What is exfoliation, and why do we need it?
The outermost, protective layer of the skin is called the stratum corneum. It is made up of dead skin cells (also known as keratinocytes), and is replaced every 4 weeks in a process called epidermal turnover. The normal shedding of skin cells can be prolonged due to external and internal factors such as hormonal changes, aging, metabolic or dietary disruptions, weather changes and stress, among others. Slowing down this turnover process can cause breakouts, rough and dull skin, and clogged pores. We can address these issues by helping our skin exfoliate.
There are two main categories of exfoliation: physical and chemical, each with their own advantages. Exfoliation can be done at home or at dermatology clinics, using products that are applied on your skin, or through machines. The choice of exfoliation method depends on your skin type, goals, and other skin issues such as acne or acne scars, sensitive skin, skin asthma, dark spots, etc. Because the choice of exfoliation is personalized, it is best to consult a board-certified dermatologist to help you choose the exfoliation method that works for your skin. This blog will focus on a common exfoliation procedure done at the Levana Dermatology Clinic, microdermabrasion. As a reminder, even though over-the-counter versions are offered for microdermabrasion, the American Academy of Dermatology reminds patients that at home treatments are less effective than when completed by a professional.
What is microdermabrasion?
Microdermabrasion is a type of physical exfoliation. Microdermabrasion uses tiny crystals to gently strip away the layer of dead skin cells on the outermost layer of your skin. These cells are then suctioned by the machine.
What are the benefits of microdermabrasion?
The treatment is called micro(epi)dermabrasion because it only affects the epidermis, which is the upper layer of your skin. Because it only works on the superficial layers of the skin, it is not effective for deeper problems such as deep (atrophic) scars or wrinkles. On the plus side, because it is superficial, the treatment is painless, causes no damage to the skin (when done the proper way), and has minimal to no downtime. It is non-invasive and safe for all skin types.
By removing old skin cells, regular microdermabrasion sessions may improve skin texture and tone and clean out clogged pores. It can also help reduce mild acne scarring and hyperpigmentation (especially when done with chemical peels). Dermatologists also use microdermabrasion to improve the results gained from other topical products (anti-aging, anti-acne, bleaching agents) because microdermabrasion allows these products to penetrate the skin more easily.
How long will the procedure take?
In general, the procedure takes about 15-30 minutes to treat the entire face.
What will I need to do after microdermabrasion?
After the treatment, we will apply a moisturizer on your face. You may need to apply a moisturizer or other prescribed skin care products at home. We suggest using sunscreens to ensure the best possible results (remember, ultraviolet radiation from the sun causes wrinkles and dark spots).
Is there downtime?
There is generally no downtime or recovery period. However, some patients may develop some redness of swelling, usually subsiding within a day. A few patients can experience bruising, burning, stinging, or become sensitive to sun exposure. These will go away without treatment, and will often resolve in two days.
How often should I do microdermabrasion?
Microdermabrasion treats only the top layer of the skin, so the skin recovers quickly. We usually suggest a series of treatments for optimal results. I recommend microdermabrasions at least once a month for a deep exfoliation. As I mentioned, monthly treatments can also help your skin care products penetrate deeper in the skin, making them more effective.
What is the difference between microdermabrasion and a chemical peel?
Microdermabrasion is a physical type of exfoliation. On the other hand, chemical peels as the name describes is a chemical type of exfoliation, where peeling solutions are applied to the skin. Chemical peels are not only good for exfoliation, but also for collagen stimulation (e.g scars or anti-aging), acne or oil control, and pigmentary improvements (melasma and other hyperpigmentations).
Chemical peels are typically a single acid or combination of acids such as salicylic, glycolic, lactic, and trichloroacetic acid. There are many types of acids used in different combinations and strengths to achieve different results. I usually recommend chemical peels for treating fine lines, wrinkles, pigmentation issues, active acne, and acne scarring. It is best to consult a board-certified dermatologist when choosing between the two procedures, although I often use both in conjunction when the patients are eligible.
Dr. Mara Evangelista-Huber