efficacy without any side effects.
Chemical peels provide results similar to that of microdermabrasion, but can be custom-tailored to treat certain skin types and conditions, although at the risk of harsher side effects.
Dermaplaning has been demonstrated to have a positive impact on the skin’s appearance, but the results are short-lived and repeated treatment is required. In addition, more research into the efficacy of dermaplaning is required before it can be definitively compared to microdermabrasion.
Microneedling offers much of the same efficacy and safety as microdermabrasion, but involves topical anesthesia and some pain during the procedure.
In terms of efficacy and safety, microdermabrasion is comparable to, or better than, many alternative procedures for those seeking mild skin rejuvenation. However, if you require more dramatic results, or wish to treat a more severe skin condition, you may be better off choosing an alternative treatment.
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