Microdermabrasion vs. Chemical Peels: Benefits, Side Effects and More

When the mirror reflects skin that’s less than perfect—be it blemishes, acne scars or signs of aging—you might find yourself wading through a sea of treatments, serums and procedures. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed. The world of skin care is vast, but among the myriad of options, two treatments stand out as tried-and-true game changers: microdermabrasion and chemical peels. 

Both procedures have their unique set of advantages, complexities and considerations. So, how do you make an informed decision? In this comprehensive guide, we delve deep into each treatment, comparing their effectiveness, recovery time and suitability for various skin types and conditions.

What is Microdermabrasion?

Microdermabrasion is a noninvasive, dermatology-approved technique that rejuvenates your complexion by exfoliating the outermost layer of dead skin cells, revealing newer, healthier skin underneath. This procedure can be performed by a dermatologist, medical aesthetician or trained technician. 

Diamond Tip vs. Crystal Spray

Two types of devices are used for microdermabrasion. The first and perhaps more traditional type is a diamond-tipped wand that is gently moved across the skin’s surface. The abrasive action of the diamond tip removes dead skin cells and vacuums them away into a waste receptacle. The diamond tip allows for precision and is especially effective for getting into the nooks and crannies of your facial topography, providing a thorough, even treatment.

The second type uses a wand to spray fine crystals onto the skin’s surface. As the wand moves across the skin, these crystals work to dislodge dead skin cells, which are then sucked away by the same wand. This type of device provides an extra level of exfoliation, giving you a more intensive treatment.


The immediate result of a microdermabrasion session is smoother skin with improved tone and texture, allowing for better absorption of skin care products like moisturizer and making your skin more receptive to other treatments.

With repeat treatments, this procedure effectively treats issues like fine lines, acne scars and sun damage. It can improve the skin’s tone and reduce hyperpigmentation and age spots. 

Microdermabrasion side effects and downtime

The side effects of microdermabrasion are generally mild and may include temporary redness, flaking or dry skin. Applying a good moisturizer can help manage these symptoms. 

Follow the post-treatment recommendations from your dermatologist or skin care specialist, which usually include staying out of the sun, using a gentle cleanser and applying a moisturizer to keep the skin hydrated. You may also be advised to avoid makeup and certain skin care products for a day or two. 

What are Chemical Peels?

Chemical peels involve the application of a chemical solution to the skin’s surface, initiating a controlled wound. The chemical exfoliation process removes the outer layers of the skin to make way for a new, smoother layer. 

The solutions typically contain a combination of acids and brightening agents such as alpha hydroxy acids, trichloroacetic acid (TCA), glycolic acid, salicylic acid, malic acid and hydroquinone.

Benefits of chemical peels

A light or superficial chemical peel offers skin-brightening benefits similar to microdermabrasion, helping your skin regain a natural glow and fading light hyperpigmentation.

Medium-strength chemical peels work well for more severe skin conditions, such as deeper acne scarring, significant discoloration and more pronounced fine lines. They can also be used to treat blemishes and other types of hyperpigmentation. Unlike microdermabrasion, these chemical peels allow for deeper skin resurfacing.

The active ingredients in a peel determines its effects. Salicylic acid, for example, reduces production of your skin’s natural oils and thus is well-suited for people with acne-prone skin.

Side effects and downtime

The side effects of chemical peels may be more pronounced and may include redness, peeling and sensitivity to the sun. While light peels may only have a day or two of downtime, recovery time for medium peels can be longer, up to 3 weeks. It’s essential to follow a post-procedure regimen that includes sunscreen and moisturizer.

Microdermabrasion vs Chemical Peel: Which is Right for You?

When considering microdermabrasion vs chemical peel, your choice ultimately depends on your skin type, skin conditions and a few other factors.

  1. Skin Type: Sensitive skin may respond better to microdermabrasion, whereas chemical peels offer more potency for resistant skin types.
  2. Skin Conditions: For mild issues like surface-level acne scars or age spots, microdermabrasion may be sufficient. For deeper scars and significant discoloration, a chemical peel may be more effective.
  3. Downtime: If you cannot afford or do not want a long recovery time, microdermabrasion might be the better option.
  4. Number of Treatments: Microdermabrasion usually requires multiple treatments to achieve significant results. If you want dramatic results quickly, a stronger chemical peel is your best bet. 
  5. Customization: Other than the two different types of devices, microdermabrasion is essentially a one-size-fits-all procedure. Conversely, chemical peels offer a high level of customization. From light peels containing alpha hydroxy acids to deeper peels containing TCA, you have options based on your needs.

Cost Considerations

When budgeting for your skin treatment, it’s important to factor in more than just the upfront cost of the procedure itself. Microdermabrasion generally tends to be less expensive, ranging from $100 to $300 per session, depending on your location and the provider’s level of expertise. 

Chemical peels, on the other hand, can vary widely in cost from $150 to over $3,000, depending on the type and depth of the peel, the expertise of the dermatologist and geographic location. Additionally, chemical peels may require a series of treatments and longer recovery time, which could mean more days off work or social engagements. Pre-treatment consultations, post-treatment care products and any required follow-up appointments can also add to the overall expense. Therefore, while the initial cost of a microdermabrasion treatment may seem more budget-friendly, the total financial commitment for either treatment may differ

Consult a Skin Specialist

When it comes to choosing between microdermabrasion and chemical peels—or any other skin treatment for that matter—no article, blog post or friend’s recommendation can replace the expert advice of a qualified dermatologist or skin care specialist. The skin is a highly individualized organ. What worked wonders for someone else might not be suitable for your unique skin type, condition or goals.

A skin care professional will provide a comprehensive skin analysis, taking into account factors like your age, skin tone, existing skin conditions and desired outcomes. They may run some tests or use diagnostic tools to get an in-depth understanding of your skin’s needs. Whether you’re dealing with acne scars, sun damage or uneven skin tone, a dermatologist will tailor their recommendation based on scientific evaluation and medical expertise.

Given the variety of options and the technicalities involved in each, consulting a specialist is the most foolproof way to make an informed decision. So before you take the plunge into any skin treatment, schedule that all-important consultation. It’s a crucial investment in achieving the skin you’ve always wanted.

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