Beginner’s Guide to Microdermabrasion

What is microdermabrasion?

Microdermabrasion is a machine-assisted gentle skin exfoliating treatment that has grown in popularity in recent years. It is also referred to as microderm, lunchtime peel, Parisian peel, and Diamond peel.

It is a simple skin rejuvenation procedure that makes use of a fine crystal abrasive tip and vacuum suction. Contrary to popular belief, needles are not used during microdermabrasion, making it non-invasive and painless.

The vacuum pressure and speed are adjusted depending on the sensitivity and tolerance of the skin. Microdermabrasion is often  compared to the feeling of a cat licking your face: a deep, yet gentle abrasive force.

Microdermabrasion sessions vary from five minutes to one hour. No recovery time is required after microdermabrasion and patients can immediately return to daily activity after their session. Makeup and non-irritating creams can be applied right after microdermabrasion to speed up the already short recovery process, but are not necessary.

Often called “Microderm” for short, it is a procedure to help exfoliate or temporarily remove a few of the top layers of the skin called the stratum corneum. Much like brushing your teeth, microderm helps to gently remove “plaque” and skin debris. Since human skin typically regenerates at approximately 30 day intervals, skin improvement with microdermabrasion is temporary and needs to be repeated at average intervals of 2-4 weeks for continued improvement.  Multiple treatments in combination with sunscreen, sun avoidance, and other skin care creams yield best results.

First developed in Italy in the late 20th century, microdermabrasion is a skin resurfacing procedure which has advantages of low risk and rapid recovery compared to the other resurfacing methods such as dermabrasion, chemical peeling, and laser resurfacing. Since microdermabrasion produces only a very superficial depth of removal, it works best on improving superficial skin conditions such as early photoaging (sun damage), fine lines, age spots, enlarged pores, acne, and superficial scarring. Usually multiple treatments (6 – 12 sessions) are recommended to see a significant improvement. Initially, people choose weekly treatments, and then gradually extend to monthly or bimonthly maintenance or touch up treatments.

Who should get microdermabrasion?

Microdermabrasion is very useful for people with dull skin, mild acne, acne discoloration and pick marks, and very superficial acne scars. Individuals with deeper acne scars may expect a much longer series of treatments or likely benefit from physician performed surgical dermabrasion or laser resurfacing.

Microdermabrasion is a noninvasive (no needles, no surgery) procedure with essentially no downtime. Treatment risks are very minimal and may include temporary skin discoloration- darker or less commonly lighter skin areas ( called post inflammatory hyperpigmentation or hypopigmentaion)/ or scarring are very low compared to other more traditional resurfacing approaches. Therefore, microdermabrasion may be a good treatment option for patients with superficial skin problems and busy lifestyles.

Microderm should not be confused with Dermabrasion with is an invasive surgical procedure performed typically by dermatologists or plastic surgeons under local or general anesthesia. This was a very popular procedure for acne scars. Dermabrasion requires anesthesia and would be too painful otherwise. Dermabarasion was performed with sand paper like products and machine rotary devices to sand down the skin. Layers of epidermis are usually removed and the resulting open wounds may take  from 5-20 days to fully heal. The risk of infection is much higher with this type of procedure. Dermabrasion is also performed for certain types of deep scars. It should not be performed by non- specialized physicians fully trained in this highly technical procedure.

How does microdermabrasion work?

Traditionally, the crystal microdermabrasion system contains a pump, a connecting tube, a handpiece, and a vacuum. While the pump creates a high-pressure stream of inert crystals, such as aluminum oxide, magnesium oxide, sodium chloride, and sodium bicarbonate, to abrade the skin, the vacuum removes the crystals and exfoliated skin cells. Alternatively, the inert crystals can be replaced by a roughened surface of the tip in the diamond microdermabrasion system.

Unlike the crystal microdermabrasion system, the diamond microdermabrasion machine does not produce particles from crystals that may be inhaled into patients’ nose or blew into eyes. Hence, the diamond microdermabrasion is safer to be used on the area around eyes and lips. Generally, the slower the movement of the handpiece against the skin and the more numbers of passes over the skin, the deeper the treatment is achieved.


Which areas can I have microdermabrasion?

Face is the most common area for microderm. It can also be performed on essentially any skin area including neck, chest, back, and hands.


How often can I have microdermabrasion?

Microdermabrasion can be done  as frequently as weekly or up to every 8 weeks depending on your skin’s tolerance and desired cosmetic effects.  Many people choose to start with weekly treatments for 3 sessions, then change to a monthly maintenance regimen.

Typical Microderm Schedule:

  • Week 1: 1st session
  • Week 2: 2nd session
  • Week 3: 3rd session
  • Monthly: 4th– 12th sessions

Much like brushing your teeth, microderm helps to gently remove “plaque” and skin debris.

Since human skin typically regenerates at approximately 30 day intervals, skin improvement with microdermabrasion is temporary and needs to be repeated at average intervals of 2-4 weeks for continued improvement.

Usually multiple treatments (6 – 12 sessions) are recommended to see a significant improvement.


What are different types of microdermabrasion?

  • Crystal Microdermabrasion
  • Diamond Microdermabrasion
  • Home Microdermabrasion
  • Vacuubrasion
  • Cream Microdermabrasion


What are microderm crystals made of?

Microderm crystals are typically made of a very fine, abrasive material like aluminum oxide. Other inert microderm crystals include magnesium oxide, sodium chloride, and sodium bicarbonate.

  • Aluminum oxide
  • Magnesium oxide
  • Sodium chloride (salt)
  • Sodium bicarbonate (baking soda)

These ultrafine white crystals are disposable and should be discarded after each use. The microderm vacuum removes the crystals and exfoliated skin cells. Inhalation of crystals should be avoided and masks are often worn by the operator doing the treatment. There are some possible concerns of inhalation exposure and basic safety precautions should be taken.

Alternatively, microderm crystals can be replaced by the roughened surface of a diamond tip microdermabrasion system.


What does the vacuum do in microdermabrasion?

The vacuum part of microderm has four basic roles:

  • It gently pulls and lifts a small section of skin for microabrasion.
  • It can spray a stream of crystals across the targeted skin area.
  • It focally stimulates blood circulation and creates mild swelling in the skin.
  • It collects the used crystals and dead skin in a receptacle for easy disposal.


What should people expect before and after microdermabrasion?

Generally, softer and smoother skin that feels fresher and more rejuvenated is the expected outcome after a session of microdermabrasion. Before starting the microdermabrasion treatment, eye protection such as eye pads or goggles may be placed. Often the skin may be prepared and cleaned of makeup and oils. Yet, no topical or local anesthetic is required. The skin will be stretched to provide some tension in order to achieve the most effective abrasion and vacuum. The hand piece is moved over the skin with repeated single, smooth passes. Usually, 2-4 passes per area are sufficient.

The treated area is then cleaned with wet cloth. Mild pinkness of the skin is the desired outcome and usually resolves within hours after microdermabrasion. In addition, exfoliation of skin may occur as well. Continuously apply moisturizer or ointment if exfoliation occurs. Patients may also experience a mild sunburn like sensation for a few days. Moreover, liberal application of sunscreen is recommended as photosensitivity may be increased.

Microdermabrasion, especially with the coarse diamond-studded instrument, may stimulate the production of collage, thereby helping skin rejuvenation. As age spots from early photoaging and fine lines are removed, the skin becomes softer and smoother.

Because microdermabrasion only causes superficial injury on skin, it works the most effectively for fine lines, shallow scars, and dull skin. Lesions like deep wrinkles, scars or ice-pick acne scars, and stretch marks tend to extend into the deeper layers of the dermis and usually require more aggressive skin resurfacing modalities to treat. Similarly, microdermabrasion is not effective for pigmentary problems including melasma or postinflammatory hyperpigmentation that arise from deeper skin.


What are the benefits of microdermabrasion?

Microdermabrasion can create superficial ablation on skin, primarily in the epidermis, which helps remove the outermost dead skin cells and accelerate the rate of skin rejuvenation. As a result, microdermabrasion can be an effective procedure for fine lines and more superficial scars. For patients who have concerns of photoaging, microdermabrasion can be a preventative measure. Studies have also shown that microdermabrasion facilitates the absorption of some topical medications through increasing the permeability of hydrophilic active ingredients of the medicine. In the long-round, sun damage and photoaging may be decreased and skin moisture may be improved. Since microdermabrasion only causes superficial injury, scarring and pigmentary changes almost never happen from this procedure. Moreover, microdermabrasion possesses the advantages of rapid recovery and low risk and has little or no impact on patients’ lifestyle.


Does microdermabrasion help with acne scars?

Microdermabrasion is very useful for people with active acne, mild acne discoloration and pick marks, and very superficial or raised acne scars. Dermatologists use microderm to help unclog pores and clear acne. Often used in combination with gentle glycolic peels and medical acne extractions, microderm can help speed up acne clearing.

Individuals with deeper acne scars may expect a much longer series of treatments or likely benefit from physician performed surgical dermabrasion or laser resurfacing. As a general rule, the greater the potential benefits with a cosmetic treatment, the greater the potential risks and side effects. The possible risks with more aggressive treatments like dermabrasion and laser are much greater than microdermabrasion.

Deeply pitted acne scars would, at best, be expected to respond minimally to microdermabrasion. Pitted or depressed scars are very difficult to treat and may require combination treatments including subcision, punch excision, punch elevation, dermabrasion, laser resurfacing, and medium to deep chemical peels including 35% Trichloracetic acid (TCA) or phenol peels.


Does insurance pay for microdermabrasion?

These procedures are almost always considered cosmetic and not be paid by traditional medical insurance companies. Since microderm is often used to treat medical conditions like acne, acne scarring, melasma, and keratosis pilaris, it may be possible to deduct some costs as medical expenses. In appropriate cases, payment options may include using benefits of plans like Health Savings Accounts (HSA) or Health  Remittance Accounts (HRA) to pay for microderm. You will want to check the specific benefits and provisions of your plan and also review your tax deductions with a tax professional.

I'm a travel writer, blogger, and copywriter based in New York City. My writing is all about creating cultural connections and celebrating the everyday nuances that make a destination special. I'm also an expert on short-term travel for busy people, because I believe everyone should feel qualified to use the word "weekend" as a verb. I’m passionate about providing readers with clever, actionable, and entertaining ways to make the most of their travels. I was raised by two lifelong adventurers, so the roar of jet engines has always been the soundtrack of my life. I quickly realized that no matter where one wanders, from Rome to Chiang Mai to Omaha, there are countless fascinating stories just beneath the surface that can't be found anywhere else on the planet. Every destination has its own brand of awesome, and I source great content by seeking it out.

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