Dr. Anson Answers: Microdermabrasion vs. Chemical Peels

Aging, sun exposure and a multitude of other factors are the root cause of fine lines and wrinkles, uneven skin tone, age spots and dull-looking skin. To the rescue are microdermabrasion and chemical peels, the most popular non-surgical, non-invasive cosmetic procedures that, when administered correctly, significantly improve skin’s appearance to create a more youthful glow.

What is the difference between microdermabrasion and chemical peels?

Superficial chemical peels and microdermabrasion are a common part of routine skin care. They are usually performed by an aesthetician monthly or bi-monthly.  Both are intended to exfoliate the skin, removing the superficial dead skin cells and brighten the skin surface. Exfoliation allows better penetration of other active ingredients the aesthetician may apply.

While periodic exfoliation treatments can be extremely beneficial, they should be only part of an overall treatment plan. Excess exfoliation whether mechanical or chemical, can actually damage the skin barrier and do more harm than good. Barrier damage can result in irritation, pigment irregularity and sun sensitivity. You should still see your aesthetician regularly to monitor your skin needs and take full advantage of different mechanisms to achieve maximum results.

Not everyone is a good candidate for exfoliation or peels. Those with inflammatory conditions (rosacea, psoriasis), infection, acne, fragile skin, hypertrophic (keloid) scarring or certain medical conditions should be evaluated by a dermatologist.

Microdermabrasion and superficial chemical peels generally have minimal downtime. Some skin swelling, dryness and flaking can occur. Occasionally, blisters or scabbing result.  Sunscreen is critical after treatments. Your aesthetician will further guide you regarding products to temporarily avoid depending on peel depth.


Microdermabrasion, which results in minimal downtime, is used to treat superficial skin problems such as fine lines, dull skin, superficial brown spots, mild acne scars, and sun-damage. Microdermabrasion manually removes dead skin cells from the epidermis, the most superficial layer of the skin. The process uses a wand (‘buffing’ device) or crystals (‘sandblasting’ device) combined with suction to gently remove the top layer of dead skin cells. Microdermabrasion encourages more rapid skin turnover, smoother skin, and may improve ingredient penetration.

Microdermabrasion is typically recommended on a monthly basis. However, I remind my patients to do the best they can. Bi-monthly, quarterly, or even annual visits are better than none. Home devices have become popular and can be quite useful.  Again, resist the temptation to overuse!

Chemical Peels

A superficial chemical peel is designed to help improve the appearance of fine texture, mild acne scars, superficial brown spots, sun damage and mild pigment irregularities.

The procedure begins with a thorough cleansing of the skin after which an acid solution is placed on the face to peel away the outer skin layer. The acids in a chemical peel penetrate deep to stimulate collagen and elastin production to help smooth fine lines and wrinkles. Many types of acids are used, most commonly glycolic acid, salicylic acid and lactic acid.

Deeper Treatments

Medium or deep chemical peels, ablative laser, or ‘real’ dermabrasion can go much deeper. These may be done to treat wrinkles, deeper sun damage and pigment changes. The deeper the treatment, the longer the downtime, the better the possible result, and the greater the potential risk. These treatments are more invasive procedures and require consultation and pre-planning.

Proper exfoliation is an indispensible part of great anti-aging skin care — Out with the old and in with the new!

-Dr. Goesel Anson

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