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If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Health Guide are underpinned by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from medical societies and governmental agencies. However, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.
Your skin is constantly shedding cells. As older cells die and fall away, new cells take their place. Microdermabrasion (or MDA) is a skin resurfacing procedure that gently removes the outermost layers of the skin. This removal may improve the appearance of acne scars, wrinkles, and other cosmetic skin conditions (Ganjoo, 2016).
In some ways, microdermabrasion is like pruning away dead leaves from a plant. Just as pruning can foster the growth of newer, healthier leaves, microdermabrasion can help newer, healthier skin emerge.
What is microdermabrasion?
The word “abrasion” means to scrape or wear away. Microdermabrasion is a kind of targeted, mild abrasion—or exfoliation—that removes skin cells and is one of the most common nonsurgical cosmetic procedures performed in the United States.
To get more specific, it removes the stratum corneum, which is the outer layer of your skin. This removal can stimulate the regrowth of tissues and structural proteins (collagen) in damaged skin (El-Domyati, 2016; Abdel-Motaleb, 2017). It also increases blood flow to the skin and causes a helpful reorganization of specialized cells that give the skin color or pigment (Haney, 2019; Shah, 2021).
Difference between microdermabrasion, dermabrasion, and exfoliation
Microdermabrasion shouldn’t be confused with dermabrasion, a different and more intense type of skincare procedure.
A surgeon performs dermabrasion, and it requires general anesthesia. It involves a greater and deeper removal of skin cells and is sometimes used to resurface the skin, smooth scars, or treat some skin conditions (Haney, 2019).
Also, you may have heard the term “exfoliation.” This refers to the removal of skin cells. Microdermabrasion is a form of exfoliation.
There’s some evidence that OTC at-home cleansers and leave-on exfoliators may increase skin-cell removal and turnover, potentially having cosmetic benefits (Edison, 2021). There are also some at-home microdermabrasion products on the market, but the research on their uses and benefits is limited.
How to get rid of acne scars
How does microdermabrasion work?
A dermatologist (a doctor specializing in skin health), an aesthetician, or some other licensed professional performs microdermabrasion using a handheld device that looks like a wand. This wand has an abrasive tip that they rub across your skin. As the tip passes over your skin and abrades it, the device vacuums up old skin cells and any dirt or debris (Haney, 2019).
There are two main types of microdermabrasion devices. One type removes skin cells by blasting the skin with very fine crystals. This is called crystal microdermabrasion. The other type of device has small pieces of diamond embedded in its tip. These pieces of diamond scrape away skin cells (Shah, 2021).
What happens during a microdermabrasion procedure?
Microdermabrasion is painless and relatively quick, only taking 30-60 minutes in total (Shah, 2021).
A dermatologist or technician cleans your skin and covers your eyes with some type of protection, such as moist gauze pads. Then, they move the tip of the microdermabrasion device back and forth over your skin, usually for a total of three times. After the procedure, they clean your skin once more and apply moisturizer (Shah, 2021).
Recovery, side effects, and risks
Your skin may be a bit sensitive or tender for a day or two following a microdermabrasion treatment (Ganjoo, 2018). It may also become a bit drier than usual, so using moisturizer may be helpful (ASPS-a, n.d.).
Due to its relatively simple recovery, healthcare providers consider it to be a mild and gentle procedure. Complications or side effects are uncommon and minimal, and it’s generally safe for people of all skin types (Shah, 2021).
Skin, the body’s largest organ: layers, functions, and conditions
However, if not done properly, there’s some risk of skin discoloration or mild scarring following the procedure (Ganjoo, 2018). Also, your skin may be a bit more sensitive to sun exposure and damage for a few days following treatment, so it may be a good idea to protect your skin with sunscreen to prevent sunburn (Shah, 2021).
Some people may experience an allergic reaction to the aluminum oxide crystals that are sometimes used in the procedure. And for people who have some kind of active skin infection—such as herpes simplex or human papillomavirus (HPV)—microdermabrasion may irritate or worsen the infection’s skin symptoms (Shah, 2021).
Uses and benefits of microdermabrasion
Microdermabrasion can improve the feel or appearance of your skin. Some people report that their skin “glows” and that makeup is easier to apply after the treatment (Shah, 2021; Haney, 2019). It may also improve the look or feel of skin among people who have (Shah, 2021):
- Uneven skin tone or texture
- Melasma or other skin discolorations (a.k.a., hyperpigmentation)
- Age spots or other types of sun-damaged skin
- Oily skin
- Fine lines or wrinkles
- Enlarged pores
Also, while you may not have heard of this use for microdermabrasion, some research has found that the procedure may improve transdermal drug delivery—an innovative method of delivering drugs through the skin (Andrews, 2011; Prausnitz, 2008). If you’re using any, it may be worth asking your medical provider if microdermabrasion could be beneficial.
How much does microdermabrasion cost?
According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, the average microdermabrasion procedure costs $167 (ASPS-b, n.d.). This number can vary due to your location and the type of facility you go to for the treatment. If you have any concerns about the cost, ask the healthcare provider who will be performing the procedure about their facility’s fees and why they charge that amount. Remember, sometimes the most expensive option is not the best option.
If you’re looking to spruce your skin up before a big event, making an appointment for microdermabrasion two weeks before the day may be just the thing you’re looking for (Shah, 2021). It is a popular and safe cosmetic procedure, and while it can be pricey, it may improve the look or feel of your skin.
- Abdel-Motaleb, A. A., Abu-Dief, E. E., & Hussein, M. R. (2017). Dermal morphological changes following salicylic acid peeling and microdermabrasion. Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, 16(4), e9–e14. doi: 10.1111/jocd.12315. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28229524/
- American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS-a). (n.d.). Microdermabrasion: What are the risks of microdermabrasion? Retrieved on Oct. 3, 2021 from https://www.plasticsurgery.org/cosmetic-procedures/microdermabrasion/safety.
- American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS-b). (n.d.). Microdermabrasion: How much does microdermabrasion cost? Retrieved on Oct. 3, 2021 from https://www.plasticsurgery.org/cosmetic-procedures/microdermabrasion/cost.
- Andrews, S., Lee, J. W., Choi, S. O., & Prausnitz, M. R. (2011). Transdermal insulin delivery using microdermabrasion. Pharmaceutical Research, 28(9), 2110–2118. doi: 10.1007/s11095-011-0435-4. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3152630/
- Edison, B., Smith, H. A., Green, B. A., Tierney, N. K. (2021). Skin exfoliation with low concentrations of alpha hydroxy acids and poly hydroxy acids when incorporated into wash-off or leave-on products using a novel abbreviated model to measure cell turnover rate. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 85(3): AB165. Doi: 10.1016/j.jaad.2021.06.67. Retrieved from https://www.jaad.org/article/S0190-9622(21)01779-5/fulltext#relatedArticles.
- El-Domyati, M., Hosam, W., Abdel-Azim, E., Abdel-Wahab, H., & Mohamed, E. (2016). Microdermabrasion: a clinical, histometric, and histopathologic study. Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, 15(4), 503–513. doi: 10.1111/jocd.12252. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27357600/
- Ganjoo, S. (2016). Adverse Effects of Dermabrasion and Microdermabrasion. Complications of Cosmetic Dermatology: Crafting Cures, 172-175. doi: 10.5005/jp/books/12862_17. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Shikhar-Ganjoo/publication/324006370_Complications_of_Dermabrasion_and_Microdermabrasion/links/5edb6a7992851c9c5e873f53/Complications-of-Dermabrasion-and-Microdermabrasion.pdf
- Haney, B. (2020) Microdermabrasion. Aesthetic Procedures: Nurse Practitioner’s Guide to Cosmetic Dermatology, 51-58. doi: 10.1007/978-3-030-19948-7_6. Retrieved from https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-030-19948-7_6
- Prausnitz, M. R. & Langer, R. (2008). Transdermal drug delivery. Nature Biotechnology, 26(11), 1261–1268. doi: 10.1038/nbt.1504. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2700785/
- Shah, M. & Crane, J. S. (2021). Microdermabrasion. [Updated Jul 18, 2021]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK535383/
Felix Gussone is a physician, health journalist and a Manager, Medical Content & Education at Ro.