Microdermabrasion

  • Medical Author:

    Dr. Alai is an actively practicing medical and surgical dermatologist in south Orange County, California. She has been a professor of dermatology and family medicine at the University of California, Irvine since 2000. She is U.S. board-certified in dermatology, a 10-year-certified fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology, and Fellow of the American Society of Mohs Surgery.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

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Microdermabrasion facts

  • Microdermabrasion is a simple, quick, and painless cosmetic treatment with no downtime and minimal risk.
  • Microdermabrasion helps to gently exfoliate surface layers of skin using abrasion and suction.
  • Microdermabrasion uses fine crystals or minute diamond-studded tips to abrade the skin and vacuum suction to remove dead skin cells.
  • Microdermabrasion has low risk and rapid recovery; it is painless and requires no needles or anesthesia.
  • Microdermabrasion can help improve the skin appearance by reducing fine lines, early sun damage, and mild, shallow acne marks. It is not useful for deep acne scars or deep wrinkles.
  • Skin may become noticeably smoother even after one treatment and better absorb moisturizers.
  • It is an affordable professional treatment with a fairly low cost, averaging $100-$200 per treatment.
  • Most often, microdermabrasion may be repeated every three to four weeks for optimal results.
  • Microdermabrasion is not a laser.
  • Several at-home microdermabrasion creams and home machines are now available.

What is microdermabrasion?

Microdermabrasion is a very popular, machine-assisted skin-exfoliating treatment. Microdermabrasion has advantages of low risk and rapid recovery compared to the other more invasive resurfacing methods such as dermabrasion, chemical peeling, and laser resurfacing. Since microdermabrasion produces only a very superficial depth of skin removal, it works best on improving conditions on the surface of the skin such as early photoaging (sun damage), fine lines, age spots, acne, and superficial scarring, although the results are not dramatic. Although the face is the most common area for microdermabrasion, any skin area, including neck, chest, back, and hands, may be treated. Microdermabrasion is sometimes referred to as "microderm," lunchtime peel, Parisian Peel, and Diamond Peel.

Microdermabrasion is a painless, noninvasive, skin-rejuvenation procedure using a combination of a fine abrasive tip or crystals and vacuum suction applied to the skin. There are no needles or anesthetics required for microdermabrasion. 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 rough but gentle texture. Typical microdermabrasion sessions can last anywhere from five to 60 minutes. Minimal to no recovery time is required after microdermabrasion and most people immediately return to daily activity after a session. Makeup and nonirritating creams can usually be applied right after microdermabrasion. Studies have shown that microdermabrasion can even temporarily facilitate the absorption of some topical medications through increasing the permeability of the skin.

Microdermabrasion works by removing 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 two to four weeks for continued improvement. Multiple treatments in combination with sunscreen, sun avoidance, and other skin-care creams yield best results.

Microdermabrasion should not be confused with dermabrasion which is an invasive surgical procedure performed typically by dermatologists or plastic surgeons under local or general anesthesia. Dermabrasion is a procedure for deeper acne scars. Dermabrasion requires anesthesia and would be too painful otherwise. Dermabrasion is also performed for certain types of deep scars.

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Microdermabrasion Cost

What is the average cost of professional microdermabrasion?

Microdermabrasion costs may range from $100-$250, the average cost being around $100 per session. Costs have decreased considerably over the last five to 10 years as these units have become more readily available. Professional microdermabrasion can usually be obtained in a doctor's office, typically dermatologists or less commonly plastic surgeons, as well as aesthetic spas, and facial clinics. Microdermabrasion is quite affordable and much less expensive than other skin-resurfacing treatments such as dermabrasion or laser peels, which may cost around $2,500.


Who should consider microdermabrasion?

Microdermabrasion is somewhat useful for people with dull or sallow skin, mild acne, acne discoloration, pick marks, and very superficial acne scars. Microdermabrasion may be a good treatment option for patients with superficial skin problems and busy lifestyles who are looking for minimal benefits with virtually no side effects or downtime. Individuals with deeper acne scars may expect a much longer series of treatments or likely benefit from physician-performed surgical dermabrasion, chemical peeling or laser resurfacing.

How does microdermabrasion work?

Traditionally, a crystal microdermabrasion system contains a pump, a connecting tube, a hand piece, 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 a patient's nose or blown into the eyes. Hence, diamond microdermabrasion is safer for use on areas around the eyes and lips. Generally, the slower the movement of the hand piece against the skin and the more numbers of passes over the skin, the deeper the treatment.

What ages are appropriate for microdermabrasion?

While there are no specific age or sex restrictions, typically children over age 12 up to adults age 65 can get microdermabrasion. While there is no age maximum, mature skin over age 70 may have slightly higher risks of bruising and skin abrasions. Individuals younger than age 12 may sometimes also receive treatment under the care of a dermatologist or plastic surgeon.

How often can I have microdermabrasion?

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

Much like brushing your teeth, microdermabrasion helps to gently remove 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 two to four weeks for continued improvement. Usually, multiple treatments (six to 12 sessions) are recommended to see a significant improvement.

What does the vacuum do in microdermabrasion?

The vacuum part of microdermabrasion has four basic roles:

  • It gently pulls and lifts a small section of skin for micro abrasion.
  • 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, during, and after microdermabrasion?

Generally, softer and smoother skin that feels fresher and more rejuvenated is the expected outcome after 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 tlocal 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, two to four passes per area are sufficient.

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

Microdermabrasion may help stimulate the production of collagen, thereby helping skin rejuvenation. As age spots from photoaging and fine lines are diminished, the skin may become softer and smoother. The results are modest, however.

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Does microdermabrasion help with acne scars?

Microdermabrasion may be very useful for people with active acne, mild acne discoloration, pick marks, and very superficial or raised acne scars. Dermatologists use microdermabrasion 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 might be candidates for surgical dermabrasion or laser resurfacing.

Can microdermabrasion help with melasma?

Yes, microderm can be helpful in treating melasma and other types of hyperpigmentation. Optimal melasma treatment might typically include biweekly or monthly microderm combined with glycolic acid peels, fading creams like hydroquinone 4%, and daily sunscreens. Multiple treatments in combination with sunscreen and sun avoidance and other creams help yield best results, although permanent improvement is not to be expected.

Does medical insurance pay for microdermabrasion?

Microdermabrasion is almost always considered cosmetic and not covered 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.

Can microdermabrasion help with keratosis pilaris?

Microdermabrasion can help temporarily improve the appearance of keratosis pilaris (especially on the upper arms). Optimally, the microdermabrasion is given biweekly or monthly and is combined with lactic-acid lotions like Lac-Hydrin lotion or AmLactin and weekly glycolic-acid peels. Don't expect great results in this condition.

What are possible side effects of microdermabrasion?

Potential side effects of microdermabrasion are minimal and this is a very safe procedure. Potential drawbacks are very limited in that microderm only affects the epidermis, which is the outermost skin layer. Common minor, temporary side effects include slight skin tightness, redness, bruising, and sensitivity. 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.

Possible side effects of microdermabrasion include

  • skin tightness,
  • redness,
  • minor bruising,
  • skin sensitivity,
  • post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH),
  • small skin abrasions,
  • spots of bleeding,
  • eye-skin bruising (especially if you are taking aspirin or other blood thinners),
  • fine broken blood vessels (telangiectasia),
  • and cold sore reactivation around lips.

Cold sore reactivation may uncommonly occur after microderm around lips. If you have had a lot of previous cold sores, consider either avoiding treatment around the lip borders or asking your doctor about taking an antiviral pill prophylactically. A typical cold sore prevention regimen may be to start an antiviral pill like acyclovir (Zovirax) 800 mg or valacyclovir (Valtrex) 1 gram once a day starting the day before and continuing for one to two days after your treatment. Antiviral creams are not effective cold sore prevention.

Overly aggressive microderm may cause breaks in skin and resulting post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH). Also overaggressive treatment may cause an increased risk of bruising (ecchymosis), especially if you are taking aspirin or other blood thinners like warfarin (Coumadin) or clopidogrel bisulfate (Plavix). Since microdermabrasion only causes superficial skin removal, scarring and pigment changes are very rare if the procedure is performed correctly.

There may be a small possibility of increased surface blood vessels (telangiectasia), particularly if you have very thin skin, scleroderma, lupus, severe sun damage, taken long-term prednisone (Deltasone, Orasone, Prednicen-M, Liquid Pred), or other conditions where your skin is abnormally fragile and prone to forming telangiectasia.

In addition, if an individual is on isotretinoin (Accutane) or has taken this medication within the previous six to 12 months, resurfacing treatments such as microdermabrasion may not be appropriate due to the potential increased risk of scarring. As the potential risk is very slight, some dermatologists may treat patients on isotretonion with gentler sessions.

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How effective are at-home microdermabrasion kits?

Most home microdermabrasion machines and kits are generally weaker than in-office, professional treatments. These at-home microdermabrasion kits often cannot provide the depth of skin abrasion or remove the dead skin cells by vacuuming as professional microdermabrasion.

Several skin-care companies, such as L'Oréal, Ponds, and Neutrogena, are now producing microdermabrasion at-home kits. Usually, the microdermabrasion at-home system contains an abrasive cream or scrub and a tool for application. The main active component in creams may include aluminum oxide crystals, which are used in the professional microdermabrasion equipment. Microdermabrasion cloths are also available in the skin-care products on the market now. Basically, the tightly woven microfibers of the cloths abrade the skin and remove surface cells to achieve the result of skin resurfacing.

How much does at home microdermabrasion cost?

There are two types of home microdermabrasion: creams and machines. Creams may seem less expensive initially but require continuous replenishment. A quality microderm machine may potentially be a good investment and typically should not have much consumables or disposable parts costs over its lifetime.

Many microdermabrasion at-home creams cost $10-$95, which usually provides about 20-30 treatments, while some can be over $100. Once the jar is used up, so is your initial investment. These creams often use the aluminum oxide crystals or other sand-like fine debris to help manually exfoliate the skin. Multiple vendors, including L'Oréal, offer a microdermabrasion cream kit for an average of $10-$30.

More recently, a new series of mini home microdermabrasion units have become available and are sold commercially. New home units retail from $150-$300 and may be available at Sephora.com and Amazon.com. A novel home unit called vacuubrasion will be made available for under $50.

What home remedies can produce results like microdermabrasion?

There are multiple ways to exfoliate the skin:

  • Use a pumice stone, loofah, or Buf-Puf.
  • Use beach sand to gently exfoliate.
  • Prepare homemade brown sugar and honey rubs.
  • Apply sea salt rubs.
  • Apply Epsom salts scrubs.

What is the average cost of professional microdermabrasion?

Microdermabrasion costs may range from $100-$250, the average cost being around $100 per session. Costs have decreased considerably over the last five to 10 years as these units have become more readily available. Professional microdermabrasion can usually be obtained in a doctor's office, typically dermatologists or plastic surgeons, as well as aesthetic spas, and facial clinics. Microdermabrasion is quite affordable and much less expensive than other skin-resurfacing treatments such as dermabrasion or laser peels, which may cost around $2,500. However, they are not nearly as beneficial as the more expensive procedures.

Where can people get more information on microdermabrasion?

The treatment of microdermabrasion can be performed by a physician, a nurse, aesthetician, or other trained medical personnel. It is recommended for patients to consult a dermatologist or medical aesthetician before starting any resurfacing treatment. Careful evaluation on the patient's skin for changes in texture, severity of photoaging, depth of scarring, and the type of skin from a specialist will help patients select the proper resurfacing modality in order to address the skin problems effectively.

Medically reviewed by Norman Levine, MD; American Board of Dermatology

REFERENCES:

Alkhawam, Lora, and Murad Alam. "Dermabrasion and Microdermabrasion." Facial Plastic Surgery 25.5 Dec. 2009: 301-310.

Karimipour, D.J., G. Karimipour, and J.S. Orringer. "Microdermabrasion: An Evidence-Based Review." Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery 125.1 Jan. 2010: 372-377.

Wheatley, Michael J. "Financing Your Cosmetic Surgery." WebMD.com. Sept. 19, 2009. <https://www.webmd.com/skin-beauty/financing-your-cosmetic-surgery?action=related_link&src=rss_cbsnewsfull>.

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Reviewed on 11/11/2015
References
Medically reviewed by Norman Levine, MD; American Board of Dermatology

REFERENCES:

Alkhawam, Lora, and Murad Alam. "Dermabrasion and Microdermabrasion." Facial Plastic Surgery 25.5 Dec. 2009: 301-310.

Karimipour, D.J., G. Karimipour, and J.S. Orringer. "Microdermabrasion: An Evidence-Based Review." Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery 125.1 Jan. 2010: 372-377.

Wheatley, Michael J. "Financing Your Cosmetic Surgery." WebMD.com. Sept. 19, 2009. <https://www.webmd.com/skin-beauty/financing-your-cosmetic-surgery?action=related_link&src=rss_cbsnewsfull>.

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