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How Does Microdermabrasion Work?

Crystal Microdermabrasion, Diamond Microdermabrasion, and How They Work


Updated April 28, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Microdermabrasion is a popular cosmetic procedure because it works on both the outer layer of the skin (called the epidermis) as well as the deep layer of the skin (the dermis).

There are two basic types of microdermabrasion - crystal microdermabrasion and diamond microdermabrasion. They both offer similar benefits, but the mechanism between the two is different.

Crystal Microdermabrasion

Crystal microdermabrasion, sometimes called microcrystal dermabrasion, is the form of microdermabrasion that originally came to the United States from Europe. It is still the most popular type of microdermabrasion.

During a treatment, super-fine crystals are sent from a receptacle on the microdermabrasion machine, through a tube, and to a glass or stainless steel wand. Via the wand, the crystals are sprayed over the skin (think of it as controlled sandblasting).

The crystals and exfoliated skin particles are simultaneously vacuumed away through the same wand. Used crystals are sent to a second receptacle on the machine, and are discarded after the procedure.

Aluminum oxide (corundum) crystals are typically used, because they are nearly as hard as diamonds. Magnesium oxide, sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), and even sodium chloride (salt) crystals are sometimes used as well.

Diamond Microdermabrasion

Diamond microdermabrasion is a newer procedure, but one that is quickly gaining popularity as a crystal-free microdermabrasion option.

Instead of using crystals to exfoliate the skin, a wand with a diamond-encrusted tip is passed over the skin. The diamond tip abrades the skin and, like the crystal version, the exfoliated particles are then vacuumed away through the same wand.

Effects of Microdermabrasion

Both forms of microdermabrasion work similarly. The skin is deeply exfoliated by the crystals or the diamond tip, so it feels softer and smoother immediately after treatment. The exfoliation also helps reduce the formation of comedones and brightens the complexion.

The suction aspect of the treatment is as vital as the exfoliation itself (it isn’t just helpful in sucking away exfoliated skin.) Called negative pressure in pro-speak, the suction stimulates the dermis, causing a remodeling process to occur.

Microdermabrasion triggers a wound response in the skin. As the skin repairs itself, it becomes thicker, smoother, more elastic, and looks healthier as a result.

Some people prefer diamond microdermabrasion because of the lack of crystals. Breathing in aluminum oxide crystals can be irritating, and can cause short-term breathing problems.

Because the microdermabrasion wand forms a closed loop system, the crystals are generally being suctioned back into the machine and not spraying out into the air to be inhaled. Good practitioners limit their clients' exposure to the crystals, so don’t let this scare you away from having a treatment done.

Video: See a Microdermabrasion Treatment


Freedman Bruce, Rueda-Pedraza E, Waddell S. "The Epidermal and Dermal Changes Associated with Microdermabrasion." Dermatologic Surgery 27 (2001):1031-1034.

Karimipour DJ, Kang S, Johnson TM, Orringer JS, Hamilton T, Hammerberg C, Voorhees JJ, Fisher G. "Microdermabrasion with and without aluminum oxide crystal abrasion: a comparative molecular analysis of dermal remodeling." J Am Acad Dermatol. 2006 Mar;54(3):405-10. Epub 2006 Jan 23.

Kim HS, Lim SH, Song JY, Kim MY, Lee JH, Park JG, Kim HO, Park YM. "Skin barrier function recover after diamond microdermabrasion." J Dermatol. 2009 Oct;36(10):529-33.

Rajan P, Grimes PE. 'Skin barrier changes induced by aluminum oxide and sodium chloride microdermabrasion." Dermatol Surg. 2002 May;28(5):390-3.

Shpall R, Beddingfield FC, Watson D, Lask GP. "Microdermabrasion: a review." Facial Plast Surg. 2004; 20(1):47-50.

Related Video
See a Microdermabrasion Treatment
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