What Microdermabrasion Can & Can't Do For Your Skin

When it comes to skincare treatments and procedures that promise perfection, the options can seem endless. No matter what you want to change or correct about your skin, there's a dermatologist out there with the answer. One of the less invasive procedures that promises a youthful glow is microdermabrasion which is basically an exfoliation session on steroids — in a good way!

"If you take the word apart, micro means small; derm is short for dermis and means skin; and abrasion means the process of scraping away," board-certified dermatologist Dendy Engelman, MD tells Byrdie. "So, if you put it together, it literally means the process in which you use instruments to create microscopic abrasions in the skin to remove the thicker top layer of the skin."

According to a 2023 study published in StatPearls, microdermabrasion is the process of stripping the stratum corneum (the outermost layer of skin), in turn reducing the visibility of scars (including those from acne), as well as discoloration like melasma and sun damage. The side effects of a typical procedure are minimal and usually consist of redness and a bit of swelling. In some cases, there can be slight bruising. But while microdermabrasion can be a great asset in your skincare routine, it's important to have realistic expectations. This means knowing what it can and can't do for your skin.

It can give you smoother, brighter skin

Because microdermabrasion removes the top layer of skin cells, effectively getting rid of all the dead stuff that can live on your epidermis, the most immediate noticeable benefit of the procedure is a smoother complexion. This is because this process of inducing "trauma" to the epidermis prompts it to rebuild itself with new cells, resulting in a brighter appearance.

But that's not the only benefit. Some studies have found the deep exfoliation process also triggers the skin to start producing more collagen. In case you need a reminder, collagen is an important fiber that gives the skin a youthful appearance. However, aging, as well as external factors like exposure to the sun and pollution, and poor lifestyle choices (smoking, for example), decrease collagen and elasticity, contributing to dryness, saggy skin, and wrinkles. For this reason, American Society of Plastic Surgeons highlights microdermabrasion as a popular choice for those looking to firm the appearance of skin and minimize fine lines.

Although results may vary from person to person, Cleveland Clinic points out that microdermabrasion is a cumulative process, meaning that the more you repeat the process, the better your results get. With each treatment, you're likely to see increased changes like the diminishing of small scars, fine lines, facial discoloration, and even smaller pore size. 

But it's not the most effective treatment for deep scars

Despite the many benefits of microdermabrasion, it's important to remember it can't perform magic. "Microdermabrasion should not be expected to treat deep wrinkles, dark brown spots, broken blood vessels, red skin, or precancerous skin spots," board-certified dermatologist Melanie Palm, MD  tells Well + Good.  In fact, some experts recommend that those who want to achieve results for more complex skin issues look to more invasive treatment options, like chemical peels, lasers, or even traditional dermabrasion. The Skincare by L'OREAL notes that certain chemical peels in particular may be a better option for those looking to manage issues like acne because they can access deeper layers of the skin.

It's also worth noting the results of microdermabrasion aren't permanent. "It's good for getting a short-term glow," board-certified plastic surgeon Michele Shermak tells Allure. "But microdermabrasion is not terribly impactful over the long term. It's been surpassed by better options."

Still, microdermabrasion has its place. For people who aren't looking for epic changes, but still want a deeper physical exfoliation than what they can get at home, microdermabrasion is just right. It's also great for anyone who wants a noninvasive, semi-cost friendly skincare treatment with minimal downtime to maintain skin health.