SURFACE FEATURES: Microdermabrasion kits can be cheaper than professional… (Arne Trautmann / iStockphoto )
There's A whole lot of sanding, planing and buffing going on -- in bathrooms coast to coast. The work isn't to improve the home, but the skin, through the magic of over-the-counter microdermabrasion kits.
At a cost of $10 to $200, the home kits are considerably cheaper than the $100 to $200 a client would shell out for a single in-office microdermabrasion session. And no appointment is necessary. But how do the kits compare with the real thing -- and with each other?
When performed in a health facility or aesthetician's office, microdermabrasion involves scraping off the top layer of dead skin cells, known as the stratum corneum, with a wand-like device that either abrades the skin with a roughened surface or blasts abrasive crystals, such as aluminum oxide, onto the skin. A vacuum device sucks up the debris as the exfoliation goes along.
Professional microdermabrasion, which has been widely available in the U.S. since the late 1990s, takes about 30 minutes and usually requires four to 12 sessions -- spaced a few weeks apart -- for best results.
"The medical-grade microdermabrasion procedure works by producing micro-trauma or gentle exfoliation to the outermost surface of the skin to remove surface debris," says Dr. Joseph Greco, a dermatologist at UCLA's Dermatologic Surgery and Laser Center. That debris includes oil, dust and dead cells that can clog pores and create roughness. In removing that top layer of skin, microdermabrasion can also reduce the appearance of brown spots, acne scars, fine wrinkles and large facial pores.
Home kits now offer a cheap, convenient and gentle alternative to a professional session. They don't penetrate as deeply into the skin surface as medical-grade microdermabrasion, and that's both a plus and a minus -- almost no side effects but subtler results.
"With continued use, you can get an improvement in fine wrinkling, mottling and brown spots, and you can mildly affect acne scarring," says Dr. Justine Park, assistant professor of clinical dermatology at USC and director of pediatric dermatology at Childrens Hospital Los Angeles.
The only real downside to the kits is that some people may tend to overuse them, scrubbing too much or using them too often, says Dr. Sonia Badreshia-Bansal, a San Francisco-area dermatologist in private practice. Fortunately, those who overdo generally figure it out pretty fast.
Says Park: "Typically, you start feeling pain."
The kits can also exacerbate certain skin conditions, such as acne, rosacea or eczema, and they are not recommended for anyone with an active bacterial or viral infection in the treatment area, such as warts or fever blisters. Microdermabrasion can worsen or spread the infection.
Medically, there isn't a lot of difference between the cheaper kits and the expensive ones, says Greco. The more expensive ones tend to have nicer hand-held devices and more elegantly packaged creams and moisturizers.
He urges users to keep in mind that the devices are not regulated and, in the end, it might be wiser to consider all your options. "If you're going to spend $200 on an over-the-counter product," says Greco, "I would sooner spend a little less than that to consult with a dermatologist" to get a broader range of options, which would include various types of laser treatment.
We tested three kits purchased online and in drugstores against an office visit, and here's what we found. Note, these impressions were based on just a few uses of the products.
--Nova Skin Care System
Review: Although the directions were easy to follow, this was the most complicated of the three at-home sessions, with several phases of treatment required. The applicator, which purrs with sonic ferocity, was a little wide to hold comfortably, was noticeably stronger than its at-home brethren and caused a slight stinging, even on a low setting. Without question, the Nova polished the skin more effectively than the Neutrogena and Dove systems.
Cost: $199.80. Includes a battery-operated, three-speed applicator; 20 reusable microfiber applicator pads; washable mesh bag for laundering the pads; a cleanser; exfoliator gel; and moisturizer. The device vibrates at 1,000 to 2,000 cycles per second. That's a lot. www.novaskincare.com.
Neutrogena Advanced Solutions
Review: The device worked well and was easy to use. It wasn't overly harsh on either speed and left a smooth feel that can't be had with regular washing. But the crystals were gritty and hard to wash off. Unlike the Nova, the applicator lacked an automatic shut-off. The pad is reusable and seems to last quite awhile.
Cost: $39.79. Includes a battery-operated, two-speed applicator; two removable foam heads; and cream. The applicator vibrates at 70 to 86 revolutions per second. www.neutrogena.com/advanced solutions/product_mda.asp.
Review: Great value for the price. The exfoliation was gentler but left the skin feeling less polished than the exfoliation provided by the Neutrogena and Nova systems.