By Marissa DeSantis
Exfoliation has become a bit of a skincare hot button issue. Thanks to harsh physical scrubs (we’re looking at you, crushed walnut shells) and super-strength at-home chemical exfoliants that can leave skin feeling raw and irritated, exfoliation has gotten a bit of a bad rap.
But Vanessa Hernandez, celebrity facialist and founder of the Los Angeles-based VH Skincare, believes that it’s actually vital when it comes to having good skin – you just have to find the right products. And the hero exfoliant for Vanessa is actually an in-office treatment called microdermabrasion.
“Our cells are turning over every day on our skin, and especially through the winter, we start to accumulate really dry cells that kind of stay latched under our skin,” explains Vanessa.
This build-up of dead cells can cause flaky skin, clogged pores, and an all-around dull and uneven complexion. That’s where microdermabrasion comes in – a does-it-all treatment that takes just 15 to 18 minutes with zero downtime, offering both short and long-term benefits.
“It’s a really good form of physical exfoliation that immediately reveals soft, baby-smooth skin by sloughing off the top layer of dead skin cells, and in the long-term, helps to smooth out fine lines and wrinkles, even out texture, improve blood circulation, and stimulate collagen production,” she says of microdermabrasion.
Ahead, Vanessa breaks down the two types of microdermabrasion, who can benefit most from the treatment, and why you should skip out on the at-home devices.
There are two types of microdermabrasion, which offer similar benefits, and are recommended to be performed by a professional every four to six weeks. “Dry microdermabrasion is like a vacuum cleaner for the skin, resurfacing the skin and sloughing away dead skin cells by sucking them through this tube,” Vanessa says. “Wet microdermabrasion is more similar to a carpet cleaner for your skin, scraping away the dead skin while infusing a targeted solution back into the pores,” she adds, describing it as a super-charged version of dry microdermabrasion.
Vanessa explains that both types of microdermabrasion use a diamond-tipped wand that provides a “very even and consistent flow of suction.” Dry and wet microdermabrasion resurface the skin while encouraging lymphatic drainage, improving blood circulation, and stimulating collagen, and they can even be used in conjunction (in fact, VH Skincare’s one-hour facial starts with dry microdermabrasion before following up with the wet microdermabrasion).
The main difference is that dry microdermabrasion offers precision when it comes to getting to the rounds of the eyes, corners of the nose, and behind the ear lobes, whereas wet microdermabrasion is more customizable as the infused solutions can be targeted for clarifying, brightening, hydrating, and anti-aging.
One of the reasons Vanessa likes microdermabrasion so much is because practically all skin types from the age of 18 to 50 can benefit from the treatment (think normal, dry, oil, or acne-prone).
However, it’s not entirely all-encompassing. “It’s not recommended as much for people with rosacea, eczema, or sensitive skin,” Vanessa says, adding that those in their 50s or older should also steer clear of the treatment. “The reason is, that even though the practitioner can turn the machine up and down, the suction could potentially cause broken capillaries for somebody with thinner, fragile, or sensitive skin.”
In the days leading up to your microdermabrasion, Vanessa says to avoid any Retin-A, retinol, or chemical exfoliation (all of the acids like salicylic, glycolic, and lactic). “We tell people that if you want a really good, strong microdermabrasion, avoid any Retin-A or any strong acids two to three days before,” Vanessa shares, further explaining, “If you’re doing a chemical exfoliation first and then you do the microdermabrasion very soon after, your skin can feel more sensitive and it can be more achy when you’re getting the treatment. You may have some downtime where you look like you have a sunburn for a little bit from over-exfoliating.”
During the treatment, Vanessa and her team begin with a gentle cleanser to remove any makeup or sunscreen, followed by VH Skincare’s own prep solution. “It has a little bit of witch hazel, which kills bacteria and removes any excess oil from the skin,” she says of the prep solution. “It also has a little AHA and BHA solution, which is alpha hydroxy acid and beta hydroxy acid, so it removes oil and gives you fresh skin to work on.”
After cleansing and prepping, VH Skincare’s mini facial (a 30-minute treatment) includes 15 to 18 minutes of microdermabrasion.
“We do the face, the neck, the ears and behind the ears, the whole decollete, the hands, and the elbows, and then we’ll put a gold mask on them,” Vanessa says.
She also adds that it’s important to restore hydration and nourish the skin immediately after microdermabrasion. Vanessa describes the microdermabrasion itself as a gentle suction, explaining that the practitioner follows a lymphatic pattern from the top of the face, around the corners of the cheeks, and down through the neck that helps to push out toxins.
There’s no downtime post-microdermabrasion treatment, but the resurfacing technique does make your skin more sensitive to the sun. That means you’ll want to avoid prolonged sun exposure immediately following the treatment, and wear a hat and sunscreen when you’re outside. Vanessa stresses the importance of wearing your SPF correctly by applying it just before you go outside and every two hours after.
As for your skincare routine, Vanessa recommends starting with a gentle, 15-second exfoliating cleanser in the morning to prevent congestion without being too aggressive on the skin. She also suggests incorporating a vitamin C serum to aid the skin’s regeneration process and probiotics to help balance hydration levels Vanessa likes Vintner’s Daughter Active Treatment Essence.
Though at-home devices exist, Vanessa notes that microdermabrasion is best left to the experts, as it can compromise the integrity of the skin and cause broken capillaries if it’s not done at the proper flow. “A lot of estheticians don’t even do microdermabrasion because it’s an art,” she says, explaining that she and her team follow a certain pattern, adjust the strength of the microdermabrasion machine, and can even customize the treatment depending on the individual’s skin type. “When it’s done right and by a professional, there is zero harm or negative side effects.”