Laser Skin Rejuvenation Versus Micro Dermabrasion

Laser resurfacing is the most effective (and expensive) non-surgical skin rejuvenating procedure which is why I've yet to try it myself (my budget can only cope with microdermabrasion and the odd mild chemical peel; plus I'm not even sure I want to have laser treatment). But my friend Donna, who had intense pulsed light therapy for her stretch marks in 2006, has had facial laser rejuvenation a few months ago.

Microdermabrasion Versus Laser Resurfacing

Laser rejuvenation generally uses high-intensity light emissions to vaporize the skin surrounding sunken imperfections like scars or wrinkles, to bring it down to their level. Imagine the hills surrounding a valley were suddenly gone, could you still see the valley? The same applies to fine lines and scars, they're still there, just barely visible.

Microdermabrasion tries to achieve the same thing by sandblasting the skin with a flow of micro-crystals but it's no where near as effective as laser rejuvenation (the penetration is more superficial). An important part of both procedures is collagen production. When the skin is forced to rejuvenate, elastin and collagen production speeds up which increases skin elasticity -- key to making skin imperfections less visible.

Donna had N-Lite treatment but there are 2 other types of laser treatments to consider: erbium laser and CO2 laser (see below). N-Lite is the laser treatment most similar to microdermbrasion, because it has no downtime, no before or after-treatment care and similar results. In fact, it's precisely the lack of downtime which persuaded Donna to go for N-Lite (because being a manager, she can't miss work for more than a day). With microderm abrasion, she'd have had to take a few hours off every two weeks.

I personally would not choose N-Lite therapy because, apart from speeding up cell turnover, it doesn't even peel the skin. I'm more willing to take a few hours off every two weeks than spend $100-$200 more on a single session of N-Lite. If I were you, I would have either CO2 or Erbium laser treatment if you can afford them because they're much more effective than both N-Lite or microdermabrasion (deeper wrinkles and scars are reduced, skin tone and firmness are improved and results last longer). A single CO2 or Erbium treatment is more effective than a 6-12 microabrasions.

The downside of laser resurfacing is that it's aggressive on the skin: CO2 and erbium laser rejuvenation cause excessive redness, swelling, weeping, oozing and pain for several days afterwards. It can also cause burns and scarring and permanent color changes.

N-Lite rejuvenation is quite gentle. Donna's face was slightly red when I went to pick her up after treatment but the redness faded away after a few hours (just like it happens with micro dermabrasion). I don't know if I'd have a procedure as invasive as laser resurfacing for a general improvement in my skin but I wouldn't hesitate having it for something specific like a deep scar.

Types of Laser Skin Resurfacing

There are three popular types of laser skin rejuvenation: Erbium, Carbon dioxide (CO2) and N-Lite. They work in a different way and have different results, downtime, risks and costs.

Difference Between Different Laser Rejuvenation Treatments

Type of laser / Characteristics Erbium Laser CO2 Laser N-Lite Laser
How it works
  • Vaporizes superficial skin cells and stimulates collagen production
  • Vaporizes superficial skin cells and stimulates collagen production
  • Stimulates collagen and elastin production
How to prepare for laser
  • Treatment with Retin A, glycolic acid and hydroquinone to prevent discoloration, speed up recovery and maximize results (6 weeks before laser)
  • Skin is cleansed and antibiotics are applied before the procedure.
  • Treatment with Retin A, glycolic acid and hydroquinone to prevent discoloration, speed up recovery and maximize results (6 weeks before laser)
  • Skin is cleansed and antibiotics are applied before the procedure.
  • Skin is cleansed and antibiotics are applied before the procedure.
How long does it last 15-90 minutes 15-90 minutes 15-90 minutes
Does it hurt Yes, moderate pain Yes, increased pain No
Anesthesia needed? Yes, topical Yes, general or sedation No
Hospital stay needed? No No No
Downtime period 4-7 days 10-14 days None
Recovery period
  • 1-4 days with pain medication, bandages
  • 1-4 days with pain medication, bandages
Sun protection needed? Yes, for the next 3-6 months Yes, for the next 3-6 months Yes, for the next 3 months
Complete healing in 1-4 weeks 1-4 months Immediately
Final results seen After 1-4 weeks After 1-4 months After 3 months
  • Medium
  • Removes fine lines, improves dynamic wrinkles and reduces acne scars
  • High
  • Removes fine lines, improves dynamic wrinkles and acne scars, smoothes your skin, evens out skin tone
  • Medium/Low
  • Minimizes fine wrinkles and scars, improves skin texture
Next session allowed in After 6 months After 6 months After 6 months
Cost $3,000-4,000 $4,000-5,000 $1,000-2,000

Next, a few words on home vs clinic microdermabrasion.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How To Do Microdermabrasion On Yourself?

A: Since you cannot use a professional microdermal abrasion machine on your own without professional training, the only way to perform this procedure on your own is to use an at-home commercial kit. These kits contain cloths, sponges, rotating applicators, crystal creams, pre- and post-care formulas. All you have to do is follow the instructions that come with the product.

Q: Can Microdermabration Be Used On Black Skin?

A: Office micodermabrasion machine is appropriate for all skin colors (including black skin ) because this procedure sandblasts only the outermost skin layer which is made of dead skin cells. There's no damage to live tissue which could cause scarring or severe irritation. The exfoliation process involved in clinic micro dermabration helps the skin renew itself quicker and more effectively.

Q: How Good Is Micro Dermal Abrasion For Rosacea?

A: Rosacea is one of the main contraindications of microdermabrasion, because the exfoliation process worsens rosacea symptoms (redness, itchiness, flaking). Home micro dermal abrasion creams are not recommended either (even though they are milder).

Q: Can Microdermal Abrasion Be Used On Hyperpigmentation?

A: Microdermabration system works on hyperpigmentation. The micro-crystal flow abrades the top layer of the skin where unevenly pigmented skin cells are stuck. Several clinic microderm abrasions are required to even out skin tone and get rid of hyperpigmentation.

Q: How Much Do Micro Derma Abrasion Cost?

A: Compared to other non-invasive procedures, professional microbrasion is the least expensive skin rejuvenation procedure. For example, micro derma brasion kits cost between $15 and $200, depending on contents and brand. Kits that include a rotating hand-held device designed to massage the crystal cream onto your face are the most expensive (and the most effective). The price of a single microbrasion treatment at a beauty salon or spa varies between $75 and $200. One full face session at a surgeon or dermatologist office costs somewhere between $100 and $300, not including initial consultation fees (which may cost an additional $150). You may need an average of 9 treatments and 4 maintenance sessions for best results which makes a full microabrasion treatment cost around $1,600 per year.

Q: Is Micro Derma Brasion Recommended On Blotchy Skin?

A: This procedure exfoliates the top layer of skin which consists of dead skin cells. Microdermabration system stimulates collagen production, essential to healthy skin and also removes blotchy skin texture and tone.

Q: Does Nutragena Microabrasion Work?

A: The Over The Counter microdermabasion sets from Neutrogena is effective for some people and isn't for others. There are many satisfied consumers who say that Nutragena set does make their skin look younger and feel smother. On the other hand, there are some unhappy costumers who say the kit is either too harsh, causing them irritations or break outs, or not very effective in diminishing fine scars and wrinkles. The only way to find out if the set works for you is to try to get a free sample and test the formula on your skin.

Q: Are Microderm And Photofacial Equally Effective?

A: Photo Facial (or Intense Pulsed Light Therapy) is a non-invasive procedure capable of diminishing or removing age spots (liver spots), fine wrinkles (rhytids), facial flushing, redness, broken capillaries, freckles, minor sun damage, tattoos, varicose veins, spider veins, flat birth marks and hypo-pigmentation. Unfortunately, IPL is not recommended for dark skinned people and persons suffering from oily skin. In short, IPL and micro dermal abrasion have similar results and are both non-invasive, but microdemabrasion has fewer contraindications.

Q: What Age Is Suitable To Start Micro Dermal Abrasion?

A: There is no official contraindication regarding age for micro dermabration patients, but it would be best to wait until you are 14 before you have it. If you have it earlier, the hormonal changes and the fact that your skin hasn't yet fully formed all of its recovering systems may affect the final outcome of the treatment.

Q: Does Micro Derma Abrasion Work On Acne Marks?

A: By removing the top layer of the skin, OTC micro derma abrasion diminishes or even removes superficial acne marks. Deeper acne marks require a more invasive procedure, like a deep chemical peel or laser skin resurfacing.