Overview: Microdermabrasion and Home Microdermabrasion

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Jill Daniels, Freelance Medical Writer

Jill Daniels is a freelance health writer based in New York City. She spent several years writing for WebMD, including their Weight Loss Clinic and Fertility Center programs. Jill has also written/reported for publications including InStyle, People and Women's Own. She received a degree in journalism for Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.


May 19 2008

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With the variety of dermatological and cosmetic procedures available, it's sometimes difficult to know which one will provide you with the results you desire. Well, if radiant, fresh-looking skin is what you're seeking, microdermabrasion may be the solution. Here's what you should know about the procedure and the available options.

Microdermabrasion involves spreading a mild chemical crystal over the skin with a "wand" tool and then vacuuming it off with a suction device, which removes the top layer of skin cells. The microdermabrasion crystals and suction process results in a gentle abrasion or "polishing" of the skin.

Microdermabrasion works best on reducing or eliminating superficial skin problems, like mild acne scars or chickenpox scars, brown spots, fine lines like "crow's feet," age spots, and dull skin. It's important to have realistic expectations from microdermabrasion, though. While the procedure can help add brightness, and a smoother look and feel to your skin, the procedure will not get rid of deep lines, sagging skin, or jowls. It's certainly not the same as a face lift!

In 2006, there were 817,000 professional microdermabrasion procedures performed in the United States, making it the fourth most popular minimally invasive cosmetic procedure, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. The procedure is popular with both men and women -- and even with teens.

Microdermabrasion can be performed at a doctor's office or at a med spa by a licensed healthcare professional. It's quick and relatively easy. The hitch is that microdermabrasion is definitely not a one-time thing. The number of treatments recommended for optimal results ranges from 5 to 12 sessions, with the sessions spaced every few weeks. And to maintain results, periodic repeat treatments are suggested after the initial regimen is completed.

Some Benefits of Microdermabrasion

Aside from giving skin a youthful, overall glow, one of the greatest benefits of microdermabrasion is that there are virtually no side effects. It's possible to have the procedure done during your "lunch hour" and to return to work right after it's completed! Other benefits include:

  • No anesthetic is required
  • Treatments are quick, lasting about half an hour to an hour
  • It's a good choice for people whose skin is sensitive to chemical procedures
  • It's effective on all skin types and colors
  • There's essentially no recovery time needed, allowing you to continue normal activities
  • It's considered one of the quickest ways to revitalize and rejuvenate the skin

A Few Potential Drawbacks

While there are definitely many pluses to microdermabrasion, there are a few drawbacks as well. If you choose to have microdermabrasion at a doctor's office or at a med spa, the multiple treatments can get quite pricey. You can expect each session to cost somewhere between $100 and $300 depending on factors like your doctor and where you live. And while side effects with microdermabrasion are not common, for some people a mild, temporary redness may occur following the procedure.

Another Alternative to Professional Treatments

While microdermabrasion at a doctor's office or at a med spa has proven to be very effective for many people, there is another option. A variety of well-known companies are now making microdermabrasion kits so you can perform microdermabrasion yourself. At-home kits are generally considered safe, as long as you follow the directions carefully and you don't overuse the kits. Of course there is no microdermabrasion machine like in a professional's office, but several of the kits do contain microdermabrasion crystals and tools to help you achieve positive results.

If you're considering microdermabrasion, knowing how home microdermabrasion kits stack up against professional treatments can help you make the best choice for you:

  • A professional can look at your skin and tailor your microdermabrasion treatment accordingly. Home microdermabrasion kits are typically designed to work on average skin. If your skin is very sensitive or if you're allergic to specific ingredients, a home microdermabrasion kit may cause serious skin irritation or other troubles.
  • Microdermabrasion machines at a doctor's office or med spa can administer the microdermabrasion crystals at a high speed, which increases the exfoliation effect. Results are likely going to be more visible after fewer professional treatments. Home microdermabrasion kits, on the other hand, can improve texture and provide good exfoliation, but they won't have the same effect.
  • The big bonus of at-home kits is the price.  With many home microdermabrasion kits costing less than $30, it is definitely a less expensive alternative to professional microdermabrasion procedures.

Regardless of whether you choose to have the procedure done by a professional or you choose to do it yourself, you should always remember to wear sunscreen following microdermabrasion because the skin will be very new and sensitive -- similar to that of a young child's skin. Yes, youthful, glowing skin may be yours once again!