Microneedling vs Chemical Peel- Which is Best for Your Skin?

Confession time: I may be slightly addicted to skincare. I truly enjoy learning and testing out new ways to keep my skin looking its best. Since I’m also very careful with my money, you can bet I’ve done a ton of research to figure out which treatments and devices are worth paying for.

One of the questions I had was whether microneedling or chemical peels was going to work best for me.

Microneedling and chemical peels benefit the skin by increasing collagen production. Microneedling usually requires several treatments to be effective, has minimal recovery time, and causes little discomfort. Chemical peels are often one-time procedures, they can be painful and may require recovery time.

derma roller for microneedling

In this article, I will compare microneedling and chemical peels.  I’ll cover how the treatments work, which skin concerns they help with, possible side effects, and recovery time. Of course, we also need to look at cost since that can play a big part in the decision on whether to get a skin treatment.

What is Microneedling

In microneedling, small needles are used to create tiny wounds in the skin. As these wounds heal they stimulate the skin to produce collagen. The needles are usually between .1 and 3 mm in length, with the shorter needles being used at home and longer needles only for in-office procedures.

Microneedling is normally performed on the face, although it can be used elsewhere on the body (usually to target stretch marks). It is noted as being particularly effective on acne scars. A topical numbing cream is usually applied before microneedling.

Find out how long you can expect it to take to see microneedling results in this article.

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    Benefits of Microneedling

    Benefits of microneedling include:

    • Increased collagen production
    • Reduce the appearance of acne scars
    • Fade hyperpigmentation
    • Improve skin texture (pores, smoothness)

    A benefit of microneedling over chemical peel is that it is safe to use for darker skin tones, unlike some chemical peels and lasers. A side effect of some lasers and deeper peels is that they can cause hyperpigmentation. Thankfully, microneedling does not cause this and is safe for all skin tones.

    During my research I found this study to be a particularly good example of showing the effectiveness and benefits of microneedling.

    If you decide microneedling is right for you, check out this article all about how often to microneedle, and find out the dangers of microneedling too often.

    woman receiving chemical peel

    What is a Chemical Peel

    During a chemical peel treatment, a chemical solution is applied to exfoliate the top layer of skin and reveal the fresh younger-looking skin underneath. The most common acids used in chemical peels are glycolic, lactic, pyruvic, and salicylic acids.

    Chemical peels come in different strengths, which is one thing that makes them a great first-time skin treatment. You can start with a superficial peel that affects only the outer layer of skin to see how you react and what results you see.

    If you have sensitive skin, you may never move up to stronger peels. That’s one of the best things about peels, you can use the strength and type of the acids that are best to meet your specific goals.

    Chemical peels are noted to be particularly effective for fine lines, wrinkles, and hyperpigmentation, as well as giving your skin a youthful glow.

    ✅If you are interested in learning more about chemical peels or microdermabrasion (another exfoliating treatment), I have an article comparing microdermabrasion and chemical peels that may be helpful.

    diagram of skin layers showing how chemical exfoliants work

    Benefits of Chemical Peels

    Benefits of chemical peels include:

    • Stimulating collagen production
    • Fading hyperpigmentation
    • Reducing fine lines and wrinkles
    • Glowing skin

    Chemical peels are a great option for skin rejuvenation and fading uneven skin tone from sun damage. Peels are currently the third most common type of non-invasive cosmetic procedure, after injectables like botox and dermal fillers. Light peels in particular offer good results with a short recovery time and affordable cost.

    Infographic showing chemical peel vs microneedling
    Chart Comparing Chemical Peels and Microneedling

    Microneedling vs Chemical Peel- At Home or In Office?

    Both microneedling and chemical peels can be performed at home or in a medical spa or dermatology office. As a general rule in skincare, any treatment performed in-office is going to be much more effective than the one you perform at home.

    Mircroneedling at home generally consists of tiny needles of .1 to .5 mm in length. You can find “derma roller” type devices as well as stamp type pens that puncture your skin with multiple needles at once. When microneedling at home you must be careful not to pull or tug at your skin and be very careful of infection. If you have an active acne breakout absolutely do not microneedle at home as you may spread acne bacteria across your face.

    Chemical peels at home are usually glycolic acid or a mix of several alpha and beta hydroxy acids. The biggest risk is burning your skin by using too strong of an acid or leaving it on too long. Always patch test first and wait 24 hours to see if you have a reaction.

    For both chemical peels and microneedling at-home treatments are best for maintaining results after a professional procedure or for skin that has only very mild hyperpigmentation or wrinkles. You’ll see very subtle results, but this could work out for you if you are using it primarily as a preventative measure.

    As someone with sensitive skin that is prone to scarring, hyperpigmentation, and broken capillaries, I don’t risk doing microneedling at home. If you have active acne or a skin condition please consult with a dermatologist before microneedling or doing a peel at home. It could make the situation worse.

    I have tried at-home glycolic acid peels (with a small percentage of salicylic acid), but I found them too strong for my skin to use regularly. I’m open to trying peels again in the future, but I’m always testing new products so it’s hard to fit them in!

    For an at-home treatment to stimulate collagen that has very little risk I love red LED light. If you’re interested in learning more, I’ve written a detailed article on the benefits of both red and blue led light here (red is best for anti-aging and blue for killing acne bacteria).

    Microneedling vs Chemical Peel Cost

    In general, microneedling treatments are less expensive than a chemical peel. However, the math gets more complicated when you factor in that microneedling will usually need a series of 4 to 6 treatments to see the best results.

    Microneedling can cost anywhere from about $200-500 per treatment, although you can usually get a discount by purchasing a package of 4 to 6 treatments. In my local area, it’s normal for a medical spa to offer one treatment for $250 and a series of 4 for about $800, and 6 for $1000. However, if you live in a larger market the cost could be higher.

    The cost of chemical peels generally depends on the strength of the peel. Usually, peels are classified as either light, medium, or deep. Even a light chemical peel can cost up to $500. Medium or deep peels can cost several thousand dollars.

    There’s no real winner or loser between these two in the cost category because peels can have such a wide variety of prices. I recommend you take into account how much time you are willing to spend on recovery and your specific goals. If you are focused on trying to fade acne scars I’d recommend the microneedling as it’s particularly effective. You’d most likely need an expensive medium or deep peel to get the same results.

    woman with acne scarring on face
    Both treatments can fade acne scars. Photo by Ron Lach from Pexels

    Microneedling vs Chemical Peel Recovery

    Microneedling generally has little recovery time while chemical peel recovery time will vary depending on the strength.

    In general with microneedling, your skin may be slightly red and inflamed for the first 24 hours, but even that may not happen if you don’t have sensitive skin. Use a gentle moisturizer to keep your skin hydrated and stay away from irritating active ingredients for at least the first day.

    For a peel, you can have a very different recovery time depending on the level of peel. This isn’t a treatment that you can expect to go right back to work or out in public.

    After a light chemical peel, your skin will most likely be sensitive for up to a week, although it may not be red or irritated that long. Keep your skin moisturized and don’t use harsh active ingredients until it’s fully recovered.

    Aggressive peels that are considered medium or deep can have a recovery time of several weeks. Not only will your skin physically peel but it will also be red and itchy through that process. After the peeling stops, the new skin that’s been revealed can be particularly sensitive.

    During the recovery from either treatment, it’s very important to wear sunscreen. Actually, it’s important all the time!  It’s difficult to believe, but just one day in the sun can bring back dark spots on your face. You can literally undo months of effort in just one day. Don’t risk it!

    Can you do microneedling and chemical peels together?

    You can do both a microneedling and a chemical peel together, and this may be the best choice if it’s within your budget. However, this doesn’t mean having them on the same day. It normally means doing one first and then the other several weeks or even months later.  I’d recommend discussing with the skin professional at your med spa or dermatologist’s office to see which they recommend doing first.

    Final Thoughts on Microneedling vs Chemical Peel

    Microneedling and chemical peels are two very popular cosmetic treatments for a variety of skin issues. They can help with the signs of aging like deeper wrinkles and uneven skin tone, as well as concerns for younger skin like large pores and acne scars.  I hope this article has been helpful in choosing the best option for you.

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