I have been using the PMD Personal Microderm System ($179), an at-home use microdermabrasion device weekly for the past month. I had given my skin a full month to properly regenerate after a professional microdermabrasion treatment prior to starting use of the PMD System to ensure a fair review of the product. As a licensed esthetician, I have generally felt that some treatments should not be performed at home and are best left to professionals who have received specialized training. While microdermabrasion may be a common treatment, it’s not to be taken lightly and can seriously damage skin if not performed properly. Moreover, I rarely read directions myself prior to using any device I purchase for home use, thus I (perhaps unfairly) expect similar behavior patterns in other consumers. However, results reported by all three TIA testers of the PaloVia Skin Renewing Laser ($499) have made me reconsider any initial misgivings, and I was very much open to trying out the PMD. That said, let me preempt this review by saying that the PMD is a powerful little gadget and should be used with great care.

The PMD is a plug-in handheld apparatus and includes an instructional pamphlet along with a training DVD (in which the esthetician is an eerie dead ringer for Denise Richards) just under 10 minutes long. Although the machine has a simple on/off switch and seems fairly straightforward to use, it would be a mistake to use it without prior instruction. Prior to sending me the devic, PMD had made it clear that it was imperative to watch the training DVD. However, I went beyond that and mined PMD’s site for as much information as possible prior to use. That said, the most useful video I found was the demonstration video, which unfortunately was buried in the web manual under the “How to Use” tab on the site. I found the demonstration to be extremely helpful and wish it had been included as part of the training DVD.

The PMD System is a hybrid of professional crystal and diamond microdermabrasion tips. Like professional machines, PMD uses aluminum oxide crystals; however, it does not spray the crystals. Rather, the crystals make up a flat, sandy disc, similar to a professional diamond-tipped head. The PMD is equipped with a white training disc to test initial tolerance, and there are three options available based on skin tolerance: sensitive (blue) and medium (green) and maximum strength (red - not included). In addition, the kit includes both small and large discs for use on the face and body, respectively. The PMD also uses suction or a vacuum action that serves to pull the skin closer to the sandy disc in order to abrade the skin and remove dead skin cells. However, unlike on professional machines, the amount of suction cannot be controlled.

I was pleasantly surprised to find a lot of good advice on the training DVD, such as testing the device on the inner arm prior to use and never performing more than two passes. It’s also important that the skin is absolutely dry prior to exfoliation and to stretch the skin out with your free hand while using the device. I was also happy to hear it all reiterated by Denise Richards’ look-alike, something I think is key (the reiteration part). I can’t comment on the PMD Regeneration System products, which include the company’s cleanser, toner and moisturizer as I did not use these products. However, if you decide not to use the PMD products, it’s essential to choose your products with care. PMD advises using a toner post treatment, but keep in mind that most toners are meant to strip skin of oils, which can throw off your skin’s natural pH and only sensitize just-exfoliated skin.

I found the exfoliation to be somewhat uneven due to the design of the headpiece as it comes closer in contact with skin on the curvier areas of the face. So I didn’t get the same abrasion on flatter areas, like my forehead, as I did on my cheekbones. I noted that many reviewers have reported red streaks or welts, especially along the cheekbone area, which makes sense to me because of the curvatures there. Like professional microdermabrasion, the frequency of use will really vary based on your skin type and conditions. While I wouldn’t say that the PMD can compete with a professional microdermabrasion machine, I would avoid it if professional treatments don’t suit you as this is still a very potent little device. I would discourage using it altogether if you have sensitive skin or suffer from rosacea. The PMD can certainly be useful if you have acne or crater-like scars, but it’s still important to use it carefully and not overdo it. Overall, I found the device to be relatively effective at exfoliating my skin and will continue to use it.