Microdermabrasion for stubborn acne

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. Every time I find something that works it only last for ten to 14 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.


Dear ShortStack,  

You may be fed up with your acne, but hopefully there’s 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 12 percent of 25-year-old individuals assigned female at birth. Microdermabrasion is one of several skin treatments that are available to address acne (with differing degrees of success), and several other procedures are still being researched.  

Procedures such as chemical peels and microdermabrasion are traditionally used to lessen the appearance of fine lines, sun damage, and minor facial scars and can also be helpful in reducing the signs of acne. Microdermabrasion is one of the most common, non-surgical procedures performed in the United States and uses mechanical abrasion to gently remove the outermost layer of the skin. The procedure helps to control acne by reducing the amount of oil on the skin, reducing the appearance of large pores, and cleaning out clogged pores. Dermatologists can perform this procedure in a clinical setting, or you can seek out a licensed skincare professional at your local spa. While microdermabrasion is minimally invasive, having a dermatologist perform the procedure may reduce the risk of side effects. A few more considerations to keep in mind are that the procedure:  

  • Works best when used for superficial scars and is ineffective at reducing the appearance of deep scars or marks on the skin.  
  • Often requires multiple treatments for the best results (typically a commitment to a series of 5 to 16 treatments is necessary).  
  • Is low risk and has a rapid recovery time (treatments can be repeated in short intervals).  
  • Isn't recommended for people who have an active herpes infection, malignant skin tumors, skin that scars easily, or are currently using or recently have used isotretinoin. 
  • May cause skin pigmentation changes if you have darker skin.  

If you do decide to proceed with microdermabrasion, you can expect the procedure to be quick and simple. Most treatment sessions last around 30 minutes but can take up to 60 minutes. The procedure can either be performed by propelling crystals (the most common is aluminum oxide) at the skin or using a diamond-tipped wand for those with allergies to abrasive crystals. Skin debris is then vacuumed away, along with any crystals depending on the method used. The experience is generally painless and doesn’t require anesthesia, with many people describing the sensation as scratching and vibrations akin to a massage. As for the cost, it depends on where you get the treatment and who performs it. It may be helpful to ask about pricing ahead of time so you can factor that into any decision making.  

Following the procedure, the skin may be pink or red and slightly swollen; more severe complications may include bruising, stinging, or extreme sensitivity to sunlight, but these complications usually heal or go away on their own. Most people describe their skin as smoother and more radiant, but it’s worth noting that the results are temporary and require follow-up treatments for maintenance. However, these results can last longer with adequate sun protection (which is a good habit with or without the procedure!) and adherence to a recommended skincare routine.

Last updated Mar 12, 2021
Originally published Dec 07, 2007

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