What Is Microdermabrasion?

A woman receives microdermabrasion treatment.

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Microdermabrasion is a minimally invasive procedure that removes the outer layer of skin called the stratum corneum. The procedure is most often performed with a handheld vacuum system. 

People who choose to receive microdermabrasion treatments typically do so for cosmetic reasons, including treating uneven skin tone or scars. Microdermabrasion can also be used to help topical medications absorb into the skin more easily.

While there are at-home microdermabrasion kits available for purchase, a dermatologist may be able to do a more thorough job. Aestheticians, medical assistants, and nurses can also perform microdermabrasion. No anesthesia is needed, and there are minimal side effects. 

What Does Microdermabrasion Do?

Microdermabrasion is essentially a sophisticated exfoliation process. The wand device removes the outer layer of skin by gently sanding it with abrasive particles (tiny crystals) and pressure. There is also a crystal-free option that uses diamonds on the wand to exfoliate instead.

Over time, the new skin that forms will be more healthful than the layer of skin that was taken away. This is due in part to the increase in collagen, a protein that helps keep skin firm but that is produced less as you age. With increased collagen from microdermabrasion, you can have skin that is younger-looking and more absorbent.

Most people require between five and 16 treatments to see results. You can purchase at-home microdermabrasion kits, but it’s safer and more thorough to have a professional perform the procedure. Seeing a dermatologist, for example, can reduce your risk of side effects.

Who Is Microdermabrasion For?

Microdermabrasion can be performed in medical offices. You may have noticed microdermabrasion as a service offered at salons and spas, too. That’s because the procedure is almost always done for cosmetic purposes. In fact, microdermabrasion is one of the most common nonsurgical cosmetic procedures in the U.S.

Microdermabrasion is often used to treat:

  • Age spots
  • Sun damage
  • Darkened skin patches
  • Stretch marks
  • Fine lines and wrinkles
  • Enlarged pores
  • Acne and blackheads
  • Acne scars
  • Uneven skin tones or texture
  • Darkened skin patches and melasma (a skin condition that causes patches and spots, usually on the face)

If you’re wanting to remove or reduce certain skin issues or generally desire a younger, more rejuvenated look, microdermabrasion may be an effective option. Those who have had the procedure describe their skin as having an improved glow, softness, and texture.

Microdermabrasion might also be beneficial if you take medication, such as insulin, through the skin. Research has shown that receiving microdermabrasion in the area where the medication will be applied can improve medication delivery. More research is needed to know for sure.

Microdermabrasion can be performed on any area of skin, including the face, neck, thighs, abdomen.

Who Shouldn't Get Microdermabrasion?

Microdermabrasion is safe for all skin types. That said, there are a few instances when you should get more information from a healthcare provider before completing the treatment at home, in an office, or at a spa.

Talk to a healthcare provider if you have any signs of skin cancer. This could include a mole that is bleeding or has changed over time. You’ll want to get that checked out before removing a layer of your skin with microdermabrasion.

You’ll also want to check in with a healthcare provider if you have taken the acne medication isotretinoin (Accutane) in the last six months. The medication can put you at higher risk for microdermabrasion complications, including scarring.

You should also see whether microdermabrasion is right for you if you tend to scar easily.

If you have any major life events like a wedding coming up, you may want to avoid treatment for at least two weeks leading up to the event. Some people experience short-term redness or petechiae (round, pinpoint spots) after the procedure.

What to Expect

Microdermabrasion is performed outpatient, meaning you do not have to stay in a bed or overnight for evaluation. The procedure is also considered safe, with very few side effects. Here’s what you need to know.

How to Prepare

If a trained healthcare professional is doing your microdermabrasion, consider having a consultation before the actual appointment. This gives you time to evaluate the professional and decide if microdermabrasion is your best option for reaching your skincare goals.

Go to the appointment with your personal medical history, allergies, medications you’re currently taking, and any skincare concerns you may have. You should also bring a list of questions.

Here are a few questions you may want to ask:

  • Can I see before-and-after photos of your patients?
  • Who will perform the procedure, and how?
  • What results can I expect, and when?
  • Based on my skin and medical history, are there possible complications I should be worried about?
  • Is there another technique that is simpler or that may better achieve my skin goals?
  • How many sessions do you anticipate me needing? 

If you’re planning on using an at-home microdermabrasion kit, it’s still a good idea to consult with a professional and make sure you’re a good candidate for the procedure.

How Much Does Microdermabrasion Cost?

An important question is how much microdermabrasion will cost—especially if your provider tells you it is something you will have to repeat to get your desired result.

The average cost of a single microdermabrasion treatment is $167. That can change based on your provider, the frequency at which you receive treatments, and where you live.

At-home microdermabrasion kits, which you can find everywhere in stores and online, have a wide range of prices—below and well above $100.

What Happens During Microdermabrasion?

For the most part, microdermabrasion treatment is quick. It takes about 30-40 minutes for your entire face and 20 minutes for your neck.

You’ll likely be led to a private room where your skincare professional will prep the skin area where you’ll be getting treated. They’ll gently brush your face with the instrument, exfoliating your skin. It’s not painful; if anything, you can expect a mild scratching or vibrating sensation.

The professional will pass over the treated area about three times. When they are done, they will then wipe away any remaining crystals and debris and apply a gentle moisturizer.

Since anesthesia isn’t needed, you’ll be awake the whole time and ready to go about your day as soon as the procedure is over. 

Aftercare 

One reason microdermabrasion is a popular nonsurgical cosmetic procedure is because there’s no downtime or recovery period and any side effects are minimal. You may notice a little bit of swelling or a reddish or pinkish tint on your skin. This should only last about a day or so.

It may take four to six weeks to see the results you want. Depending on your goals and skin type, you may need to return for additional treatments. A lot of people end up receiving treatments weekly, every two weeks, or once a month.

While results are typically temporary, there are a couple of ways you can try to prolong them. Ask your skin care provider for moisturizer or other skincare product suggestions. You should also wear sunscreen when outside, especially in the week after your treatment.

What’s the Difference Between Microdermabrasion and Chemical Peels?

Microdermabrasion and chemical peels are both exfoliating treatments with similar goals: to remove dead skin cells and reveal a more glowing complexion. 

However, while microdermabrasion uses microcrystals, chemical peels use chemicals like alpha hydroxy acids or salicylic acid.

Chemical peels are effective and, in fact, results can last longer. But the preparation, discomfort, and recovery are more intense. Some people need to start prepping their skin up to four weeks ahead of their appointment. And afterward, healing can last between one and 21 days.

If you prefer a more gentle procedure with no downtime, microdermabrasion might be the option for you. In fact, microdermabrasion was introduced in 1985 as a less aggressive alternative to chemical peels.

A Quick Review

If there’s something about your complexion you wish could minimize or erase, talk to a healthcare professional about microdermabrasion. The minimally invasive procedure is gentle on skin, low in risk, and effective in improving a variety of skin features. Microdermabrasion can help with a variety of things, including stretch marks, enlarged pores, age spots, fine lines, and acne scars. Microdermabrasion is widely available. In fact, it can even be done at home. However, for the safest and most effective treatment, look for an expert who can do it in their office or medical spa. 

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Sources
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