How Microdermabrasion Affects the Skin

Potential benefits are more than skin deep

Woman having microdermabrasion
Image Source / Getty Images

Microdermabrasion is a common aesthetic procedure used improve the appearance of skin. It is a form of exfoliation that uses a microdermabrasion machine that sprays fine crystal particles across the surface of the skin, removing the top layer, and then vacuums both the crystals and dead skin away.

While microdermabrasion is considered an effective treatment for making bad skin good and good skin better, what exactly does it do to the skin?

And, more importantly, does it do any harm?

Skin Anatomy 101

The skin is the body's largest organ and a complicated one at that. It is divided into three distinct layers, each of which has specific purposes and function:

  • The epidermis is the outermost layer that consists mainly dead skin cells but also serves as a protective barrier to everything from UV exposure to bacteria and virus.
  • The dermis is the middle layer that contains the structural parts of the skin, including collagen and elastin.
  • Subcutaneous tissue is the bottom layer that contains fat and larger blood vessels.

Microdermabrasion Effects on the Appearance of Skin

Microdermabrasion works by causing a small amount of trauma to the skin, allowing the skin to repair itself in a more organized fashion. This can create younger, healthier looking skin. It is performed over a series of treatments, typically six procedures scheduled seven to 10 days apart.

Noticeable changes are usually visible after the first treatment. The skin will almost immediately appear smoother, healthier, and rejuvenated. As the treatments continue, the skin will most often become less oily, pores will become less pronounced, and thick areas of skin will look and feel thinner.

Fine wrinkles can even appear smoother.

Microdermabrasion Effects on the Epidermis

As the top layer skin, changes to the epidermis will be the most apparent. Microscopic examination of the skin will show a number of processes occurring following microdermabrasion:

  • The epidermis will become thicker as new skin cells are being produced more rapidly. The cells themselves will be much larger, which leads to the appearance of fuller, more plump skin.
  • The cells in the lower layers of the epidermis will be knit together in a more consistent "basket weave" configuration rather than a haphazard fashion.
  • As the barrier function of the epidermis will be disrupted in the first 24 hours following the procedure, the skin can appear much drier than usual. However, the dryness will quickly resolve itself, usually after seven days, as the replenished cells are more capable of absorbing moisture.

Microdermabrasion Effects on the Dermis

While changes begin to appear in the epidermis first, the effects go well beyond the surface layer. In fact, it is actually the dermis that receives many of the longer terms benefits. Chemical changes can occur almost immediately, which causes the dermal layer to become thicker and healthier.

Research suggests a number of additional benefits:

  • Microdermabrasion increases the number of collagen fibers, which become thicker, more tightly packed, and more consistently organized.
  • The number of elastic fibers also increases, and they are oriented vertically instead of horizontally, giving the dermal layer more "spring."
  • The number and size of fibroblasts (the cells that make collagen) also increase.

Inflammation Following Microdermabrasion

There is typically some redness following a microdermabrasion procedure. It is an indication of an inflammatory process in which immune proteins are released into the system to begin the process of repairing damaged cells.

The redness is caused by the expansion of blood vessels in the dermis and epidermis, which allow immune cells closer access to the affected tissue. Part of this is due to the mechanical stretching of the skin by the negative pressure (suction) component of the procedure. Low-level inflammation is a natural response and one which is entirely expected in persons who have undergone the procedure.

A Word From Verywell

Microdermabrasion has its clear benefits but should only be performed by a trained and licensed aesthetician. There is typically no downtime or discomfort as a result of the procedure, but there are contraindications.

Persons with rosacea and broken capillaries should not have microdermabrasion and neither should anyone with a current bacterial or viral skin infection (including flat warts and herpes simplex). Other problematic skin or medical conditions may require specialist input before you undergo the procedure.

If in doubt, meet with a licensed dermatologist who can give you the best advice for your specific skin type or condition.

Sources

  • Alkhawam, A. and Alam, M. "Dermabrasion and Microdermabrasion." Facial Plastic Surgery. 2009;25(5):301-310.
  • Freedman, B.; Rueda-Pedraza, E. and Waddell, S. "The Epidermal and Dermal Changes Associated with Microdermabrasion." Dermatologic Surgery. 2001; 27:1031-1034.
  • Rajan, P.; and Grimes, P. "Skin Barrier Changes Induced by Aluminum Oxide and Sodium Chloride Microdermabrasion." Dermatologic Surgery. 2002; 28:390-393.
  • Karimipour, D.; et al. "Microdermabrasion: A molecular analysis following a single treatment." Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. 2005; 52(2):215-23.
  • Hernandez-Perez, E. and Valencia, E. "Gross and Microscopic Findings in Patients Undergoing Microdermabrasion for Facial Rejuvenation." Dermatologic Surgery. 2001; 27:637-40.

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