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What Is a Microdermabrasion?

Why Microdermabrasions Are the Best Exfoliating Treatments For Your Skin

I am a really boring beauty editor. I don't get Botox, fillers, or any fancy cosmetic dermatology treatments (sorry, I can't give your mom a first-hand account of Fraxel). My hair is virgin, meaning I've never colored it. And my best tip for antiaging is to eat cleaner; because IMHO, beauty starts from within — as in the gut.

That said, there is one treatment I get every month at the dermatologists office, and that's a microdermabrasion. It takes about 15 minutes total, it's relaxing, and it leaves me with smooth, glowing skin. I'm talking about the type of face you only see a week after a facial or when you get back from a truly hypnotic vacation. And it garners me compliments from coworkers and family members.

If you're a beauty connoisseur, you're probably thinking, what?! It's so unexpectedly old-school. And if you've never heard of microderms, then you're probably also thinking, "what?" Let me answer your questions: to the former I prefer gentle, tried-and-tested treatments over trending, invasive ones. The photo above is not Photoshopped and features my true skin at 31. And to the latter, a microdermabrasion is a machine used to exfoliate the skin.

Let's get into the science! I interviewed my dermatologist, Dr. Amy Wechsler for a deeper analysis. She's actually the derm who worked with Chanel to create the brand's first ever fragrance-free face lotion, La Solution 10. And if you haven't used it you need to, because it will make your face feel velvety without any fragrance or irritating ingredients.

Dr. Wechsler explained what a microderm really does: "You gently remove all the dead cells on the top of the epidermis, which is called the stratum corneum. And in removing those cells all at once, it stimulates the cells beneath it to all renew at the same time. There are no chemicals involved, it's a mechanical treatment."

To help you decide if microderms are a suitable treatment for your skin, Dr. Wechsler broke down everything you need to know about them:

How your skin will look after a microderm:

"Skin will look smoother, more even. There will be more of a glow or a brightness to the skin. All those dead cells on the top can make your skin appear a bit dull or gray. After the microderm, you'll have an even skin tone without those dead, grayish cells on top."

Microderms vs. peels:

"I think microderms are the best, because there are no chemicals and there is no damage to the epidermis. I like chemical peels, but the main chemical peels that we use here are salicylic acid-based. Those are great if you are very acne prone or have active acne, because it calms it down. But peels are drying. When you do microdermabrasion, you're not drying someone's skin out or putting a chemical on their skin that stings. And it's relaxing — some people even fall asleep!"

Microderms vs. microneedling:

"I don't like microneedling. It tries to mimic what Fraxel laser does in making little micro openings down to the dermis; so that if you damage the dermis in tiny ways, it heals by laying down new collagen. Microneedling just doesn't make sense to me — I'm not really quite sure what the goal is. I don't think that it's been studied enough, and it's just this big fad that I'm not jumping on."

Who can get a microderm:

"It's really for everyone other than those who have chronic acne. Any skin tone, any ethnic group, men and women — it's really great in that way. It's not invasive, and it's safe. You can even do it during pregnancy, because there are no chemicals involved whatsoever. You can do it if you have a tan. I don't want people to have tans, but there are some procedures that you actually cannot do when you're tan, and this is not one of them."

Why acne-prone people should avoid it:

"I find that if you've got active acne, a microdermabrasion can stimulate it and make it a bit worse. There are some doctors who absolutely disagree with me and do microdermabrasion on purpose on their acne patients. I've seen those patients afterwards and they're worse."

When should you avoid them:

"Before the treatment, I don't want people to have just done a peel, microneedling, or laser. Skin should be untouched by other procedures for at least a week, if not two."

What to know about your skin after a microderm:

"Take care of your skin post-treatment by moisturizing and wearing sunscreen. After a microdermabrasion, the skin actually absorbs and accepts moisturizer or serum much better than if you didn't get one. So your skin can get like extra moisturized, and it lasts for a couple weeks. Since your face accepts moisture so well, it will feel smoother. Makeup artists love people who get microdermabrasions — they put primer or whatever on, it looks great."

How often you should get them:

"If you can do it once a month, that is the best. More frequently than once a month doesn't do anything. Many people don't have the luxury of going once a month. I certainly don't do mine once a month — I should — but I say that the minimum should be quarterly."

Where to get them:

"I love when people do it in a doctor's office, because then you know the instruments are sterile. If you're doing it somewhere else and they're using wands, I like people to be shown that the wand is in a sterile package. It's like when you get your nails done, and they have those sterile packages."

Why it's more than just a facial treatment:

"Getting a microdermabrasion feels good and it's relaxing. It doesn't hurt, and it doesn't sting. Your eyes are closed, and you're not on your phone. Someone is taking care of you, and I think that's such a good way to de-stress. It's 15 minutes once in a while, but it's so good for your brain and your cortisol levels to just take a little break. Whereas there are some procedures, that, because they hurt, don't give you that same relaxing, cortisol-dropping, stress-relieving feel."

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