What is Microdermabrasion?

Posted by | April 05, 2014 Information | 2 Comments

You may have heard a friend talking about it, seen services offered at a spa, or read about the procedure online. So what is microdermabrasion? How is it different from dermabrasion? What's the procedure and how much does it cost?

We've put together this resource to help answer some of these questions. To start we'll look at the differences between the two procedures, then provide details on microdermabrasion itself.

What is Dermabrasion?

Dermabrasion is a clinical procedure intended to repair deep skin related damage. Typically performed by a physician, this procedure requires local anesthesia and is treated as a surgical procedure, with potential for several days of recovery.

Dermabrasion is effective for a deep skin issues like:

  • Deep acne scarring
  • Pox marks
  • Scars from injury

Although the thought of anesthesia and days of downtime may be a bit unsettling, most dermabrasion is really akin to skinning a knee or elbow. After local anesthesia has been applied the dermatologist will sand down the skin using a tool known as a dermatome. This removes the top layer of skin and causes the the body to replace old scar tissue with new healthy tissue.

The one caveat is that dermabrasion can cause discoloration or even scarring for some skin types. If you're considering dermabrasion it's important to consult with a dermatologist or plastic surgeon.

What is Microdermabrasion?

Microdermabrasion, on the other hand, is gentler procedure that is aimed at addressing more subtle issues like:

  • Wrinkles
  • Blackheads
  • Light scarring
  • Acne
  • Dry skin
  • Lines
  • … and more

It can be used by people of all skin types and doesn't require an extended period of recovery (usually 24 hours of slightly pink skin is the only side effect).

There are a number of different products from scrubs and creams to abrasive cloths and at home machines. Given the variety of products and approaches it can sometimes be difficult to clearly define microdermabrasion. The reality is that all of these are valid approaches to skin treatment and each have their own pros and cons.

Microderm is a classification of mechanical procedures that include anything that lightly abrades the skin and removes the top layer of dead cells called the stratum corneum. Through the use of rough surfaces, sand, crystals, and even diamonds the skin is exfoliated and left to rejuvenate.

Here are some of the different approaches used:

The History

Although dermabrasion has been around for a while, microdermabrasion has only been available since the mid-80's. It was first introduced in 1985 in Italy and used the same crystal process seen today in most spas and some at home kits.

Aluminum oxide crystalsThe procedure is performed using aluminum oxide crystals, which are sprayed onto the skin, exfoliating the top layer of the epidermis while a vacuum was used to suck away the dead skin cells. The crystals used in crystal microdermabrasion are extremely fine (think fine sand). For that reason can pose a risk to eyes or facial injury due to stray particles.

In the late-90's the first diamond tip microdermabrasion devices were introduced into the market and changed the way people had been performing these procedures for years. The same basic concepts apply: abrasion + suction. But instead of shooting crystals onto the skin, fine diamond particles are attached to the applicator tip and provide the exfoliation while sucking the dead cells into a vacuum tube. The big win with diamonds was the reduction in risk of injury and application cleanup.

The Procedure

Microdermabrasion is not a fast procedure and typically takes anywhere from 6-10 weeks. Although you'll feel the rejuvenating effects right away, don't be too discouraged if it takes a number of applications before the more persistent blemishes begin to change. Long term it can have an impact on deeper tissue issues, but this takes time and patience.

A Cautionary Tale

When using a microderm machine, the application is critical. There are a couple key things to remember when first starting:

  1. Be gentle and start off slowly
  2. Always test the suction level before beginning application

Finally, we should mention, that it's absolutely critical that your skin is protected. By removing even the very top layers of skin you are exposing more sensitive cells. Please, please, please be sure to stay out of direct sunlight for 24 hours or use a good moisturizer with sunscreen.


For beginning application it's best to start slowly:

  • 2-3 passes per target area
  • No more every 7-10 days
  • To see results, plan on 5-6 sessions initially then once per month for maintenance after
  • If your device has adjustable vacuum levels, adjust this based on the coarseness of the tip and sensitivity of the area
  • Avoid your eyes, lips, nostrils

It's important to reiterate that some machines have VERY strong suction and if the suction is set too high and the tip too coarse it can cause damage to skin. Use common sense and above all start slowly.


The costs of microdermabrasion and dermabrasion can vary widely depending the who and where the procedures are being performed. Because dermabrasion is a clinical procedure you'll be paying a dermatologist or plastic surgeon. This costs an average of $1400.

Microdermabrasion on the other hand largely depends on whether you have this procedure done in a spa or at home. Spa treatments can be anywhere from $100-$150 per visit. Microderm at home can have a higher up front cost, but there are lower ongoing expenses. Scrubs and creams are typically less than $50, while machines can cost anywhere from $150 to $400+.


So what is microdermabrasion? As we've noted dermabrasion and microdermabrasion are very similar… the primary difference (and which one you may choose) is largely determined by the depth and severity of the problem area.

In either case, at their core, the objective is:

  1. To remove the top layer of dead skin cells
  2. Abrade the skin in such as way that it triggers the bodies own healing mechanism


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