What is microdermabrasion?
Microdermabrasion is a skin rejuvenating procedure where the top layers of skin are gently ‘sanded’ to reveal smoother layers underneath.
Known as the ‘lunchtime peel’, the procedure is quick and has minimal side-effects. It is said to help reduce wrinkles, acne scarring and age spots, leaving skin looking smoother, revived and fresh.
Developed in Italy in 1985, microdermabrasion is a treatment where the skin is ‘sanded’ using a machine which blasts it with tiny crystals. The handheld machine should be operated by a trained skin professional, dermatologist or plastic surgeon, who slowly passes it over the treatment area – usually the face, neck or hands.
The machine works by creating a vacuum between the surface of the skin and the blaster. The end of the machine covers around 4 to 6mm of skin surface at a time, simultaneously blasting micro crystals at it while gently sucking up the top layer of skin as it goes.
Microdermabrasion should not be confused with dermabrasion – a more invasive treatment with more risks and side effects but potentially more results.
What is it like?
Microdermabrasion can be done without any anaesthetic, although you may feel a tingling or burning sensation.
It only takes around 30 minutes a session to do the face and 20 minutes for the neck. Most dermatologists recommend having a course of three to six treatments spaced a week or so apart.
How does it work?
The treatment causes subtle changes: it encourages the production of collagen and elastin which helps reduce wrinkles and smooth the skin. It may improve the appearance of mild scars and discolouration. After treatment skin will be tighter, less dull and feel smooth to touch.
It is a superficial procedure, only affecting the top layers of the skin and as such it won’t eradicate any wrinkles, scars or stretch marks.
How good is it?
There has been little research into microdermabrasion, but a 2010 review of studies on the technique found there was evidence it could improve skin irregularities and help make medicated creams more effective.
An American study published in 2001 found 10 volunteers aged in between 31 and 62 years old showed improvements to their skin following a series of six microdermabrasion sessions compared to a control group. Another study, in 2009, found microdermabrasion can help improve the effects of other treatments such as antioxidant creams. Research by Dr Freedman, of Plastic Surgery Associates of Northern Virginia, found combining the treatment had greater effects than using either alone.
What is the recovery time?
Skin will be red or pink afterwards but should recover with 24 hours. It may also feel dry and tight and need moisturising.
It is best to avoid make-up for 24 hours after the procedure. You will also need to wear sun cream for a few days afterwards and to protect your skin from too much exposure to the sun.
What are the risks and side effects?
Serious side effects from microdermabrasion are very rare but you may experience:
- pinprick bleeding
- minor bruising, particularly if the machine is used over the same area several times. It is worth researching to find an experienced operator to help avoid this.
- skin tightness,
- skin sensitivity,
- post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH),
- small skin abrasions,
- eye-skin bruising (especially if you are taking aspirin or other prescription blood thinners),
- fine broken blood vessels (telangiectasia),
- cold sore reactivation around lips.
As microdermabrasion only causes superficial skin removal, it is unlikely to cause scarring and pigment changes are very rare if the procedure is performed correctly.
If you have very thin skin, scleroderma, lupus, severe sun damage, take long-term steroid treatments such as prednisone, or have other conditions where your skin is abnormally fragile, your risk of forming fine broken blood vessels on the surface of the skin (telangiectasia) is increased.
It is important to protect the eyes with a damp cloth or goggles during the procedure, as any crystals accidentally getting into your eyes can cause irritation.
If the equipment used is not sterilised there is a risk of infection.
Seeing a qualified skin specialist who can assess your skin needs can reduce the risk of side effects.
How much does it cost?
Treatment costs from as little as £20 a session at a beauty salon to £95 a session at a registered plastic surgery, with a series of six sessions costing around £300 to £500.
It is worth researching the qualifications and experience of the practitioner before choosing where to have the treatment.
While many people are very happy with the results they achieve, it’s worth bearing in mind that some people report seeing no benefit whatsoever from microdermabrasion, even after they have paid for multiple procedures.
So is it worth it?
Summing up the research into microdermabrasion, Dr Lance Brown writes in The Dermatologist that “clearly there remains controversy as to whether or not microdermabrasion is efficacious”.
The jury is clearly out on whether or not microdermabrasion has enough of an effect to make it worthwhile but, as Dr Brown adds: “The recovery time is quick and patient satisfaction is generally positive.”
Is there anyone who shouldn’t do it?
People who are being treated for acne with isotretinoin (Accutane) should avoid microdermabrasion for up to six months after they have completed their course, according to the American Academy of Dermatology, as they are at increased risk of scarring.
Those who scar easily or are prone to keloid scarring are also advised to avoid the treatment.
And if you have a mole that is growing, bleeding or has changed in colour its best to avoid the treatment and get it checked as these symptoms may be early warning of cancerous changes.