Microdermabrasion is a simple but very effective anti-aging treatment for the skin. It is also known as microderm and is easy to apply, as well as very safe. Like chemical peel, it is used to correct minor cosmetic skin issues, such as small scars with a low profile, coarse or rough texture, wrinkles, fine lines, age spots or other problems of hyperpigmentation and enlarged pores. Microdermabrasion is also used in combination with other skin treatments, in particular high-tech ones, since it allows skin care creams and serums to enter deeply into the skin. Microderm stimulates the production of collagen, a key compound that makes the skin appear younger and healthier.

Microdermabrasion is not a single procedure, but an umbrella term for several techniques bases on sanding the top layers of skin using small grains. Some of the creams and scrubs that you can apply at home use this principle, as well as professional cosmetic treatments and medical ones. Since it is mostly a cosmetic technique, it is most often used on the face, hands, neck, arms or chest.

Human skin consists of two main layers, named the dermis and the epidermis. The exterior layer is exposed to the elements and is named the epidermis. The topmost part is made of dead skin cells, while the second consists of mature ones that are about to die. The layer of dead cells, named the stratum corneum, has the role to protect the deeper layers from outside interference. Only the smallest types of molecules can be filtered through.

Many of the minor cosmetic skin problems, such as blemishes or fine lines, are located on the stratum corneum. This layer is only penetrated by a part of the moisture, when you apply creams or other nourishing products on your skin.

Unlike other skin treatments, microdermabrasion is exclusively applied on the stratum corneum. The procedure could as well be named micro-epi-dermabrasion, since it only affects the epidermis, not the entire skin. It would be actually dangerous if microdermabrasion reached the dermis, since the grains would be stuck in there with painful effects.

How microdermabrasion works

This procedure is most often performed using a crystal microdermabrasion device. This is actually a small compressor with a wand. The wand creates vacuum when placed on the surface of skin, which is then bombarded with tiny particles of aluminum oxide crystals. Also named corundum, these are the minerals with the strongest structure after diamonds and can basically remove the whole layer of dead cells. The wand includes a second suction tube, which sends the used crystals and dead cells to a waste bag.

A trained esthetician determines the required level of exfoliation, which is controlled by adjusting the power of the compressor and the amount of crystals. Two passes are usually required to remove the top layer. Scars and brown spots, as well as zones with very thick skin, might need a third pass for complete removal.

The procedure is not painful but it can be annoying, in particular in areas with sensitive tissue like those surrounding the nose and mouth. If it hurts, you should tell your esthetician, who can always adjust the device if it becomes uncomfortable. The crystals can be dangerous, so you should have eye protection, while the esthetician must also wear gloves or a mask. Some crystals will remain on your face, which will have a red color, but this is normal and shouldn't worry you.

A second type of treatment is diamond-tip microdermabrasion. The device looks similar, with a wand that creates vacuum, but no crystal powder is used. The skin is removed by a diamond tip and then absorbed into the device. The strength of the procedure is adjusted by mounting tips that are more or less abrasive. The esthetician will select the right one based on the type and roughness of your skin.

The diamond tip procedure is considered a much better choice for sensitive skin. This is because it is equally effective as crystal microdermabrasion, but causes less irritation.

Benefits of microdermabrasion

Microdermabrasion can be extremely effective but only if the technician who applies it is very skilled. You should only choose an esthetician that you trust and know already. More than one treatment might be needed and sometimes it's a good idea to combine it with other techniques.

Microdermabrasion works on the same principle, regardless if you apply it at home or in a professional location. It simply removes the stratum corneum, which is the layer of dead cells on top of the skin. The body immediately reacts and considers it a minor injury. It produces new cells to replace the dead ones, the new cells are healthy and look a lot better. There can also be mild side effects. The skin can become red and swollen in the first hour, conditions known as edema and erythema. These effects can last a few hours, to a maximum of two days.

The removal of the stratum corneum also eliminates many of the issues visible at skin level. The new cells that grow to replace the lost tissues are always smoother and cleaner. The minor issues, for example fine lines, blemishes or sun damage, are gone. The procedure can also boost the effect of other cosmetic treatments. Without the protective barrier of dead cells, the active ingredients found in various creams or lotions are able to penetrate and work on the deeper skin layers. A hydrating product must be applied immediately after microdermabrasion, since the procedure removes some of the skin's moisture.

Some studies indicate that regular application of microdermabrasion might also have an effect on the lower skin layers. More research is needed but preliminary data suggests that skin grows better overall, so deeper blemishes can also be removed. It appears the process is triggered by the loss of moisture, since this side effect of microdermabrasion stimulates the production of more healthy cells.

The procedure is usually performed six times, at intervals between 10 days and 2 weeks. The number and frequency of procedures depends on the skin type and the nature of the problems. An advantage of microdermabrasion is that it allows the device to be adjusted for any skin type. This means a well-trained esthetician can apply it even to people with very sensitive skin, where no other similar treatment is an option.

The outer layer of skin is the body's natural protection against the elements. Removing it leaves the skin very vulnerable for some time so you should avoid sun exposure until a new one grows. You must be especially careful in the first few days after the procedure. Sun exposure must be avoided at all times and sunscreen should be applied even during a cloudy day. Strong physical exercises should be postponed as well.

Microdermabrasion kits are also available for home use but do little more than scrub the skin and are not nearly as effective. These usually irritate the skin, with little results.

Cautions regarding microdermabrasion

It is very important that your microdermabrasion is performed by a skilled technician, so check their training. If the procedure is done too aggressive or with a poor technique, it can lead to bleeding and skin damage. The benefits depend directly on the esthetician's skills.

If you are using anti-coagulant medicine or got a Botox injection in the last 72 hours, microdermabrasion can't be performed. The treatment is also unavailable if you suffer from a number of diseases: lack of tactile sensation, keloid scarring, rosacea, skin inflammation, bacterial infections, abrasions or cuts. Temporary issues like herpes simplex outbreaks, acne or sunburn also make microdermabrasion impossible.

As soon as the treatment is completed, you should avoid sun exposure. Since the skin's protection against UV radiation has been removed, apply some sunscreen to replace it.

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