Mar 3, 2023

Chemical Peels vs. Microdermabrasion: Answers From An Expert

When is a chemical peel best, and when is microdermabrasion best?

Formulate user Crystal wrote in with several questions about chemical peels vs microdermabrasion:

Hi! I'm trying to decide if I want to try out a chemical peel or if I want to invest in an at home microdermabrasion device. Both would be pretty expensive, though it seems to me like it might be a better idea to buy the device than get a one time chemical peel, since I could use the device multiple times. Or I could just go to an aesthetician several times for the microdermabrasion since it's less expensive and still save money (it's my understanding that chemical peels are way more expensive anyway, is that correct? Also, you can only get chemical peels from a dermatologist, right? Either way, is it possible to get good results from microdermabrasion at home or is it something you should leave to the experts?) My skin concerns (from most to least concerning) are acne scars, fine lines and wrinkles, a few spots of active acne, and if it's possible, I'd like to make my pores a little smaller (though that last one is certainly not a deal breaker). Which would you recommend for these concerns - a chemical peel or microdermabrasion? Also, which come with worse side effects?

Thanks for writing, Crystal! 

To answer your questions, we consulted Dr. Michele Green, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. A graduate of Yale University with an MD from Mount Sinai Medical School in NYC, Dr. Green is an expert in minimally invasive cosmetic procedures. She has the expertise to answer everything you want to know -  we hope you enjoy our conversation below!

What is microdermabrasion?

Dr. Green: Microdermabrasion is a minimally invasive cosmetic treatment that entails physically exfoliating the skin's surface to improve concerns such as:

  • Fine lines
  • Sun damage
  • Enlarged pores
  • Dullness.

Typically, a specialized handpiece with an abrasive surface is used to gently remove the skin's surface layers.

There are three common methods of microdermabrasion: crystal microdermabrasion, diamond microdermabrasion, and Hydradermabrasion.

Crystal microdermabrasion: Uses a handpiece that sprays small crystals, usually aluminum oxide or sodium bicarbonate, to sand away the outer layer of the skin.

Diamond microdermabrasion: Entails the use of a diamond-tipped handpiece that is applied to the skin for gentle exfoliation.

Hydradermabrasion: The newest method of microdermabrasion and typically preferred over traditional methods. The HydraFacial treatment is a medical-grade, three-step hydradermabrasion system that cleanses, exfoliates, and hydrates the skin. The handpiece is equipped with an innovative vortex tip that infuses specialized serums while suctioning impurities out of the skin.

What is a chemical peel?

Dr. Green: A chemical peel is a non-invasive skin resurfacing procedure. It entails the application of a chemical solution to the skin's surface to exfoliate the outer layers of the skin. The process of chemical exfoliation accelerates the rate of skin cell turnover. It reveals healthy new skin cells that are more even in tone and texture. A chemical peel can treat active acne breakouts, acne scars, hyperpigmentation, fine lines, enlarged pores, dullness, and more.

There are various types of chemical peels. They fall into three categories- light, medium, and deep. Different types of chemical peels are recommended for different skin concerns. Each type is associated with a different amount of downtime.

Which treatment would you recommend for scars? Why?

Dr. Green: A chemical peel is a better treatment option for improving the appearance of atrophic (depressed) scars and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.

A chemical peel can penetrate the skin at a greater depth than microdermabrasion treatment. Chemical peels stimulate collagen production in addition to providing exfoliation. Increased levels of collagen are associated with a smoother skin texture. The new skin cells that are generated by a chemical peel treatment are more even in tone and texture. The best type of chemical peel for treating acne scars will be dependent upon the patient's skin type, skin tone, and the severity of the scars.

Which treatment would you recommend to fight fine lines and wrinkles? Why?

Dr. Green: Either a chemical peel or microdermabrasion treatment may be used to improve the appearance of fine lines. For deeper lines and wrinkles, a chemical peel treatment is recommended.

Microdermabrasion is limited to treating the superficial layers of the skin. A medium or deep chemical peel can stimulate collagen production below the skin's surface, resulting in a smoother skin texture.

Which treatment would you recommend for acne? Why?

Dr. Green: A chemical peel is a better treatment for active acne breakouts.

The physical exfoliation process associated with microdermabrasion may exacerbate any irritation associated with the breakout.

A chemical peel relies on chemexfoliation to increase the rate of skin cell renewal. It gently removes dead skin cells, unclogs pores, and fades discoloration. This reduces active acne and prevents new breakouts.

Which treatment would you recommend for enlarged pores? Why?

Dr. Green: Chemical peels and microdermabrasion are equally effective cosmetic treatments for temporarily reducing the appearance of enlarged pores.

It is not possible to permanently alter pore size as it is largely genetic. Their appearance can be minimized by removing dead skin cells, sebum, and debris. This can be achieved with chemical peels and microdermabrasion.

Do either of these treatments come with potential side effects?

Dr. Green: Potential side effects of microdermabrasion include temporary swelling, redness, and tenderness. Symptoms typically resolve on their own quickly following the treatment.

Similar potential side effects are associated with chemical peels, in addition to more rare side effects such as permanent changes in skin color or scarring. The risk of encountering serious side effects is reduced when treatment is performed by a board-certified dermatologist.

Have you undergone either of these treatments yourself? What was your experience like?

Dr. Green: I have had chemical peels and the experience has always been positive. The process of having a chemical peel treatment  is straightforward. The cosmetic results are consistently optimal. In addition to improving the overall skin tone and texture, chemical peels provide a healthy, radiant glow. During the peel, a chemical solution is applied to the skin's surface that removes the outermost layer of the skin. The solution stays on the skin for 1 to 5 minutes, depending on the strength of the peel. It is normal to experience a tingling sensation during a chemical peel treatment.

How much does each treatment generally cost?

Dr. Green: The American Society of Plastic Surgeons reports the average cost of microdermabrasion is approximately $160. They report the average cost of a chemical peel treatment is around $500. The ultimate cost of any cosmetic treatment will be influenced by factors like the geographic location of the office in which you're treated, the experience level of your provider, and the specific type of treatment you're undergoing.

Can you do either of these treatments at home?

Dr. Green: At-home chemical peels and microdermabrasion devices are not capable of producing the same results as in-office treatments. Although the at-home versions of these treatments are milder than those offered by an esthetician or dermatologist, there is still risk associated.

To guarantee the best rejuvenation results and limit unwanted side effects, it is recommended to consult with a board-certified cosmetic dermatologist. Board certified dermatologists have the experience and expertise required to recommend the treatments best suited to your skin tone, type, and condition. Performing a resurfacing treatment at home or having a treatment with an inexperienced or unqualified provider can result in poor cosmetic results. It can also result in unwanted side effects like hyperpigmentation, hypopigmentation, and even burning or scarring.

Can you do either of these treatments with an esthetician instead of a dermatologist?

Dr. Green: A licensed esthetician may perform microdermabrasion and a light or medium depth chemical peel. A deep chemical peel treatment must be performed by a dermatologist.

Any final thoughts?

Dr. Green: Chemical peels are ultimately a more effective non-invasive treatment option for improving a wider range of skin concerns.

Chemical peels are one of the most versatile cosmetic procedures available. They improve the appearance of wrinkles, enlarged pores, scars, acne breakouts, sun damage, hyperpigmentation, and more. Additionally, chemical peels are often more inexpensive than many laser resurfacing treatment options. Chemical peels can be a great non-invasive treatment option for patients of any skin type and skin tone. They can often be used in conjunction with other cosmetic treatments for even better rejuvenation results.

If a reader would like to follow up, how could they seek out treatment from you?

Dr. Green: By submitting an inquiry at https://www.michelegreenmd.com/contact or calling the office at 212-535-3088 to schedule a consultation.

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