Marketed as a non-surgical, safe and even relaxing way to get glowing skin, the traditional method most commonly blasts aluminum oxide crystals to sand the skin, and then suctions up the exfoliated dead cells and crystals with a vacuum.
But leading experts in the industry now warn of the potential dangers and side effects of the aluminum oxide crystals of yesterday, and say that a new generation of microdermabrasion technology has the potential to exfoliate the skin more safely and effectively.
"Microdermabrasion can be viewed as a medical treatment, even though it can be received in non-medical settings, and in some cases, post-treatment reactions are more intense. Some complications we read about were intense redness, infections, streaking from pressure on the probe, and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation," says P&G senior scientist Laura Goodman, who recently studied available methods of microdermabrasion on the market while creating a product for skincare brand DDF.
And as anyone who has had microdermabrasion knows, the aluminum oxide crystals often scatter haphazardly into hair, lashes and ears -- which is not only bothersome, but possibly a health danger too.
"Crystals can cause irritation to the skin and eye exposure can cause corneal scratches and abrasions. Inhalation of the crystals and specifically the powder from the crystals can result in lung irritation and asthma exacerbation, which is more of a health concern for the professional administering the treatments," says Dr. Matthew Schulman, assistant professor of plastic surgery at New York's Mount Sinai School of Medicine.
There is also a safety concern for both moms-to-be and new moms.
"Aluminum oxide exposure has not been studied in child development and should therefore be avoided during pregnancy and breastfeeding," advises Dr. Schulman.
Controversial links between aluminum in personal care products and increased rates of Alzheimer's disease and breast and prostate cancer are currently being studied, though the FDA says there is no conclusive evidence that would warrant regulation of products containing aluminum at the present time.
Two promising options have emerged in both the professional and at-home skincare market, that claim the same or better results without the baggage and possible side effects that come with aluminum oxide crystals.
For professionals, the Pristine Diamond Peel machine by Viora features a new generation diamond tip that exfoliates skin without the use of any crystals. The tips come in different levels of coarseness, so treatment can be customized to the patient's skin type or to specific areas of the face.
StyleList recommends you chose a skilled and experienced professional if you go this route, as diamond tips can be abrasive if not used by experienced hands. Dr. Schulman uses the Pristine machine in his own office with much success.
"I truly believe that this crystal-free system is far superior to the traditional crystal systems. There is less irritation, it is safe during pregnancy and breastfeeding, and there is none of the annoying residual crystals in hair, nose and ears that can persist for days. Also, this system allows treatment of the sensitive areas around the eye without fear of eye injury," says Dr. Schulman.
For at-home use, DDF just launched the Revolve 400X Micro-Polishing System -- which StyleList recently covered.
Instead of scraping the skin, the DDF handheld device uses the science of energy transfer by way of a continuous rotating motion. Gentler sodium bicarbonate crystals produce a warming sensation when mixed with water on the skin, and dissolve away with the rotating action for skin resurfacing that still produces results.
The machine differs from others on the market not only because of the type of crystals it uses, but also in the rotating motion. Other hand-held devices use back-and-forth, filing, or vibrating motions, which DDF claims they did not find as effective in studies as rotation.
"When I showed the Revolve 400X Micro-Polisher to my husband, he said it looked like we had been stealing ideas from some of the tools in his workshop. I told him it wasn't 'stealing,' but that it was ingenious reapplication of a very effective technology!" Goodman tells StyleList.
DDF recommends their at-home treatment twice a week for optimal results, whereas professional sessions with a machine like the Pristine are typically used every four to six weeks. Because of the higher cost of a professional session, many consumers enjoy the benefits seasonally as a skin pick-me-up.
And when it comes to microdermabrasion, too much is not a good thing; using treatments more often than instructed can have the adverse effect of skin irritation and abrasions, no matter what form you use.
Extra sun protection care should also always be taken after treatments, as such a deep exfoliation leaves fresh skin more vulnerable to the damaging rays of the sun.
But which sunscreen to pick? Check out our gallery of the newest sunscreen breakthroughs for today's brightest ideas.