The Skin Smoother You May Not Know About (But Should)
When I got pregnant with Heath in 2002, all of my exfoliating options were suddenly forbidden. I couldn’t use Retin-A, get microdermabrasion (which was the hot exfoliating treatment at the time) or use anything with salicylic acid. Within six weeks, my skin was a mess: breaking out, uneven, rough, dull, you name it.
As I chronicled here, using Mario Badescu’s Glycolic Foaming Cleanser Wash helped with the acne flare-ups. The rest was finally tackled thanks to my friend Susan, a beauty publicist. As I sat at a business breakfast with her one morning, complaining about the state of my skin, she said, “Well, you could do dermaplaning.” Derma-what? I’d heard of dermabrasion, a deep exfoliating procedure for scarring that used a scalpel—and anesthesia. “Dermaplaning,” she responded. “It’s the superficial removal of the top layer of the skin using a small scalpel. It doesn’t go as deeply as dermabrasion and requires no topical anesthetic. In fact, it feels kind of good.” It also involved no chemical application (or any topicals at all, for that matter), making it safe to do during pregnancy. And lucky me, Susan had a plastic surgeon client who offered this service in his medical office. I made an appointment for the next day.
What I discovered that day is that when it comes to efficient exfoliation, you can’t beat dermaplaning. I was in and out of that doctor’s office in a half hour, fifteen of which was spent introducing myself and filling out paperwork. The actual “procedure” was a cinch: An esthetician cleansed my face, then pulled sections of my skin taut and used a small scalpel to gently scrape away at the top layer. Susan was right; it did feel good. Afterward, my face felt super smooth, and my pores looked smaller. The next day, when I applied makeup, it went on easily and evenly. The biggest surprise of all though was how removing peach fuzz (which comes off, along the skin’s top layer) made my skin look much clearer. I continued dermaplaning once a month throughout my pregnancy–and then, while I nursed for ten months, and the same do-not-use list applied.
Once I was able to go back on retinoids and microdermabrasion, post-nursing in early 2004, I stopped dermaplaning as often. Then around 2006, I met Christi Harris, a beauty entrepreneur from Abilene, Texas, with an eponymous skin and makeup line. She’d opened a pop-up Brow Bar at the Time Warner Center in Manhattan—and decided she’d meet some beauty editors while she was in New York City. Christi introduced me to her Precision Brow Planer. Essentially a tiny, dull-ish razor, the planer removed stray hairs and fuzz around the brows. She described it as “dusting” the skin. And it worked. It did make my brows look cleaner and shapelier. I also started to use it to remove some peach fuzz on my upper lip and the occasional stray on my chin or jawline. It didn’t garner me the same results as my in-office dermaplaning but it helped in a pinch.
Apparently I'm not the only one taken with how a peach-fuzz-free face feels, because in the past two to three years, dozens of millennial bloggers and vloggers have begun to tout the benefits of DIY dermaplaning, employing tools like planers (similar to Christi’s)—and even sharp razors, like the ones we use on our legs (and men use on their faces). And while I am a fan of at-home dermaplaning in theory, those two particular options have drawbacks. While I did use Christi's planer to clean up the area around my brows, and occasionally my upper lip, it would have dulled in about a month if I used it weekly all over my face. It also may have been too irritating on more sensitive areas like next to my nose and under the eyes. And real razors, while they effectively remove dead cells and fuzz, only move in one direction so are hard to use on any of the curves of your face, like your cheekbones or temples. Plus, of course, you run the risk of nicking yourself.
Dara Levy, a spa owner in Chicago’s Gold Coast, must have felt similarly about the shortcomings of at-home options because she created a system, Dermaflash, that solves the aforementioned issues. To use the Dermaflash handheld device (pictured above), you click a new, fresh blade attachment into the tool (again, see above) each time you use it, so dulling is never a problem. The device is also designed to be used up, down and sideways, like a “hummingbird” (Dara’s word), so it can navigate most curves on your face. Finally, there is a safety mesh around each blade to help prevent cuts. I recently got a Dermaflash and have been using it about once a week, as recommended. Dermaplaning at home does not go as deeply into the skin as a doctor or trained esthetician would with a surgical scalpel, but I have found that using the Dermaflash weekly for at least a month garners results that are pretty comparable. Note: The Dermaflash comes with six blades (or “edges,” as they call them)—then you can buy edges separately in sets of six. The Dermaflash system costs $189 (this includes the device, six edges and some prep and soothe treatments); the edge replacements (which also includes more prep and soothe serums) are $39/six. This compares to $75-$200 for one in-office dermaplaning session.
So is dermaplaning something you should try? "Women of all skin tones and ages can benefit from it,” says Julius Few, MD, a plastic surgeon in Chicago. Unlike retinoids or peels or even microdermabrasion, it’s highly unlikely to irritate, so it's a safe exfoliating option for even the most sensitive types, he adds. And, as I discovered, it’s also ok for pregnant and nursing women.
In addition to removing dead cells and peach fuzz (good ways to boost radiance, make skin smoother and prevent clogging), regular dermaplaning can also help improve the penetration of active ingredients like your retinoids, peptides, antioxidants, etc., potentially giving you more bang for your anti-aging or anti-acne skincare buck. And more good news: Dr. Few says that regular dermaplaning can complement other forms of exfoliation too, helping peels or microdermabrasion slough more evenly and effectively.
Is there any time not to dermaplane? If you're sunburned (ouch), have cystic acne (scraping or manipulating cysts can make them worse) or you're on Accutane, which can render skin so dry and vulnerable, even gentle scraping could cause inflammation. Finally, Dr. Few did caution against applying Rx retinoids (like Retin-A) right after you dermaplane; he recommends waiting 12 to 24 hours.