The Truth About Microdermabrasion

I was never much into microdermabrasion until recently when the Trophy Skin Rejuvederm ($199 in the shop) came into my life and was so easy to use and effective that it became part of my beauty ritual. I started to become curious as to what was going on. Is microdermabrasion more than sandblasting your skin? I set off to find out the truth about microdermabrasion and here is what I discovered:

Microdermabrasion–The Basics

Microdermabrasion is a form of exfoliation that removes the top layer of dead skin cells and uneven, thicker layers of skin. Professional machines use crystal and diamond microdermabrasion tips. The crystals are sprayed and the machine follows by vacuuming them. The suction or vacuum action also serves to pull the skin closer to the sandy disc in order to abrade the skin and remove dead cells. Home devices do not spray and use crystal or diamond tips. Typically, unlike with professional machines, the amount of suction cannot be controlled. Although the above mentioned Rejuvaderm is the exception to the rule—more on this below.

Fun fact: Microdermabrasion was invented in Italy in the 1980s.

What Does Abrade Mean?

Microdermabrasion is a technique that “abrades” the skin. Literally, abrade means to scrape. If properly administered, microdermabrasion is painless, can be repeated at short intervals and is very quick to perform, with no downtime.

The ablation is fairly superficial and is affecting the epidermis.

What Results Can You Expect

Since microdermabrasion is confined to the epidermis, it can treat superficial scarring, fine lines and hyperpigmentation.

One research study reviewed the available literature and concluded: “Microdermabrasion appears to be a procedure that can produce changes in dermal matrix constituents and result in improvement in skin contour irregularities. It may also be beneficial in improving transepidermal delivery of certain medications. Its role in the treatment of dyschromias and acne vulgaris is limited."

I have noticed smoother skin and some faint improvement in hypopigmentation in six weeks of thrice weekly at-home treatments. And Truth In Aging community member, Kimberly, has seen great results on hyperpigmentation, as can be seen in her before/after pictures.

According to Yale School of Medicine, microdermabrasion maximizes blood flow to the skin's surface and stimulates collagen growth. I was surprised by the collagen claims and set about trying to find verification. I did find a small study (10 people who had six treatments at 7-10 day intervals) that found that “collagen fibers in treated patients showed hyalinization with thicker, more tightly packed, horizontally oriented collagen bundles, compared with controls. Improved appearance of elastic fibers and changes in microcirculation were noted with increased inflammatory activity in the treated group, as compared to controls.”

However, another study of a similar size and scope concluded that there was “no significant change in collagen or elastin content was noted.”

An article in The Dermatologist that rounds up these and other studies sums them up this way: “Clearly there remains controversy as to whether or not microdermabrasion is efficacious.”

Roughing It

I hesitate to include this, but for full disclosure I will—with the caveat, don’t try this at home. University of Michigan researchers claim that “rough buffing” does a better job of removing wrinkles and acne scars and stimulating healing than a gentler rubbing. They used a course-grit diamond tip and found that it increased cytokeratin 16, which helps skin heal after injury. In addition, the coarse-grit buffing produced “antimicrobial peptides that fight infection and substances that break down the skin's structural proteins to let the skin rebuild.” The researchers also found that skin produced other substances that induce collagen production.

While there may be something to this, others believe that gentle treatments are cumulative over time. Certainly that would be the better approach to take if you are DIY-ing.

Microdermabrasion At Home

These days, there’s a reasonable selection of at-home microdermabrasion devices. The great thing about this treatment is that it only takes a few minutes—or just seconds if you are targeting just a couple of areas. Moving the device tip over the skin should be done carefully and smoothly, but two passes per area is the maximum.

Riiviva Microderm Device ($299) is an at-home microdermabrasion kit with a medical-grade, diamond tip.

Personal Microderm System ($179 in the shop) has aluminum oxide crystal discs with options for gentle and moderate. The PMD boasts a spinning disc, but the suction cannot be controlled.

Trophy Skin Rejuvaderm MD ($199 in the shop) has a diamond tip and an extremely easy to change filter system. Unusually for an at-home device, there are four power levels of suction.

Trophy Skin MicrodermMD ($299 in the shop). The nearest thing to a professional machine, it has finely compressed diamond peeling tips combined with a medical-grade vacuum mechanism.

For the fainthearted, there are some scrubs that claim to emulate microdermabrasion. They are not to be compared with the real thing, but they are not your mother’s facial scrub and you will notice the difference:

Your Best Face Prep Microdermabrasion ($80 in the shop). Like the PMD device, Prep utilizes aluminum oxide crystals, although here they are incorporated into a cream that also has antioxidants and peptides.

Osmotics Micro Peel Resurfacing System ($86). A three-step system with a charcoal mask, “Micro Peel” with AHAs to exfoliate and a finishing cream. Brightens and resurfaces the skin.

Sciote Micro Derm Crème ($60 in the shop). This also uses aluminum oxide crystals along with shea butter, jojoba and grape seed oils.