Looking for a real glow-up? Here's everything you need to know about microdermabrasion, the quick and easy treatment pros say can improve skin's tone and texture, stat.

By Melanie Rud Chadwick
November 15, 2019
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While microdermabrasion may not be the newest beauty treatment on the block—it's been around for more than 30 years—it still remains one of the most popular and sought after. And there are good reasons why. The minimally-invasive service is quick, easy, and relatively inexpensive, yet can still yield impressive results when it comes to improving the tone and texture of your skin.

Ahead, experts weigh in on what it is, how it works, and what you should know before you book an appointment. (For at-home treatments: The 9 Best At-Home Microdermabrasion Products for Your Glowiest Complexion Ever)

Young woman receiving facial microdermabrasion treatment
Gregor Bister/Getty Images

What is microdermabrasion?

Microdermabrasion is basically an amped-up skin sloughing: The treatment is a form of very thorough exfoliation that physically removes some of the outermost cells on the surface of your skin, says New York-based dermatologist Nava Greenfield, M.D. The procedure is typically done in a dermatologist's office or as a part of a professional facial.

There are two different types of microdermabrasion: crystal and diamond. Both involve the use of a small, hand-held wand (more on that in a minute), but the methods are different.

Diamond microdermabrasion uses a wand with a tip covered in, you guessed it, crushed diamonds, and the gritty texture buffs off dead skin, explains Elina Fedotova, a celebrity esthetician and founder of Elina Organics Spas and Skincare. With crystal microdermabrasion, the wand sprays ultra-fine crystals onto the skin to remove dead cells, she adds. Think of it as the difference between using sandpaper on a surface versus sandblasting it—while results are comparable, crystal microdermabrasion can be slightly more intense. However, in both cases, the microdermabrasion machine also uses a vacuum to suck up the dead skin that's been removed, as well as the sprayed particles in the case of crystal microdermabrasion. (Related: 5 Affordable Treatments That Minimize Skin Blemishes)

What are the benefits of microdermabrasion?

"Microdermabrasion improves and smooths the texture of the skin and reduces discoloration for a more even tone," says Fedotova. The suction aspect can also help unclog pores, and because the treatment stimulates blood flow, it generally leaves skin looking healthier and more glowy. It's also a good option for those who are acne-prone, since it's great for helping to clear out whiteheads or blackheads, and can also reduce the appearance of acne scars by helping to smooth out the skin, says New York-based dermatologist Sapna Palep, M.D. Pretty much everyone is a good candidate for microdermabrasion with the exception of people with rosacea, which may find it to be too intense, says Fedotova. (Related: The 11 Best Blackhead Removers, According to a Skin Expert)

How is microdermabrasion different from other skin-care procedures?

While microdermabrasion often gets lumped into the same category as dermaplaning and microneedling, don't conflate the three. Dermaplaning, largely meant to remove peach fuzz, is another form of manual exfoliation, but this involves the use of a sterile scalpel that's passed over the skin in a scraping motion, says Dr. Palep. It removes dead cells, yes, but isn't as deep of an exfoliation as microdermabrasion.

Microneedling is in a bit of a different category altogether. In this case, itty-bitty needles penetrate deeper into the skin, creating microscopic zones of injury, with the ultimate goal being to promote collagen production, she adds. It's more of an anti-aging procedure that works deeper within the skin, rather than delivering the surface benefits you get with microdermabrasion. (Related: The 11 Best Anti-Aging Serums, According to Dermatologists)

What's it like to get a microdermabrasion treatment?

Quick and painless. "The provider will typically move the wand from the center of the face, outward, toward the ears, and may focus a bit more on any scarred or discolored areas," explains Fedotova. Still, you won't experience any discomfort and the whole thing should only take a few minutes. Plus, it won't cost you a fortune: The average cost of a microdermabrasion treatment is $131, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.

How do you care for your skin after microdermabrasion?

One of the best things about microdermabrasion is that recovery is minimal. "There's no real downtime with microdermabrasion, so it's a great option that you can even do during lunchtime," says Dr. Greenfield. You'll want to be gentle with your skin afterward, focusing on using soothing and nourishing products, adds Fedotova. Also worth noting: Your skin will be more sensitive to the sun for three to five days post-procedure, so be extra diligent about using sunscreen during this time, advises Fedotova. (See: The Best Sunscreen for Your Face for Every Type of Skin, According to Amazon Shoppers)

Can you do microdermabrasion at home?

There are a good amount of at-home microdermabrasion products ranging from scrubs to tools. Still, as with most DIY options, the results aren't going to be quite at the same level as what you'd get if you see a pro. "At-home microdermabrasion products and tools also exfoliate the skin in a similar way but are by no means as powerful as their in-office counterpart," says Dr. Palep. And most of the at-home tools also lack the important suction component, she adds.

While it may not technically be called a microdermabrasion tool, Dr. Greenfield has previously recommended the Clarisonic Mia Smart Anti-Aging and Cleansing Skincare Device (Buy It, $169, sephora.com), because it effectively exfoliates and is gentle enough for those with sensitive skin to use daily. If you're looking for something more affordable that's going to exfoliate and suck up dead skin, try the Krasr Comedo Suction Microdermabrasion Machine (Buy It, $35 $100amazon.com), which also helps to free your pores of blackheads.

While these at-home tools can be a good way to ease into the world of microdermabrasion or to use in between professional appointments, they're not equivalent to the real deal. Speak to your dermatologist or go-to esthetician about microdermabrasion and if it's right for you.

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