Microdermabrasion for stubborn acne

Originally Published: December 7, 2007 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: April 7, 2014
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Dear Alice,

I am a 21 year old woman who has been dealing with acne for over ten years now. I have used almost every OTC and quite a few prescriptions that are available. Everytime I find something that works it only last for ten to14 months and then quits completely. I was wondering if maybe microdermabrasion would work? I don't know what it is though and have heard that it is pretty pricey. Or are there other procedures available? It is hard for me to deal with my acne because I am usually the only woman on most construction sites and don't wear makeup to work because it would only cause more acne. I would really appreciate any help or information you can send out.

Thanks.
ShortStack

Dear ShortStack,

You may be fed up with your acne, but take comfort in the fact that you're not the only one!  Acne affects 85 to 100 percent of people at some point in their lives, and it continues to be an issue for about twelve percent of women who are 25 years old. Several skin treatments are available (with differing degrees of success for different people) and several other procedures are still being researched.

Some cosmetic procedures that are traditionally used to lessen the appearance of fine lines, sun damage, and minor facial scars can also be helpful in reducing the signs of acne, including such procedures as chemical peels and microdermabrasion. Microdermabrasion uses crystals under pressure to remove dead or damaged layers of skin. The crystals and skin debris are then vacuumed away. Microdermabrasion helps to control acne by reducing the amount of oil on the skin, reducing the appearance of large pores, and cleaning out clogged pores. A few things to keep in mind are that microdermabrasion:

  • Works best when used for superficial scars and is ineffective at reducing the appearance of deep scars or marks on the skin.
  • Will require multiple treatments for the best results (typically a commitment to a series of five to twelve treatments is necessary).
  • As surgical procedures go, this is low risk and has a rapid recovery time (treatments can be repeated in short intervals), does not require anesthesia (is painless), and is quick and simple to perform.
  • Should not be done if you have an active herpes infection, malignant skin tumors, skin that scars easily, or if you currently or recently have used Accutane.
  • May cause skin pigmentation changes if you have darker skin

The cost of these procedures depends on where you get the treatment and on who performs it. Prices do vary. But before moving ahead, it's a good idea to talk with your health care provider about microdermabrasion (or any of the other procedures mentioned above) to see if you are a good candidate for the procedure. If you are a student at Columbia you can contact Medical Services (Morningside Campus) or the Student Health Service (CUMC) to make an appointment with a health care provider.

For many people the old soap and water routine is sufficient to clean away the dirt, oil, and dead skin cells that aggravate acne. However, others need a more intensive skin care regimen to clear up those pesky zits. In addition to washing your face twice a day, and avoiding picking at all costs, you may try (or you may have already tried) some of these available treatments:

  • Retinoids (like Accutane) which are applied to the skin for their anti-inflammatory effects.
  • Benzoyl peroxide products (available in soap, washes, lotions, cream and gel forms) which are effective against some of the forms of bacteria that contribute to acne flare ups.
  • Salicylic acid products (available in face washes, lotions, gels) which helps keep pores from becoming clogged.
  • Antibiotics (that are sometimes taken orally and sometimes applied directly to the skin).
  • Some birth control pills also help to reduce acne. 

Some newer laser and light therapies are still being researched and may be worth discussing with your health care provider:

  • Blue Light Therapy — a low intensity blue light is believed to destroy some bacteria that contribute to acne.
  • Pulsed Light and Heat Energy Therapy — believed to decrease oil production.
  • Diode Laser Treatment — can destroy oil glands in deeper layers of the skin. 

Finally, you may want to consider using a couple different treatments at the same time to see if a combination of treatments gives you better, or longer-lasting, results. Best of luck!

Alice