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Microdermabrasion is one of those cosmetic procedures that most people have heard of, but don't really know much about. Even if your skin-obsessed friend swears by it, or you've seen it listed on spa menus, the procedure is still one of those best discussed with a dermatologist.
Allow us to clear up any misconceptions. Microdermabrasion is a procedure that exfoliates and removes the superficial layer of dry, dead skin cells. According to licensed medical aesthetician Maria Barry at Union Square Laser Dermatology, microdermabrasion machines can buff and polish the skin using a stream of fine crystals or a diamond tip. Some systems have suction to vacuum loose skin cells from the face.
Barry believes that patients with fine lines, uneven pigmentation or clogged pores may benefit most from a series of microdermabrasion treatments. Heidi Waldorf, the director of laser and cosmetic dermatology at The Mount Sinai Medical Hospital in New York City, also recommends it for melasma patients and individuals using retinoids such as Retin-A.
"Patients with melasma, a form of pigmentation caused by a combination of hormones, ultraviolet light and inflammation, risk aggravating the pigment with almost any type of irritation," said Waldorf. "However, I find they do well with a combination of good topical care, vigilant sun protection and microdermabrasion."
Two of the major differences between in-office microdermabrasion and at-home treatments is that the devices used in a medical office generally have larger motors and more power, and they penetrate deeper into the skin to provide precise exfoliation. Barry points out that due to the higher costs of the professional procedure, drugstore products or treatments are a great way to extend the time between in-office microdermabrasion visits.
It is also worth differentiating between microdermabrasion treatments with a dermatologist office and a spa, according to Waldorf. "In our offices, we sterilize the diamondtome wands in the same way as our surgical instruments, which is important for safety," she says. "Be sure to confirm with the spa how they handle multi-use wands."
How often you should get a microdermabrasion facial depends on your skincare needs and finances. Most in-office procedures pack a bigger punch and treatments are often scheduled at 1-2 month intervals. Meanwhile, Waldorf says using a handheld device at home generally requires daily or at least weekly use.
If you have any reservations as to how your skin may react to this level of exfoliation, Barry reassures us that microdermabrasion is not painful. "It may leave the skin slightly red for a few hours and possibly more sensitive. A calming moisturizer and sunscreen should be applied after treatment," she says.
For anyone with dermatographism, or those who get red welts at the sites of scratches, Waldorf adds they are likely to see hive-like lines or blotches post-microdermabrasion. An oral antihistamine can help to reduce that reaction.
Waldorf also stresses that you shouldn't expect the results of a deep chemical peel or fractionated resurfacing laser with microdermabrasion. "It is an excellent procedure to help maximize the benefit of a regular topical regimen, keep skin feeling smooth, help pigment look more even and speed clearance of whiteheads," she says. "However, it will not help deep wrinkles, dark brown spots, redness or growths."