The process involves buffing the skin using grains of diamond or another hard substance, the researchers say.
To change the appearance of skin, the procedure would have to induce the production of collagen, the major structural protein in skin, and it appears to do so, according to the study.
The researchers note that previous studies have shown that microdermabrasion using aluminum oxide may not always stimulate collagen production.
It's not known, the researchers say, whether more aggressive methods -- not involving the destruction of skin tissue -- could trigger collagen production.
Darius J. Karimipour, MD, and colleagues at the University of Michigan, conducted biochemical analysis of skin biopsy specimens before and four hours to 14 days after a microdermabrasion procedure on the aged forearm skin of 40 volunteers.
Twenty-six men and 14 women, ages 50 to 83, took part in the study, each undergoing microdermabrasion with a diamond-studded hand piece of either a coarse-grit or medium-grit abrasiveness.
Microdermabrasion with the coarse-grit hand piece resulted in increased production of a wide array of compounds that are associated with wound healing and skin remodeling, including collagen, compared to untreated forearm skin. These molecular changes weren't seen in participants who received treatments using the medium-grit hand piece, the researchers say.
All participants experienced a mild period of redness that lasted, typically, less than two hours.
"We demonstrate that aggressive non-ablative microdermabrasion (not involving destruction of skin tissue) is an effective procedure to stimulate collagen production in human skin in vivo," the researchers write. "The beneficial molecular responses, with minimal downtime, suggest that aggressive microdermabrasion may be a useful procedure to stimulate remodeling and to improve the appearance of aged human skin."
Further study is needed, they add, to determine if microdermabrasion, performed aggressively, has the capacity to become a worthwhile resurfacing procedure that results in noticeable cosmetic improvement while minimizing" other problems and lifestyle interruptions.