Microdermabrasion: everything you need to know about this facial treatment for brighter, smoother skin

The OG of exfoliation treatments, microdermabrasion promises to chip away at dull, dead skin cells to unveil a brighter, smoother complexion underneath. But does it work? And more importantly, is it right for you? 

Spotted on menus at spas, clinics and salons all over the world, microdermabrasion has traditionally been one of the most relied upon treatments in a facialist’s toolkit.

Designed to buff away dull, dead cells from the skin’s surface, it was once the gold standard when it came to in-clinic exfoliation. However, in more recent years, as flashier treatments such as skin lasers, LED masks and intensive peels have come to the fore, microdermabrasion isn’t quite as popular as it once was.

But, as we learn more about the risks of over exfoliation using skin acids, could it be time for microdermabrasion to experience a resurgence? Is this old-school smoothing and brightening treatment just what our complexion is crying out for after over a year of lockdowns?

Stylist spoke to Joanne Evans, facialist and founder of London’s Skin Matters clinic to unpack all there is to know about this skincare treatment, from what it is to how it works and whether it is right for you.

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What is microdermabrasion?

Put simply, microdermabrasion is a form of skin exfoliation. “In the simplest form it is gentle sandblasting of the skin with a high jet of materials to resurface the upper layer of the skin, remove dead skin cells and in turn stimulate collagen production. This means a fresh, clear and bright glow,” Evans explains. “It’s similar to a peel in that it takes off the dead layer of skin.”

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What are the different types of microdermabrasion?

There are two main types of microdermabrasion. The first is crystal microdermabrasion, in which skin is blasted with tiny particles that chip away at dead skin cells before being sucked back up via a vacuum. The second, and the more commonly used type is diamond tip microdermabrasion, which involves passing a coarse-tipped wand over the skin to exfoliate. 

What are the benefits of microdermabrasion?

Given its ability to buff away the top layer of dead skin cells, the main benefit of microdermabrasion is that it improves skin texture, but as Evans explains, it does so much more than that. “I love it for scarring, renewing dull skin, unclogging the pores, restoring uneven skin tones and it’s also great for breakouts.”

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Does microdermabrasion work on all skin tones and types?

“Thicker and coarser skin will benefit the most from this treatment, and it’s great for post-acne scarring and dull complexions that need a lift,” Evans explains.

However, anyone with sensitive skin should proceed with caution. “It’s important to tell your therapist and make sure your treatment is very gentle so as to not irritate the skin,” Evans advises. “It’s definitely not for someone with rosacea, thread veins or redness, and I’d be careful with people who suffer from pigmentation issues.”

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Is microdermabrasion safe?

“It all depends on the depth of your treatment,” asserts Evans. “Done in the right hands with the right care for the right concerns, the results are brilliant.”

“All treatments that resurface the skin require gentle after-care to prevent any irritation. Remember it is removing the outer layers of the skin and if you aren’t protecting and looking after the barrier you risk long-term damage.” After microdermabrasion, regular SPF application is paramount, and you might also wish to invest in some skin-strengthening ingredients such as ceramides and niacinamide to bolster its barrier function.

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Can you do microdermabrasion at home?

If carried out correctly and safely, then yes, at-home microdermabrasion can be done, but Evans’ concern is that when left to their own devices, most people tend to over-do it. “If overdone, you can see burns, rashes and irritations similar to overdoing an acid peel at home,” she warns. Thankfully, most at-home devices aren’t as powerful as the ones you’ll find in clinic, but even still, heed Evans’ advice: “Make sure you follow the guidelines and ensure [the device you choose] is suitable for your skin.”

What are the best at-home alternatives to microdermabrasion?

Prefer to leave advanced skin treatments like this to the professionals? We don’t blame you. But that doesn’t mean all at-home exfoliation is out of the question. “I’d suggest acid pads soaked in the right acid for your skin type,” Evans recommends. AHAs like glycolic acid are great for anyone looking to resurface the texture of their skin, or salicylic acid (the hero BHA) is excellent at decongesting and declogging pores. Got sensitive skin? Stick to a PHA, like lactobionic acid, as these are much more gentle.

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