Choose Between Two Options
- $59 for one chemical peel by a dermatologist ($150 value)
- $159 for three chemical peels by a dermatologist ($450 value)
Microdermabrasion vs. Chemical Peels: Picking the Best Solution for Your Skin
The arsenal of age-fighting treatments includes both microdermabrasion and chemical peels. Consult our comparison below to help decide which is the best fit for your face.
Typically performed in med spas or in the offices of dermatologists and plastic surgeons, both of these treatments are used to deeply exfoliate the face to help fade wrinkles, light scarring, irregular pigmentation, and tenacious Kool-Aid stains. Here are some of the subtle differences to help you decide which treatment is right for you:
How they work: Microdermabrasion is sandblasting on a micro scale. In traditional microdermabrasion, a hand-piece about the size of a magic marker or extra-hearty stick of beef jerky sends a high-pressure stream of tiny crystals against the skin as a vacuum sucks up the used crystals and skin cells into a waste receptacle. Today, many prefer diamond-tipped microdermabrasion wands, which work similarly but eliminate the risk of loose crystals falling into the eyes or mouth. During a chemical peel, an acid solution is swabbed onto the skin, causing the outer layers to slough off either immediately or over the next few days, depending on the type of solution.
Custom options: The effects of microdermabrasion vary little between systems or practitioners—patients will simply undergo more sessions for more extensive resurfacing. With chemical peels, there are more choices to make. Med-spa menus will typically offer light peels, which remove only the outer layer of the skin—the epidermis—via a solution of salicylic acid (good for simultaneously treating acne), glycolic acid, or another fruit-derived acid. Medium peels go deeper, reaching below the epidermis into the upper dermis with tetrochloroacetic acid (TCA) for more extensive skin regeneration. In the past, doctors sometimes performed deep peels, the most aggressive level of peel, to address deeper wrinkles, scars, or precancerous growths, but today laser treatments produce the same effects without the need for sedation or extended recovery.
Off limits for: Chemical peels are usually not recommended for those with either dark complexions or very light, freckled skin and red hair, since they present a risk of discoloration. Habitual tanners should also abstain from the sun for up to two months before their peel. Microdermabrasion may be a better option for these patients. It can also be better at smoothing out rough texture produced by enlarged pores, and it’s safer for use on the neck and chest than some stronger peels.
Time commitment: Patients typically undergo anywhere from 5 to 16 microdermabrasion sessions before seeing significant improvements in skin condition. Light peels take more immediate action—usually performed in a series of 3 to 6—and a medium peel is generally a stand-alone treatment. Either treatment may be performed within about 30–60 minutes.
Side effects: No downtime is required for microdermabrasion, though patients may experience a tingling sensation during treatment. Slight stinging tends to accompany all chemical peels, and those opting for a medium peel may take a painkiller beforehand and have compresses or protective dressings placed over the skin afterward. Patients should avoid sun exposure after both treatments, as their skin may be red and likelier to burn.