Microdermabrasion vs Chemical Peel: Which Is Right For You?

Chemical Peel vs Microdermabrasion: What’s the Difference?

Trying to decide between microdermabrasion or a chemical peel? If you’re like me, you can get caught up in hours of research, wanting to figure out what’s best for your skin while also being within your budget. 

The good news for you is that I’ve already done the research for you!  Read on to find out the pros and cons of both chemical peels and microdermabrasion. I’ll cover everything you need to know to choose the best option for you.

The difference between microdermabrasion and chemical peels is that microdermabrasion uses abrasion and vacuum suction to exfoliate while chemical peels use acid solutions.  They both remove the top layer of skin cells safely and effectively. There are also differences in cost, how deep they penetrate, and recovery time.

Microdermabrasion Vs Chemical Peel

How Microdermabrasion Works

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Microdermabrasion is a skin exfoliation procedure that uses an abrasive tip and vacuum suction to gently remove the topmost epidermal layer. The skincare professional uses a small handheld wand that either has a diamond tip or sprays crystals on the skin to sand away the top layer of skin cells. Suction is used to pull these off of the skin once loosened.

This procedure is non-invasive and typically lasts between 20 and 45 minutes depending on the size of the area being treated. In addition to your face, you can also have microdermabrasion performed on your neck, chest, and even hands.

There are at-home microdermabrasion devices that you can buy on Amazon or beauty stores (I recommend this one). They do offer some results, but won’t be as effective as an in-office treatment.

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    How a Chemical Peel Works

    Chemical peels are chemical solutions of various strengths applied to the skin in order to exfoliate. They are very customizable, as the skincare professional can adjust the strength of the solution depending on how far they want the peel to penetrate the skin.

    Please note we are discussing chemicals peels as in-office procedure in this article. There are at-home treatments (usually a glycolic peel) that can improve the appearance of the skin. However, they are not as effective at renewing skin texture, reducing deeper wrinkles, and fading brown spots as an in office procedure.

    Your skincare professional will decide which acids to use in a chemical peel depending on how deep they want the peel to be. There are different levels of chemical peels, usually called, light (or superficial) medium, or deep. 

    Commonly used are glycolic, lactic, pyruvic, and salicylic acids. A chemical peel typically takes between 30 and 90 minutes. Like microdermabrasion, chemical peels aren’t just for your face, they are great at fighting signs of aging on the neck, chest, and hands. Additionally, chemical peels are an effective choice for fading acne scars.

    If your primary concern is acne scars you may want to look into microneedling. I have several articles on microneedling but the one that will probably be most helpful is this one comparing microneedling and chemical peels. Both are excellent treatments for acne scarring.

    diagram of skin layers showing how chemical exfoliants work

    Microdermabrasion Pros and Cons

    Microdermabrasion treatments can effectively treat signs of aging such as fine lines, dark spots, dull skin, uneven skin tone. The benefits are that results are subtle, there is usually no pain, minimal side effects, and it’s cost-effective.

    Microdermabrasion can cost anywhere between $75.00 and 200.00 per treatment, making it less expensive than a chemical peel.

    The drawbacks of microdermabrasion are that, because it is relatively mild, it can take several sessions to achieve the best results. Your skincare professional can advise you on how many sessions you will need based on your desired results.  You also will need to do a treatment every few months and wear sunscreen every day for maintenance. 

    Another drawback is that microdermabrasion is not suitable for everyone. If you have skin conditions such as psoriasis or eczema, avoid microdermabrasion as it can trigger outbreaks.

    woman receiving microdermabrasion

    Chemical Peel Pros and Cons

    A chemical peel can give you better results than microdermabrasion if you go with a medium or deep-level peel.  It will remove both surface cells and deeper ones, leading to smoother-looking and more even-toned skin. Chemical peel treatments accelerate skin cell turnover, improve acne scarring and wrinkles, stimulate collagen production, and reduce pigmentation issues. 

    So why shouldn’t everyone just go with a chemical peel then? 

    Well first off is cost. Chemical peels are more expensive than microdermabrasion. Even a light chemical peel can cost up to $500. Medium or deep peels can cost several thousand dollars. 

    Secondly, while a light chemical peel will have very little pain or recovery time, medium or deep peels are another story.  Even with a light peel, which is a superficial peel, your skin will possibly have a small amount of peeling for several days. 

    With medium or deep peels, you can expect significant redness and stinging afterward with healing time taking several weeks. You’ll most likely need pain medication and ice packs to reduce swelling after these peels. However, you will see more dramatic results in the appearance of your skin than microdermabrasion.

    Additionally, like microdermabrasion, if you have skin conditions such as eczema or psoriasis, a peel is not suitable for you.

    Should You Choose Microdermabrasion or Chemical Peel

    Only you can decide which form of exfoliation is best for you.  Neither physical exfoliation (microdermabrasion) or using a chemical solution is inherently a better choice.  A few thoughts to keep in mind:

    • If you have a medical skin condition then neither is a good choice for you.
    • Microdermabrasion is most comparable to a light chemical peel in terms of results, cost, and recovery
    • Medium and deep chemical peels will give more dramatic results than microdermabrasion but come at a significantly higher cost, more pain, and a longer recovery time.
    • Neither chemical peels nor microdermabrasion can deliver permanent results. You will need to protect your skin from further sun damage by using sunscreen every day.
    • It’s important to find a local provider that you trust. Whether that provider offers microdermabrasion, peels or both may influence your decision. They should also be able to provide you with advice on the right treatment for your skin. Most medical spas and some dermatologists may give you a free consultation to talk it over.

    This article is one of a series on skin treatments. Check out my article comparing HydraFacial and Microdermabrasion here.

    chart of chemical peel vs microdermabrasion pros and cons

    Frequently Asked Questions

    What’s the best moisturizer after a chemical peel or microdermabrasion?

    After either treatment, you want to make sure to keep your skin moisturized with a product that won’t cause irritation. This means you should avoid artificial fragrances or dyes, as they can irritate your skin. Also, you don’t want a moisturizer with active ingredients, such as retinol or Vitamin C at this time.  

    Look for medium to thick moisturizers such as CeraVe Moisturizing Cream or Aquaphor, which are gentle, moisturizing, and highly unlikely to irritate.

    How often can you get microdermabrasion or chemical peels?

    I’ve written an entire article on how often you should get chemical peels here. Check it out for more detailed information on getting the best results.

    For microdermabrasion and mild chemical peels, your provider may recommend a series of treatments for best results. Microdermabrasion can usually be repeated as soon as 2 to 4 weeks. Light chemical peels can be repeated in 3 to 5 weeks.

    Medium and deep chemical peels are not scheduled so often. A medium-level peel is usually not repeated for about 5 or 6 months, a deep peel may not be needed for several years, or could be a once-in-a-lifetime event.  

    Can you do microdermabrasion and chemical peels together?

    Yes, you can, and this may be a great option. However, this doesn’t mean having them on the same day. It normally means alternating treatments, as they will work together for better results. Think of it like this, if your first treatment is microdermabrasion, you’ve exfoliated the top layer of skin, making your chemical peel more effective since the acids will absorb better. In this way, the two treatments will continue to build off one another.

    Does Microdermabrasion hurt?

    Microdermabrasion does not usually hurt. It’s a non-invasive procedure that gives subtle results but shouldn’t irritate your skin. You can usually resume your daily activities immediately after the treatment. 

    Does A Chemical Peel Hurt?

    A light chemical peel will not usually cause pain, although if you have sensitive skin it may feel irritated.  You can normally resume regular activities quickly and won’t have much downtime. However, medium and deep chemical peels often hurt and will need significant recovery time.

    woman receiving chemical peel

    Final Thoughts on Chemical Peels vs Microdermabrasion

    If you want to reduce wrinkles, reverse sun damage and age spots, and achieve healthy, glowing skin, chemical peels and microdermabrasion are both great options. Both have been used for years and have a track record of strong results. I hope we’ve helped you choose which is best for you based on your budget, skin type, and goals.

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