Microdermabrasion is a recommended treatment option for hyperpigmentation of the skin, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. This non-chemical procedure is non-ablative, which means it does not destroy skin tissue, and therefore does not require significant recovery time. While microdermabrasion treatments can improve the appearance of skin discoloration, the results are usually modest. Consequently, milder hyperpigmentation conditions are better served by this procedure.
Hyperpigmentation of the skin is caused by an over-production of melanin by the skin's pigment-producing cells--the melanocytes. While these discolorations are generally harmless, some people may want to fade them for cosmetic reasons. Sun exposure triggers the appearance of pigmented blemishes, called sun spots or liver spots. These spots can range in color from light brown to black, and are associated with aging. Freckles are an inherited trait and usually fade after childhood. Hormonal imbalances from oral contraceptives or pregnancy can result in a pigment condition called melasma, in which large, uneven patches of skin become over-pigmented.
The dermatologist's microdermabrasion tool shoots a stream of aluminum oxide crystals or another abrasive substance at the surface of the skin. This essentially sandblasts away the dead skin cells that comprise the stratum corneum--the thin, top layer of the epidermis. The tool simultaneously vacuums up the crystals and the loosened skin cells. The procedure takes less than an hour and is relatively painless, so anesthesia is not required, notes the American Academy of Dermatology.
Because the procedure removes the surface layer of skin, pigmented areas will immediately appear lighter. The skin also responds to the treatment by speeding up cell turnover to replace the lost cells. Healthier skin cell renewal can reduce the occurrence of further hyperpigmentation problems. The treatment also boosts the production of collagen, a protein that provides the structural support for the skin. Increased collagen levels produce stronger skin, which can cause the tone of the skin to appear more even.
For best results in reducing the appearance of hyperpigmentation, the American Academy of Dermatology suggests a series of five to 16 microdermabrasion sessions, spaced one to two weeks apart. If you have a keloid scar or scar easily, if you've previously had a cosmetic procedure or if you have recently taken the medication isotretinoin, let your doctor know before beginning treatment, as these conditions could present complications. Side effects from microdermabrasion are minimal and include redness or swelling at the treatment area, which subsides within 24 hours.
After the Procedure
Treated skin will be more sensitive to the sun after microdermabrasion, so use sunscreen and wear a wide-brimmed hat when outdoors. Cleanse your skin with a gentle cleanser designated for sensitive skin and is free of harsh ingredients like benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid. Avoid using an alcohol-based toner for a few days after your procedure, as these can strip the skin's moisture levels. Rehydrate your skin with a hypoallergenic moisturizer twice daily. If you wear makeup, use it minimally to avoid clogging your pores.