Skin Care

By Anna Simon

“Microdermabrasion in a jar” sounds about as promising as “Lasik in an aerosol can”. I think of both as expensive procedures best confined to doctors’ offices.

Microdermabrasion always seemed too costly for me to contemplate seriously, and even if I did decide to pursue it, how would I find a reputable dermatologist? Since I have no plans to appear on “Extreme Makeover,” where they take care of the details for you, I’d sort of nixed the idea.

Despite my reservations, a procedure that promises to denude my face of dead skin cells, diminish discoloration and my incipient wrinkles, and even eliminate acne scars retains a certain appeal. The nitty-gritty of microdermabrasion is still a little scary, though: imagine a tiny sandblaster at work on your face, buffing away layers of dead skin. It’s the kind of tool I’d rather see used by a road crew than attacking my delicate epidermis.

Now, Dr. Frederic Brandt has set out to obliterate every one of my objections by bringing microdermabrasion from the exam room to the bathroom, in (what else?) a jar. This fall, dermatologist-to-the-stars Dr. Brandt introduced a product (descriptively dubbed “Microdermabrasion In A Jar“) designed to confer the benefits of the original procedure more gently, more conveniently, and at a fraction of the cost.

And Dr. Brandt isn’t the only game in town. Both Prescriptives and Estée Lauder are now offering microdermabrasion kits for home use (and you can bet these three companies will soon be joined by more). Prescriptives Dermapolish, the first of these to hit the market, is a multi-stage process designed for weekly use. Three different products work in concert to change the texture of your skin: Dermapolish Treatment Cream (the workhorse), a post-treatment soothing mist, and a lipid barrier cream (moisturizer, essentially). The kit even includes a timer, making it as scientific as DIY “soft surgery” gets. Idealist Micro-D, Estée Lauder’s entry, consists of a single product that uses thermal action to open the pores and manual stimulation with microbeads to exfoliate. The experts at Estée Lauder recommend Idealist Micro-D for use once or twice a week. All three of these different lines stress the importance of repeated application to achieve visible results.

Part of what always appealed to me about traditional microdermabrasion was the instant-gratification aspect: make an appointment with the dermatologist, leave looking like a slab of raw meat, and after a few days of healing (and just one treatment), voila! no more acne scars! Having learned a little more about the procedure, I now admit that this was an idealistic view. Even in-office treatments require several repetitions before you can actually see a change in your skin. Despite my unhappy revelation, I approached this whole venture as though Dr. Brandt were selling hope, and not microdermabrasion, in a jar. Besides, I can’t help but have some confidence in a dermatologist whose client list includes Madonna and Jennifer Lopez (and no matter how tired you are of seeing J. Lo on the cover of US Weekly, you have to admire the woman’s skin – she positively glows).

In preparation for testing Dr. Brandt’s product, I banned any substance containing salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide from my skin a couple of days in advance. I figured that I was about to use a strong treatment, and I didn’t want to end up with first-degree chemical burns. Though in the end I didn’t find Dr. Brandt’s product to be harsh, I would still recommend this preparation to anyone planning to use one of these microdermabrasion systems, especially for the first time.

Microdermabrasion In A Jar purportedly derives its fragrance from grapefruit extract, “an all natural energizing refreshing scent.” In reality, it smells more like “essence of Lemon Pledge.” Following the blessedly simple instructions printed on the jar, I dampened my face and started to massage a big glob of the white, granular cream into my face. They recommend doing this for one to three minutes, so I kept at for the full one hundred eighty seconds; by the end, I was starting to feel it working (“burning” would be too strong a word for the mild sensation I felt, but this comes from someone who waxes her own eyebrows, so I have a pretty high tolerance for beauty-related pain). I finished by rinsing the substance off my face, being careful not to splash any in my eyes.

So here I was, prepared for the possibility of mere exfoliation but really hoping for “immediate radiance” and “instant visible effects” (don’t you love product-marketing parlance?). The result was somewhere in between. My skin didn’t look noticeably different after the initial treatment with Dr. Brandt’s product, but I do admit that it felt incredibly soft. And, contrary to my expectations, Microdermabrasion In A Jar didn’t dry out my skin at all; it effectively smoothed my face, which exfoliation can sometimes leave a little flaky, without any irritation.

I’m going to keep using Microdermabrasion In A Jar, in the hope that its cumulative effect will be a visible change in the texture and tone of my skin. If not, I can always try traditional microdermabrasion – though now that I’ve been introduced to at-home dermatological treatments, I’ll be looking for someplace that rents out sandblasters by the hour.

Prescriptives Dermapolish costs $125 for a kit containing three products and a timer; Estée Lauder Idealist Micro-D is $45 for 2.5 oz. Both are available at department stores, Sephora, and http://www.gloss.com. Dr. Brandt’s Microdermabrasion In A Jar costs $75 for 2 oz. and can be found at Sephora and Nordstrom.

Originally published November 2003
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