Each week, Health and Beauty Expert Sue Chung will discuss skin health topics suggested by members of the HealthCentral community. To ask Sue a question, send an email to email@example.com or leave a comment below.
Reader's Question: I really want to try an at-home microdermabrasion kit, but I'm concerned that I might irritate my skin. Can these products cause any damage?
Sue's Response: In the late 1990s, microdermabrasion crossed the Atlantic. Originally a hot European spa treatment, facialists began using the treatment on the famous faces of celebrities such as Madonna and Jennifer Lopez. Soon, the trend turned into an all-out obsession. As demand grew, companies started releasing at-home microdermabrasion kits for those of us who can't afford to shell out hundreds of dollars for a single treatment.
Why are they so popular? Let's take a look at how microdermabrasion affects our skin. The outermost layer of the epidermis, known as the stratum corneum, is made up mostly of dead skin cells. The entire epidermis replaces itself every two weeks, but the rigors of daily exposure can still make the stratum corneum appear dull and dry. In addition, it can be difficult for lotions to penetrate through this outer layer. When we apply a microdermabrasion treatment, it not only removes this damaged layer of skin, but it also encourages the skin to replace those cells with a newer, plumper layer.
These days, you can walk into any drugstore in the country and find the cosmetics shelves lined with DIY microdermabrasion kits. Most at-home microdermabrasion kits include two products: An exfoliation cream and a moisturizing cream. Some products simply treat the exfoliation cream as a scrub that you can apply with your hands. Others come with a battery-operated sponge buffer, eliminating the need for any elbow grease. Removing even a thin layer of your skin results in a loss of moisture, so be sure to use a lotion or cream (it doesn't necessarily have to be the one included in the kit) after you finish.
Some critics claim that overuse of microdermabrasion products can cause anything from irritation and redness to rosacea. However, most at-home microdermabrasion systems are far gentler than your average facial scrubs. The microcrystals featured in these exfoliation creams are much smaller than the granules commonly found in a scrub like St. Ives' Apricot Scrub. Because of their small size, these exfoliating crystals are much gentler on the skin.
Dermatologists and/or facialists often perform microdermabrasion with a vacuum, which carries an increased risk of irritating the skin, but at-home kits do not use this tool. Most at-home microdermabrasion systems recommend daily use for the first week, discontinuing use for the second, and then maintaining results by using the treatment once or twice a week.
One that I've tried (with excellent results) is the DermaNew system, which also boasts a long list of high-profile celebrity fans. Each time I use this product, my face feels surprisingly soft and my pores shrink temporarily. The effects can last anywhere from two to four days.