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How does microdermabrasion work?

Arthur W. Perry, MD
Plastic Surgery
Microdermabrasion "sandblasts" the skin with aluminum oxide crystals that are immediately suctioned up by the microdermabrasion machine. The crystals exfoliate by knocking off the upper layers of skin. The suction removes the crystals and unclogs oils and dirt from the pores. Clean, smooth-feeling skin results. The crystals are so effective that they are able to completely strip off the upper layers of the skin. But errant crystals can escape the suction system and cause a corneal injury to the eye. They enter the room air and can be breathed in by the patient and the person performing the procedure.

Newer machines have been designed that use common table-salt crystals. Although safer, they can clump and clog the machine.

Many thought the sandblasting concept was not really necessary. Abrasive diamonds were embedded in the handpiece and rubbed across the skin, simultaneously vacuuming debris from pores. Since the purpose of the sandblasting was exfoliation, this safer and simpler method eliminated the crystal spray.

Other new machines use liquids to lubricate the skin while abrading and suctioning. Various medicines, such as the pigment reducer hydroquinone and the acne drug salicylic acid, are sprayed on the skin. Whether or not this makes a difference is anyone's guess. In the world of microdermabrasion, as in so much of this field, scientific studies are few and far between.

Another version of microdermabrasion does not use crystals or suctioning at all. The Vibraderm machine simply vibrates on the surface of the skin, causing exfoliation. We've come full circle from that one-dollar loofah pad.
Straight Talk about Cosmetic Surgery (Yale University Press Health & Wellness)

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The public’s recent exuberance toward cosmetic surgery has spurred an unprecedented demand for appearance-changing procedures. But how can an average consumer discern the hype from solid truth? ...
Microdermabrasion is helpful for treating fine facial wrinkles, superficial age spots, sun-damaged skin, and clogged pores. This non-surgical procedure involves using a stream of crystals directed towards the skin, resurfacing the superficial layers.
Tara Whitworth
Nursing
Microdermabrasion is a cosmetic procedure that exfoliates top layer of skin, reducing the appearance of damaged skin and light scars. It may also reduce the appearance of dark spots. This procedure is done in the office and is not painful. 

 

Patricia Farris, MD
Dermatology

There is a lot of new and interesting scientific information about microdermabrasion.  When we first started using this procedure most dermatologists considered it a great way to exfoliate and clean the skin. But recent studies have shown that microdermabrasion really can improve the appearance of your skin. Studies have shown that with repeat treatments you can stimulate collagen production, improve certain types of acne and even augment to effects of procedures like chemical peels. I think it is best used in combination with other in office procedures and with a good topical skin care regimen.

Dr. Ellen Marmur, MD
Dermatology

In the old days microdermabrasion employed crystals to sandblast the face, but that method has been replaced by an instrument with a rough, rounded tip that moves over the skin to polish it mechanically. It comes with various attachments that provide gentle to very aggressive exfoliation. The device also incorporates pneumatic suction, so it vacuums up the debris as it sloughs it off. The gentle suction may even trigger some small amount of collagen production.

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Simple Skin Beauty: Every Woman's Guide to a Lifetime of Healthy, Gorgeous Skin

What if a leading dermatologist just happened to be your best friend and you could ask her anything? DR. ELLEN MARMUR, a world-renowned New York City dermatologist, answers all your questions with...

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.