At-Home Microdermabrasion Devices - Are They Worth It?

There are so many skincare products on the market that claim to offer Microdermabrasion; making it difficult to understand what the point of paying for an in-clinic treatment is. Especially with the pricey Microdermabrasion gadgets that are increasing in popularity.

So do these devices give you the same treatment and results as you would get in a clinic?

I've been trying out the hand-held, at-home microdermabrasion device, PMD Personal Microderm System (£135 from Dermacare Direct). I prefer, and usually use chemical exfoliators i.e. AHAs and retinol; but I wanted to give this a go as I have had in-clinic Microdermabrasion, so I was keen to see the difference.

The PMD Personal Microderm System consists of a hand-held device with different levels of exfoliating discs. It uses aluminum oxide crystals and vacuum suction to remove dead skin cells and exfoliate the skin; helping a number of skin complaints such as acne scarring and fine lines. Personally I liked this device and it's one of the best personal devices on the market (as it has that all important suction that so many 'Microdermabrasion' devices lack). It did help with some milia (tiny white bumps) on my face; however, it's important to note that I know quite a bit about skin care and I know what my skin can handle. I also know that this device isn't as powerful or effective as an in-clinic Microdermabrasion treatment.

My worry about the PMD Personal Microderm System, and other similar devices, comes when I think about people using it who don't have this understanding. If you have acne or a dark skin tone for example, it can be easy to cause quite serious damage to your skin if you use a Microdermabrasion device at all or just don't know what you are doing. Is it worth it just to save some money in seeing an in-clinic Microdermabrasion professional?

I also think that with major skin complaints such as scarring, you don't want to be tackling that yourself. Most people don't know how sensitive their own skin is and could end up causing more damage. I had a chat about at-home devices and all things Microdermabrasion with award-winning skin care expert and facialist Diane Nivern from the advanced skincare and medical aesthetics clinic the Diane Nivern Clinic in Manchester.

What is Microdermabrasion and how does it help the skin?

Microdermabrasion is a method of skin exfoliation. It's available as an in-clinic / in-salon treatment using loose crystals - usually super fine aluminium oxide or crystal-free diamond tipped microdermabrasion. The crystals are directed onto the skin's surface through a small aperture in a hand-piece tool. The handpiece is connected to the microdermabrasion machine with vacuum suction which "shoots" a steady flow of clean crystals onto the skin whilst simultaneously vacuuming the dead skin debris and used crystals off the skin (which are collected in a waste container).

What is the difference between at-home Microdermabrasion devices and in-clinic Microdermabrasion? Is it something you can do effectively at home with a gadget?

In the diamond tip method, the hand piece has reusable diamond dust encrusted tips of different levels of abrasiveness. In both methods the hand piece is stroked methodically across the skin. In medical microdermabrasion (i.e. in a clinic) the vacuum suction and flow force of the crystals can be adjusted from very gentle to more aggressive levels depending on the skin type and level of exfoliation and skin resurfacing needed. Beauty salon and home devices may not be adjustable.

Microdermabrasion physically exfoliates the upper most layers of dead skin cells. The combination of the exfoliation and the suction (of in-clinic medical microdermabrasion) stimulates blood flow in the skin. Depending on the intensity of the treatment the skin will respond as though there was a wound to heal. This results in smoother, firmer skin being produced.

At home microdermabrasion scrubs, pastes or devices will give surface exfoliation; but without the variable power and suction of an in-clinic treatment, you're not going to get the level of 'controlled injury' necessary to stimulate the body's natural collagen producing, wound healing response that will tighten pores, refine texture, smooth fine lines and fade hyperpigmentation.

Who is Microdermabrasion suitable for?

Microdermabrasion is suitable for most skin types. It can help improve problems such as rough skin, dry skin, blackheads, whiteheads / milia, fine lines and wrinkles, sun damage issues such as solar keratosis (scaly freckles), thickened acne scarring, red or brown pigmented acne blemishes and superficial pigmentation. Body issue such as stretch marks and goosebumps (keratosis pilaris) benefit from the treatment too.

The main exception is someone with active acne - they should not be treated as the bacteria in the pores will be exposed and transferred to unaffected areas and prolong the acne infection. Also, clients with olive, brown or black skin need to seek expert advise on microdermabrasion as aggressive treatment can induce an undesirable level of inflammation that could cause post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (brown patches) which would need very careful treatment to resolve. Clients with thin, fragile or sensitive skins and those prone to redness and broken veins should be careful too and not try aggressive microdermabrasion.

Treatment should always be followed up with hydrating, soothing serums and moisturisers with broad spectrum SPF 25-50. These should be used daily and clients should avoid other exfoliators (AHA's or retinols) for a few days afterwards. Avoid strenuous exercise, saunas and swimming for 48 hours also.

The PMD Microderm System does come with safety instructions and detailed guidelines, but I still don't think that it's for the general beauty consumer; which is who it markets itself to. It also isn't a way to save money on Microdermabrasion - if you have a serious skin complaint (that isn't just my small amount of milia), you need to consult with a professional to get advice on how best to tackle it. Medical-grade, in-clinic Microdermabrasion (that requires training and qualifications to perform) exists for a reason.