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What Is the Difference Between Dermabrasion and Microdermabrasion?

Reviewed on 11/17/2020

What do dermabrasion and microdermabrasion mean?

Dermabrasion treats deeper layers of skin compared to microdermabrasion.
Dermabrasion treats deeper layers of skin compared to microdermabrasion.

Dermabrasion is a skin-resurfacing procedure. In this procedure, your dermatologist (skin doctor) or plastic surgeon sands your skin with a special rotating instrument and removes the outer layer of your skin. The skin that grows back is usually smoother. It makes your skin look newer, younger and smoother. It may reduce the appearance of fine lines, sun damage, acne scars, surgical scars, age spots, wrinkles and uneven texture. 

Microdermabrasion is a minimally invasive procedure performed by non-medical professionals. In this procedure, tiny exfoliating crystals are sprayed on to your skin with a special applicator with an abrasive surface to gently sand away the thick outer layer of your skin and renew and rejuvenate the overall skin tone and texture. It may improve the appearance of your dull skin by lightening brown spots, sun damage, wrinkles, fine lines, age spots, acne scars, melasma and other skin-related concerns.

What is the difference between dermabrasion and microdermabrasion?

Microdermabrasion should not be confused with dermabrasion. They are different procedures due to the following details

  • Procedure: Dermabrasion is a more invasive technique that is performed by skin specialists or plastic surgeons under local or general anesthesia. However, microdermabrasion is a non-surgical, non-invasive, painless technique that is usually performed by non-medical professionals who do not need any specific expertise. 
  • Instruments: A special rotating instrument is used in dermabrasion. Microdermabrasion is performed with a combination of fine abrasive tips, crystals and vacuum suction that is applied to your skin.
  • Mechanism: Dermabrasion produces controlled skin damage involving the deeper layers of the skin. The subsequent wound heals with a scar that is cosmetically better. Dermabrasion may cause substantial changes in the appearance of your skin by injuring it in a controlled way using an abrasive. However, the microdermabrasion technique affects only the outermost dull layer of your skin that is composed of dead horny cells that shed off and produce transient changes.
  • Scope of treatment: Dermabrasion mostly treats deeper scars such as acne scars, pockmarks, age spots and scars from accidents or disease. However, with microdermabrasion, facial skin and skin elsewhere on the body can be treated. Microdermabrasion is good for all skin types and colors, whereas dermabrasion is only prescribed for people with lighter or fairer skin tones.
  • Anesthesia: During dermabrasion, your doctor numbs your skin with local anesthesia and, occasionally, you may receive intravenous sedation or general anesthesia, depending on the extent of your treatment. However, no needles or anesthetics are required for microdermabrasion.
  • During the procedure: During dermabrasion, an abrasive high-speed rotating device, such as a wire brush or diamond-encrusted wheel or even abrasive screening, is applied to your skin depending on the location and area of treatment. In microdermabrasion, tiny crystals are sprayed or rubbed with sufficient force to dislodge superficial skin cells without damaging the deeper layers of your skin.
  • Postoperative care: Dermabrasion is a more aggressive procedure than microdermabrasion and it removes more wrinkles and scars efficiently. Unlike microdermabrasion, dermabrasion may cause bleeding. The wound produced by dermabrasion is like any other wound and must be kept clean and moist. A postoperative dressing may be required after the procedure. Because microdermabrasion does not produce a wound, there are no postoperative issues apart from temporary mild redness and swelling.
  • Recovery: After dermabrasion, your doctor will instruct you to apply petroleum jelly on the wound surface frequently. The skin will be sensitive and discolored for some weeks and may require about three months to return to normal. However, microdermabrasion resolves without any downtime. Healing usually occurs within 10 days and redness may subside after two to six weeks.
  • Insurance: Insurance coverage is not available for either of these procedures because they are almost always cosmetic.

What are the benefits of dermabrasion?

If you have a fair skin, dermabrasion may help to reduce 

Dermabrasion is not recommended for 

  • Skin defects present since birth, including moles
  • Pigmented birthmarks
  • Burn scars
  • Darker skin (causes scarring and discoloration)

If you have recently been treated with Accutane (isotretinoin), you must avoid it for six months.

What are the benefits of microdermabrasion?

  • Painless, noninvasive and nonsurgical
  • Does not require any anesthesia
  • Safe for most people
  • Does not damage your skin
  • Does not cause any skin color changes or scarring
  • Requires less downtime compared with dermabrasion
  • Skin recovers within 24 hours
  • Useful for those who want faster healing

Dermabrasion is not appropriate for you if you have deeper skin problems such as scars, stretch marks, wrinkles, deep acne scars or active skin diseases such as acne.

What are the risks of dermabrasion and microdermabrasion?

Dermabrasion may cause

  • Redness and swelling
  • Acne 
  • Enlarged pores
  • Changes in skin color (common with dark skin)
  • Infections
  • Scarring
  • Hypertrophic scars (raised, red and itchy scars)
  • Other skin reactions

Microdermabrasion may cause mild inflammation and temporary swelling.

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References
Medscape Medical Reference

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