Skin Perception

Chemical Peel Vs Microdermabrasion: Which Is Better?

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When choosing between chemical peel and microdermabrasion keep in mind your skin type, severity of your skin condition, recovery downtime and level of discomfort associated with the procedure.

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Skin resurfacing and rejuvenation remain some of the most desired beauty treatments in 2020. In fact, out of all skin resurfacing procedures chemical peels and microdermabrasion are the most popular ones. Moreover, these treatments can be done professionally at a doctor’s office or spa salon, and can also be performed at home to some extend. Even though both of these treatments are used to exfoliate skin and they provide similar benefits, there are some significant differences when it comes to comparing chemical peel vs microdermabrasion.

Chemical Peel Vs Microdermabrasion

Procedure. One of the main differences between a chemical peel and microdermabrasion is how they are performed. Unlike a chemical peel that utilizes acids to exfoliate the skin, microdermabrasion is done with a handheld device that physically buffs the outer layer of the skin.

Pain & after care. Another major distinction when comparing chemical peel vs microdermabrasion is the level of discomfort they cause during the procedure and post-treatment. For example, microdermabrasion is usually a painless treatment that requires no recovery downtime. On the other hand, chemical peel can often cause a burning sensation, while medium and deep peels are more painful and require pain medication or partial sedation. Moreover, chemical peels require some downtime, which depends on the concentration of the peel, and a specific post-treatment care is usually needed. Since chemical peels generally penetrate deeper into the skin, they are considered more aggressive and more intense than microdermabrasion.

Skin types. Additionally, when it comes to skin types, chemical peels work better for fair and light skin, and are not recommended for sensitive or dark skin types. However, microdermabrasion is generally well tolerated by all skin types and skin colors, and is a better option for those with sensitive skin or those who can’t tolerate chemical peels.

That being said, when comparing chemical peel vs microdermabrasion one should understand that chemical peel provides chemical exfoliation, while microdermabrasion provides manual/physical exfoliation. Even though both exfoliating methods are considered good options for skin resurfacing and rejuvenation, they both have their advantages and disadvantages.

Chemical Peel Vs Microdermabrasion Comparison

Chemical Peel

Microdermabrasion

Chemical exfoliation

Non-chemical/ physical exfoliation

Utilizes alpha and beta hydroxy acids (AHA & BHA), TCA, phenol

Utilizes device that consists of abrasive crystals and vacuum system

Intense exfoliation

Less aggressive exfoliation

Provides skin regeneration, improves appearance of scars, wrinkles, pigmentation and sun damage

Provides skin regeneration, improves appearance of minor scars, fine lines, pigmentation and sun damage

Cumulative results

Cumulative results

Not for sensitive and dark skin, works better for fair and light skin

Safe for all skin types and skin colors

Burning sensation is possible with superficial peels, medium/deep peels are painful and require pain medication or partial sedation

Painless, but some sensitivity or tingling is possible

Increase sun sensitivity; redness and peeling is likely

Increase sun sensitivity and temporary dryness

Requires some downtime

No recovery downtime

What Is A Chemical Peel?

woman-getting-a-chemical-peel

Chemical peel also known as derma peel or chemo exfoliation is a non-invasive cosmetic procedure that helps to resurface and rejuvenate the skin. This type of exfoliation is done by applying a chemical solution containing acids, which remove the outer layer of the skin. In particular, the most commonly used acids in chemical peels include alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) such as glycolic, lactic, malic, citric, and beta hydroxy acid (BHA) such as salicylic acid.

To clarify, chemical peel can be formulated with a single acid or a combination of multiple acids, which can vary in concentration. Since this exfoliating procedure causes controlled skin injury by chemically removing outer layers, it often involves some degree of discomfort. In fact, most people experience skin tingling or burning sensation during the chemical peel. However, the intensity of this sensation depends on the concentration and type of acids, and the duration of the peel.

In general, chemical peels are mainly used on face, but can also be applied on neck, chest, hands and other areas. This rejuvenating skincare procedure can be done professionally in-office, or at home to some degree. But keep in mind that at-home chemical peels have lower acid concentration and are gentler than the ones done professionally. It should be also noted that rejuvenating results after chemical peels are cumulative, and will become more visible with the repeated treatments.

Types Of Chemical Peels

There are three types of chemical peels based on the depth of penetration: light (also known as superficial or lunchtime peel), medium and deep. Superficial peel can be done in office by dermatologist or aesthetician, as well as at home. In fact, this type of peel contains relatively low concentration of mild acids and penetrates only outer layer of skin (epidermis). It requires little recovery downtime (between 1-7 days depending on the peel concentration), and has minimal side effects. In comparison to superficial peels done in-office, over-the-counter chemical peels are formulated with a lower concentration of acids (3%-20%) so that they can be safely used at home.

Try these 10 best chemical peels for home use that are great for reducing hyperpigmentation and signs of aging.

Medium-depth and deep peels utilize higher concentration of acids like 70% glycolic, 30%+ salicylic, 30-50% trichloroacetic (TCA) or phenol. These peels penetrate much deeper into the skin than superficial peels, affect both epidermis and dermis, and can only be administered by professionals. For the most part, these peels provide deeper regeneration, but are often very painful, and cause skin frosting (peeling). Moreover, a recovery downtime after medium or deep peel is about 7-21 days.

   Have you heard about enzyme peels? See how enzyme peels are different from chemical peels, and which one will work better for your skin needs.

Benefits of Chemical Peel

benefits-of-chemical-peel-and-before-and-after-picture

Overall, a chemical peel is a great and safe way to exfoliate, resurface and rejuvenate the skin. It is mainly used for its potent anti aging properties, but also as means to treat acne, reduce pigmentation, improve complexion, unclog pores, and reduce scars. Here is a more comprehensive list of chemical peel benefits:

  • Stimulates cell regeneration
  • Improves skin texture and roughness
  • Reduces the depth of wrinkles and fine lines
  • Stimulates formation of collagen and elastin
  • Improves skin elasticity
  • Helps tighten the skin
  • Treats some types of acne
  • Improves the appearance of scars
  • Reduces dark spots, sun damage and freckles
  • Treats discoloration and hyperpigmentation
  • Reveals more even skin tone
  • Reveals brighter complexion
  • Improves overall appearance of skin

Related: 10 best moisturizers to use after chemical peel

Are Chemical Peels Safe?

In general, exfoliating or resurfacing with chemical peel is considered safe. This type of exfoliation works better for people with fair and light skin, and is not an option for those with sensitive or dark skin. That being said, peels with lower concentration of acids have fewer side effects, while medium and deep peels cause more skin injury and require longer recovery.

Regardless of which type of derma peel you choose, dermatologists do NOT recommend this procedure if you have:

  • Dark skin
  • Pregnant or nursing
  • Skin infection
  • Active skin disease or condition
  • Active Herpes Simplex 1
  • Sunburn
  • Cut or broken skin
  • Sensitive skin

Even though chemical peels are considered safe, most people experience temporary side effects. For instance redness, tingling or burning sensation, skin peeling or frosting, and sensitivity to the sun is common.

In addition, depending on the intensity of the peel, post-treatment care might be required. For example, some of the after-peel care might include cold compress to lessen pain or burning sensation, applying generous amount of heavy moisturizer, avoiding make-up for few days, and applying a broad spectrum sunscreen.

Pros: cost effective exfoliating method, rejuvenating and anti aging properties, improves appearance of scars, acne, fine lines, wrinkles, pigmentation and sun damage, stimulates collagen, brightens skin, doesn’t dry out skin, ideal for fair and light skin, results are cumulative.

Cons: increases sun sensitivity (applying SPF for few weeks after the procedure is a must), redness, burning and skin peeling is common, requires after care and some recovery downtime, not for sensitive and dark skin.

What Is Microdermabrasion?

what-is-microdermabrasion

Microdermabrasion is a minimally invasive, nonchemical resurfacing procedure that is considered less aggressive alternative to dermabrasion and chemical peels. It is a popular form of a mechanical (manual) exfoliation that involves abrasion of the skin.

How does it work? Unlike chemical peels that use acids, microdermabrasion is done with an automated handheld device. This device consists of a vacuum system and abrasive crystals that gently exfoliate the skin and remove dead cells and the outer layer of the skin. The tip of the device is pressed against the skin, and is glided across the skin area while the abrasive particles buff away outer layer of the skin. At the same time the vacuum suction clears pores, lifts impurities and removes the debris from the skin surface.

In addition to being an effective rejuvenating and anti aging tool, microdermabrasion is also a great device for those with congested and acne-prone skin. In fact, the built in vacuum system does an excellent job in unclogging pores, removing blemishes and clearing mild acne. On the other hand, the abrasive crystals help to exfoliate dead skin, speed up cell turnover, diminish mild post-acne scars, and improve the overall appearance of the skin.

Another key point, multiple microdermabrasion treatments are needed in order to achieve visible results. Even though there is no recovery downtime, this type of exfoliation can be done weekly as at-home treatment, or each other week as a salon treatment (those are usually more abrasive).

Types Of Microdermabrasion

Currently, microdermabrasion devices are designed as crystal-based or crystal-free systems. Additionally, there is also a product called microdermabrasion cream, which was designed as a safe, tool-free microdermabrasion option for home.

Crystal-based devices use vacuum suction and crystals made of nontoxic aluminum oxide (most common), sodium chloride, and sodium bicarbonate. This type of microdermabrasion tool utilizes vacuum to pull the skin, then shoots micro crystals to exfoliate the skin, followed again by the vacuum suction to collect dead skin and used crystals.

Crystal-free systems use diamond tips instead of crystals and vacuum suction mechanism. Unlike crystal-based devices that shoot abrasive crystals through the tube, crystal-free microdermabrasion tools utilize round shaped diamond disc/tip. Once the device is on, the disc begins to spin and remove outer layer of the skin, while the vacuum sucks in all the debris. Also, the abrasive tip is reusable and can be adjusted for size and abrasiveness/intensity for a more customizable treatment. In general, crystal-free devices are more accurate and offer more control.

  Try this at-home Personal Microderm by PMD  or Microderm Glo Mini (on Amazon)

Microdermabrasion cream. In addition to the two different types of microdermabrasion devices, there is also a mechanical exfoliator called microdermabrasion cream. However, some brands might refer to it as a microdermabrasion scrub. This type of microdermabrasion was formulated specifically for at-home treatment, and is a great option for those who are not comfortable using specialized face tools. In fact, a typical microdermabrasion cream contains the same type of micro crystals that are used in crystal-based devices. To clarify, these creams work just as your regular scrubs, but offer a more intense exfoliation since they contain crystals.

  Try this highly rated Microdermabrasion Scrub by Derma E or NeedCrystals Microdermabrasion Crystals (on Amazon)

Benefits Of Microdermabrasion

microdermabrasion-anti aging device-close-up

When comparing the benefits of a chemical peel vs microdermabrasion it is evident that they overlap significantly. However, the main difference is that microdermabrasion treats more mild skin concerns, while stronger chemical peels can treat more serious skin issues due to their deeper level of penetration.

That is to say, microdermabrasion is good for those with enlarged or clogged pores, mild acne, fine lines and minor wrinkles, uneven skin tone, and light scarring or pigmentation. Here is a more detailed list of microdermabrasion benefits:

  • Unclogs pores
  • Improves appearance of fine lines and minor wrinkles
  • Improves skin texture and tone
  • Treats light scaring (including post-acne)
  • Addresses enlarged pores
  • Reduces appearance of minor stretch marks
  • Improves appearance of sun damaged skin
  • Stimulates production of collagen
  • Leaves skin softer and brighter
  • Reveals glowing complexion
  • Improves absorption of skincare products
  • Safe for all skin types including sensitive and dark skin

Related: What to use after microdermabrasion? >>

Is Microdermabrasion Procedure Safe?

Yes, this procedure is safe for all skin types, and has minimal side effects and minimal after care requirements. Since microdermabrasion is less aggressive than chemical peels, it’s considered a great alternative for those who can’t tolerate chemical peels.

To point out, the side effects are not very common, minimal, and include redness, tenderness, swelling and dryness, which usually pass within a day. In addition, microdermabrasion increases skin sensitivity to the sun/light, so protecting skin with SPF is highly recommended.

The after care is very simple and consists of applying moisturizing cream, broad spectrum sunscreen, and avoiding sun exposure. Since the skin can temporarily get red and dry after the exfoliation, you can sooth it by applying a hydrating or soothing sheet mask right after the microdermabrasion treatment.

Even though microdermabrasion is safe for all skin types, there are some restrictions for this procedure. According to dermatologists, this type of exfoliation is NOT recommended for use on infected or inflamed areas and if you have the following:

  • Skin lesions
  • Open sores
  • Herpes or warts
  • Active inflammatory acne
  • Eczema
  • Rosacea
  • Dermatitis
  • Psoriasis
  • Sunburn skin
  • Individual aluminum allergy

Pros: softer and brighter skin, unclogs pores, improves minor signs of aging, pigmentation, and scarring, clears mild acne, no recovery downtime needed, safe for all skin types including sensitive and dark skin, less aggressive than chemical peels, intensity of treatment can be adjusted.

Cons: temporary redness and dryness, increased sensitivity to the sun, individual aluminum allergy to the abrasive crystals is possible, might not be strong enough to address more serious skin concerns like deep scars, deep wrinkles or heavy hyperpigmentation.

Summary

In conclusion, when comparing chemical peel vs microdermabrasion it is important to distinguish that these are two very different types of exfoliators. That is to say, a chemical peel is a chemical exfoliant that utilizes various acids (glycolic, lactic, salicylic, etc.), and depending on the strength of the peel, has the ability to penetrate deep into the epidermis and dermis. It works better for fair and light skin, but can be quite irritating for the skin and painful. Even though most people experience some side effects, a chemical peel remains a very popular resurfacing and rejuvenating treatment due to its various anti aging benefits. In addition, light chemical peels help unclog pores and clear acne and blemishes.

In contrast, microdermabrasion provides a physical exfoliation, which is done with the help of automated abrasive device. This type of exfoliation is less aggressive than most chemical peels, and requires no downtime to recover. Additionally, this procedure is safe for all skin types and is considered a great alternative for those who can’t tolerate chemical peels. Overall, microdermabrasion and chemical peels provide similar benefits, however stronger concentrations of chemical peels have the ability to address more serious skin issues.

Sources:

Bergfeld W.F. “ Cosmetic use of alpha-hydroxy acids.” Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine, Jun. 1997, Vol. 64, No. 6

Castillo DE, Keri JE. “Chemical peels in the treatment of acne: patient selection and perspectives.” Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology, Jul. 2018

“Chemical peel and microdermabrasion for skin of color.” Skin Experts, Vol. 2, No. 2

Chemical peels: overview.” American Academy of Dermatology

Loesch MM, Somani AK, Kingsley MM, Travers JB, Spandau DF. “Skin resurfacing procedures: new and emerging options.” Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology, Aug. 2014, Vol. 7

O’Connor A, Lowe P.M, Shumack S, Lim A.C. “Chemical peels: a review of current practice.” Australasian Journal of Dermatology, Aug. 2018, Vol. 59, Issue 3

Rasha I.M, Marwa A.E.“Efficacy of diamond microdermabrasion with topical vitamin C in treatment of acne scars.” Sohag Medical Journal, Jan. 2019, Vol. 23, No. 1

Rendon, M. I., Berson, D. S., Cohen, J. L., Roberts, W. E., Starker, I., Wang, B. “Evidence and considerations in the application of chemical peels in skin disorders and aesthetic resurfacing.” The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, Jul. 2010, Vol. 3, Issue 7

Shah M, Crane JS. “Microdermabrasion.” StatPearls Publishing, May 2020

Soleymani T, Lanoue J, Rahman Z. “A practical approach to chemical peels: a review of fundamentals and step-by-step algorithmic protocol for treatment.” Journal of Clinical And Aesthetic Dermatology, Aug. 2018, Vol. 11, Issue 8

Tran D, Townley J, Barnes T, Greive K. “An antiaging skincare system containing alpha hydroxy acids and vitamins improves the biomechanical parameters of facial skin.” Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology, 2015, Issue 8

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