What we bought: A microdermabrasion device to scrape off my skin

PMD Beauty

When I was 12, a classmate and I were rewriting the lyrics to a well-known song in Singapore called One people, one nation, one Singapore. My friend, thinking of homonyms, had renamed it “One pimple, one facial, one single pore.” Our teacher walked in after we finished writing the lyrics on the whiteboard, took one look at the title, and asked the class, “Did you all write that song about Cherlynn?”

I don’t remember exactly how I felt or responded in the moment, but that memory clearly stayed with me. Since then, I’ve felt like I was battling to salvage my face. My mom did her best to help, as did various family members, by taking me to facial treatments and giving me product recommendations and diet advice. But my hormones brought on years of angry acne that covered my whole face and parts of my body, and I picked at those zits with self-loathing. That led to deep scarring and the development of raised scar tissue called keloids all over my shoulders, chest and upper back. My sensitive skin, combined with a family history of keloids, made managing my complexion feel like an insurmountable challenge.

These days, thanks to two rounds of Accutane in my early twenties and having sunk many hours into researching skincare, I feel a lot better. I’ve become the person in my friend group who knows the most about things like actives, occlusives, sheet masks, overnight masks, sunscreens and how different formulas and suspensions affect the absorption of a product. I wouldn’t call myself an expert, but chances are if there’s something new in beauty, I’ve either read about or tried it.

A woman holding a pink PMD Personal microdermabrasion device to her temple with one hand and pulling her skin taut with the other.
A woman holding a pink PMD Personal microdermabrasion device to her temple with one hand and pulling her skin taut with the other.

One such beauty gadget is PMD Beauty’s Personal Microderm Classic, which I bought in 2019 for $159. I had been looking into tools that could help remove dead skin cells and trigger new cell growth. Between microneedling and microdermabrasion, the latter felt like a safer option. (I bought a microneedling kit last year that I haven’t yet dared to use.)

According to Healthline, microdermabrasion “is considered a safe procedure for most skin types and colors.” It could help with common concerns like fine lines, wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, acne scars, dullness and more.

As with all skincare products, I must remind you to check with your dermatologist before buying and using anything. I did not, but in this case it was a risk I was willing to take after reading a ton of reviews.

The PMD is a handheld device roughly the size of an electric razor with a spinning disc at its tip, covered by a plastic cap. The set I bought came with four discs of varying intensities, and a guide in the box describes which of the color-coded options you choose for your first few rounds.

Using a combination of the spinning discs and suction, the machine is supposed to exfoliate surface skin cells and increase circulation. PMD’s website says “Once this barrier is removed, skin care products can penetrate 20X deeper maximizing the benefits of skin care.”

I can’t tell you exactly how much dead skin it’s removed or if my beauty products get absorbed precisely 20 times deeper than before. But I’ve definitely noticed that in the days after using the PMD, my serums do seem to penetrate my skin more quickly.

The guide also describes how to use the device. After inserting the appropriate disc, turn on the PMD and place the suction cup on your (clean, dry) face and drag it outwards. The company cautions against going over any part of your face more than once, though when I did by accident, it didn’t destroy my skin. In fact, at no point in my nearly three years with the PMD have I felt any pain or irritation.

Immediately after each session, I like to slather on a moisturizing mask as my face feels slightly dry and exposed. The company recommends it, too, and it does help me feel like the ingredients are more effectively absorbed. You can do an overnight sleep mask (I love the one from Laneige), a sheet mask or a 20-minute rinse-off option, but I would still use a moisturizer after washing off a mask.

A person holding a light blue PMD Personal microdermabrasion device to their face with one hand while pulling their skin taut with the other.
A person holding a light blue PMD Personal microdermabrasion device to their face with one hand while pulling their skin taut with the other.

In the days after a PMD session, I also avoid using any other exfoliants, peels or ingredients like retinol, and instead consistently use more hydrating products with hyaluronic acid, for example. I used my PMD weekly during my first few months with it, switching to discs of greater intensity every six weeks or so. I tapered off to using the device every other week, and after about a year I noticed the pitted scarring on my cheeks look shallower. My temples still have noticeably uneven texture, but they look less obvious now.

Can I attribute all of this improvement to the PMD? I’m not sure. As with many skincare products, it’s hard to tell what’s working and what isn’t. It could be the microdermabrasion that made the greatest impact, or it could be the The Ordinary peel I’ve been using in tandem (on weeks when I didn’t use the PMD). But I do feel like the device has helped.

My quest to get clear, smooth skin is neverending (though, I’m pretty happy with where I am at the moment). And of course, a flawless face is an unrealistic goal that no one should feel pressured to attain. If you happen to be looking for an at-home version of microdermabrasion procedures, which according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons costs about $167 per visit on average, the PMD feels like a less-intimidating, low-stakes approach. Of course, the gadget is not likely to be as advanced as those you’d find in a clinic. At $159, the PMD isn’t exactly an impulse purchase, but this isn’t the kind of device you want to cheap out on.