Microdermabrasion vs. dermabrasion
Microdermabrasion, which is performed by trained, certified, licensed aestheticians in a salon, spa, or medspa, is not to be confused with dermabrasion. Dermabrasion is a process that is performed only by plastic surgeons and cosmetic doctors/dermatologists. This process is very aggressive, and uses stiff wire brushes or diamond crusted wheels to remove the entire epidermis.
The purpose of this procedure is to completely resurface the skin, and is indicated for people with severe acne scars, visible sun damage, lines and wrinkles, and hyperpigmentation (age or sun spots). It is a long and very uncomfortable recovery.
Microdermabrasion is different because it is far less aggressive, and only affects the most superficial layers of the skin. It is usually performed in a series, sometimes in conjunction with a chemical exfoliation treatment protocol. There is typically no discomfort, and there is rarely any downtime, if any.
Benefits of microdermabrasion
Microdermabrasion is so popular because if offers fast, though temporary results. Large pores can appear smaller, skin appears plumper and tighter, fine lines and wrinkles are less noticeable, and the appearance of scars, hyperpigmentation, and sun damage are improved. These results can be maintained, and sometimes improved upon with regular treatments.
Sounds great, right?
Not so fast. Just because microdermabrasion does not need to be administered by a doctor or nurse does not mean it is without risk, or that it is for everyone. There are many contraindications (existing conditions a person might have that could cause complications and adverse effects if the procedure is done) associated with microdermabrasion, just like with chemical exfoliation or electrotherapy. It is imperative that you disclose your health history, as well as what medications you have taken recently or are currently taking. Certain skin conditions like rosacea or broken capillaries are also contraindicated. If your aesthetician, after reviewing your history and analyzing your skin, decides that microdermabrasion (or any type of aggressive exfoliation) is not appropriate for you, do not fight about it. Just accept it, and discuss other available treatment options.
My first microdermabrasion experience
I once got a gift card to a spa that offered microdermabrasion. Although I was young (mid to late twenties), I had some acne scars that I wanted to improve the appearance of. After my first treatment, I was very excited. My skin looked smooth, supple, and the scars were less apparent. I had a second treatment done, this time by a different aesthetician. She was quite a bit more aggressive with the suction on the machine and I actually had to ask her to turn it down. She gave me attitude about it, and said that if I wanted results I needed a stronger treatment. This is WRONG. I didn’t feel right about it then, and I never went back to her. After going through training for microdermabrasion (and other different methods of exfoliation), I know that her approach was completely wrong and could have caused permanent damage to my skin.
When it comes to microdermabrasion, or any other type of exfoliation, LESS IS MORE.
Too much suction and an overly aggressive technique will actually cause more hyperpigmentation and broken capillaries. It will also create too much inflammation on the skin…more than your skin’s would healing process can handle. This will do more harm than good, and the results are not reversible except with surgical intervention.
My experience with an overzealous aesthetician is not the only one I’ve encountered. You know how when you go to people’s parties and get-togethers you generally see the same people there, but you might not see them anywhere else? I have a good acquaintance that I only know from going to parties at my friend’s house. She was not at one of the most recent parties, though her husband and child were there. I asked her husband if she was home sick and he replied “something like that”.
I saw her a couple of months later at another party at my friend’s house. I asked her what happened the last time. Without even knowing that I was in school for aesthetics, she told me that she had a very aggressive microdermabrasion treatment that left her with crust (scabs) all over her face for days. It was so bad that she could not wear makeup or go out in the sun until it healed. And like my situation, it was not her first treatment, and the damage was not caused by the aesthetician who performed the initial treatment.
The moral of the story…
Microdermabrasion is technique sensitive, just like chemical exfoliation and many other cosmetic and aesthetic procedures. This means that the safety of the procedure, as well as the results you will have, are dependent on the aesthetican’s skill level, philosophy towards moderate vs. aggressive treatments, and overall technique.
I went into school very gung ho about microdermabrasion, and I had a couple of treatments done at school, on a very light setting. I won’t have it done anymore though.
If you are considering microdermabrasion, consult with an experienced aesthetician, and have your treatments performed by the same aesthetician each time. That really applies to all facial treatments, even regular facials.
One more thing to consider…
Many microdermabrasion machines work by spraying microcrystals on the skin, and suctioning them up. There is research out there that suggests that the aluminum dioxide microcrystals (the most popular ones), when inhaled, get absorbed into the bloodstream and can become toxic. Aestheticians often wear masks when using these machines, but the client receiving the treatment cannot.
There are microdermabrasion machines that do not use crystals. Instead, they use wands with diamond-encrusted tips, in addition to suction. These are the machines we had at school, and after experiencing both machines personally, I feel the diamond tip machine is just as effective as the microcrystal machine; and it is much safer. If you are considering microdermabrasion, do your research to find out what salons or spas have the diamond tip machines.
And of course, ask for recommendations from friends for a good aesthetician who specializes in microdermabrasion. Ask lots of questions, be honest about your health and medication history, and follow your pre- and post-treatment home care instructions EXACTLY. And I cannot stress enough the importance of sunscreen after microdermabrasion or any aggressive exfoliation treatment. These treatments make your skin more susceptible to sun damage.
I’ve said it before and I will say it again; PLEASE stay away from those at-home microdermabrasion kits. You will waste your money, and could potentially cause permanent damage to your skin.