What is Microdermabrasion?
Microdermabrasion is a type of exfoliation. Like other types, it rejuvenates skin by carefully removing its outmost layer, which is composed mostly of dead cells. While some exfoliants rely on abrasive particles suspended in gels, creams, or soaps, or on chemical agents, microdermabrasion is mechanical. A stream of small crystals or a diamond-tipped stylus remove the dead skin cells, and a vacuum pulls them away.
While any exfoliation treatment sounds a bit harsh when described in detail, microdermabrasion is painless, effective, and safer than methods like chemical peels and laser treatment. Like those other treatments, microdermabrasion refreshes the skin at deeper layers than just the surface, leaving it smoother, better hydrated, and more refreshed.
Types of Microdermabrasion
Some doctors offer only one form of microdermabrasion. Each has its particular strengths and weaknesses, so patients should be sure to ask about the specific method each doctor offers.
Each type of microdermabrasion uses a hand-held wand with an exfoliating tip and a vacuum to remove unwanted skin cells. They differ mostly in the nature and function of their tips.
Diamond microdermabrasion physically scours the very top layers of skin, pulling off dead cells with a swiftly rotating tip full of tiny industrial diamonds (the same types of diamonds used in oil-drilling equipment). Diamond microdermabrasion is best for targeting specific, easy-to-reach areas. Since it penetrates less deeply than crystal microdermabrasion, it tends to produce a cleaner finish.
Crystal microdermabrasion removes skin cells with a blast of crystals, which are then vacuumed away along with any freed cells. Aluminium oxide is the most common crystal used in this application, which tends to be less expensive than diamond microdermabrasion. Corundum, magnesium oxide, and even sodium bicarbonate (which you might know as baking soda) are sometimes used. Crystal dermabrasion can treat hard-to-reach areas more readily than diamond microdermabrasion, and can penetrate more deeply, making it a better choice for pigmentation issues or scarring. On the other hand, it is a bit less precise than its counterpart, and its results a bit less clean: in rare cases, the crystals escape the wand’s vacuum and enter the eyes or lungs.
Conditions Treated by Microdermabrasion
While its most common use is to restore skin’s youthful tone and texture, microdermabrasion is also highly effective at smoothing out small wrinkles and fine lines, addressing sun damage, and resolving issues such as dilated pores and blackheads. It can also reduce the appearance of some scars and pigmentation issues, and can resolve overproductions of problematic compounds such as sebum.
Benefits of Microdermabrasion
Because it is less risky and painful than other types of exfoliation, microdermabrasion is not the best treatment for severe skin conditions. For minor and superficial issues, though, it is highly effective while conveying some unique benefits, including:
- No pain and very little discomfort
- Suitability for all skin types
- Speed: many patients receive microdermabrasion treatments over their lunch breaks
- Safety and quick recovery time
- Improved blood flow to the skin
- Improved results from skin-care products
Choosing a Doctor
As with any elective procedure, patients should choose their doctor or aesthetician carefully. Experienced doctors will be glad to share their portfolios of before-and-after photos, and will answer questions confidently and completely. Less-qualified practitioners tend to apply microdermabrasion too aggressively, which can cause more problems than it solves.
Any surgical procedure, even a mild one like microdermabrasion, should start with a full medical consultation. Patients suffering from serious conditions like dermatitis or eczema may not be good candidates for microdermabrasion; those with active acne or sunburn might be advised to wait until those conditions are resolved.
The consultation is the doctor’s chance to examine the patient’s skin and to choose exactly which treatments are wisest for which issues. A given patient may have one or two conditions, such as deep acne scars or a stubborn spot of pigmentation, that require a more invasive approach than microdermabrasion; after these conditions are addressed, microdermabrasion can do its job all the more effectively.
Most facial microdermabrasion procedures take roughly half an hour. First the face is cleansed and sanitized; then the doctor takes up the wand and gets to work. Because microdermabrasion does not affect layers of skin that contain nerve endings, most patients feel very little aside from a bit of positive pressure from the wand or stream of particles, and negative pressure from the vacuum. Stubborn blackheads or whiteheads may require a little extra attention, which may result in a slight pinching sensation.
Because microdermabrasion does not require anaesthesia, patients are free to discuss the procedure, and any discomfort they might experience, with the aesthetician as the treatment is being given. This fact in and of itself is a comfort to many patients.
After the procedure, patients are free to resume their normal routine, and even to re-apply any makeup that might have been washed away before treatment. In the days immediately following treatment, the skin may be more sensitive to sunlight and more prone to dehydration, so extra care should be taken to protect and moisturize treated areas.
A patient’s first microdermabrasion session can produce striking results. Some of these, though, can be short-lived without a bit of follow-up.
For instance, patients suffering from an excess of sebum, and from related issues like blackheads and clogged pores, may find that the underlying cause of those conditions return without some maintenance. And since we all age, patients whose wrinkles are smoothed out by one treatment may find that a single 30-minute session is not enough to produce sustained results. Finally, some patients simply have more sensitive skin than others: rather than risking an adverse reaction from sensitive skin, many experienced doctors will recommend several light treatments rather than a single session of normal intensity.
Most doctors recommend a series of treatments, scheduled every two weeks or so for a few months. Each patient is different, though, and experienced doctors can advise right at the initial consultation as to how many sessions will likely be needed to produce the desired results.
Results of Microdermabrasion
The results of microdermabrasion are immediate and in some cases dramatic. While each patient is different, the usual benefits include:
- Healthier-looking skin
- Better blood flow to the skin, lending it a youthful glow
- A clearer complexion, with smaller pores
- Smoother, less lined and wrinkled skin
- The diminishment of certain scars and pigmentation issues
The Cost of Microdermabrasion
Because microdermabrasion is effective against so many minor skin conditions, it is impossible simply to list a cost. Factors contributing to the cost of microdermabrasion include the nature and seriousness of the skin conditions to be treated, the sensitivity of the patient’s skin, and any other treatments the patient might be receiving. The overall number of sessions of course affects the cost as well.
Instead, patients should carefully consider their needs and goals, diligently research doctors in their area, and prepare themselves to ask about the cost of a wide range of treatments.
Finally, a note about DIY microdermabrasion kits. These are widely available as scrubs containing abrasive elements, and do not offer the consistency and accuracy of proper microdermabrasion. While they are usually not harmful, some DIY microdermabrasion products contain harsh chemicals, and most are easy to misuse. It is best to proceed with caution when using these kits, and it never hurts to consult a professional before using any off-the-shelf medical treatment.