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Microdermabrasion-Do you get what you pay for?


Microdermabrasion is a process of 'scraping' the skin using a controlled flow of microcrystals. In essence, it is a moderate peel performed using a stream of fine crystals.

It is important to distinguish between dermabrasion and microdermabrasion. Dermabrasion is a much more invasive procedure performed using special 'sanding' devices. Dermabrasion causes as much or more damage to the skin as laser resurfacing or deep chemical peels. The skin recovery after dermabrasion takes several weeks or more. Dermabrasion has been used in cosmetic surgery for decades. However, its use has been declining since the advent of laser resurfacing.

Microdermabrasion, on the other hand, is a relatively new, mildly invasive procedure. It causes virtually no downtime and the patients can usually return to their regular activities the same day. In fact, some call microdermabrasion a lunchtime peel. Convenience and minimal recovery period account for much of the popularity of microdermabrasion. Some people are also enticed by seemingly low cost of a microdermabrasion treatment (usually in the range of $150-$300 per session).

Is there a catch? Unfortunately, there is. First, the effect of microdermabrasion is generally small. Many people see no effect whatsoever. Others see a small effect, and only a small percentage of people report substantial benefits. Actually, this is understandable: a mild mechanical treatment like microdermabrasion is unlikely to cause significant skin restructuring required for a noticeable reduction in wrinkles. Repeated treatments may provide cumulative improvement in some cases, but just as often (or even more often) produce little or no benefit. (And the cost is cumulative whether you get cumulative benefits or not). On top of that, adequate clinical research documenting the benefits of microdermabrasion is lacking.

Bottom line

The benefits of microdermabrasion are not well proven and appear to be -- on average -- rather small. (Occasional exceptions happen though.) Most people would probably do as well or better using Retin A / Renova or other topical treatments. The cost of multiple microdermabrasion treatments allegedly required for optimum results is comparable to that of laser skin resurfacing. The latter may be somewhat more risky but is also significantly more effective.

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