We all know first impressions can have a big effect. It’s why we dress up for interviews, first dates and networking events. It’s why fashion and beauty products are billion-dollar industries. It’s why many of us want to look young and beautiful, to have that extra edge.
One way to put your best face forward is with younger, smoother looking skin created with microdermabrasion and chemical peels.
“Microdermabrasion and chemical peels are more intensive forms of exfoliation – professional exfoliation. And what any type of exfoliation is doing is stimulating your skin cells to be healthier,” said Mallory Beres, a licensed esthetician at Allvera Body Wraps and Wellness. “It’s kind of like exercising for your skin. The more you do it, the better you feel, and the better you look and the better everything works.”
They both help with superficial scarring, discoloration from sun damage, acne scarring, bumps, rough spots and fine lines. They also create a smoother face so moisturizers go deeper and makeup applies evenly. So what’s the difference?
“The biggest difference between microdermabrasion and chemical peels is just the way the dead skin cells are removed from your epidermis,” explained Beres. “Microderm is a physical exfoliation where a peel is a chemical exfoliation.”
Microdermabrasion: Taking Off the First Layer
“It’s a deep, physical exfoliation to your epidermis, the top layer of your skin,” Beres said. “With the physical exfoliation, we use baking soda crystals – there are diamond tips as well – [that break] up dead skin cells on the surface of your skin. That also stimulates circulation – blood flow on your skin – that helps healthy skin cells grow.”
Microdermabrasion is done with a medical-grade machine that looks like dentist equipment and feels like sandpaper. During a treatment, the hand-held wand pushes the crystals (or tips) onto the skin and then vacuums it off, taking dead skin cells as well.
“For long-term results, they’re best in a series,” Beres said. “The way the series will work is as those healthier skin cells grow back, we break them down again before they completely reform – and they’ll grow back even stronger.”
Treatments are safe to undergo every seven days to two weeks, unless doing the series, during which four treatments are completed in the same month.
Chemical Peels: Digging a Little Deeper
“Chemical peels are also a great choice for addressing many skin-care concerns. They are often considered to be a more aggressive treatment than microdermabrasion, but can actually vary in strength from light, superficial peels to deep peels often performed in a medical setting,” said Molly Lyons from Skin Oasis.
Basically, all peels do the same thing, but they are not all the same.
“Chemical peels use certain acids, either alpha hydroxy, beta hydroxy or a concoction of both to remove the outer layer, or epidermis, of the skin,” explained Lyons. “A chemical peel works by creating controlled damage to the skin to induce repair. With the repair, old skin cells are sloughed off and new fresh cells are replaced, leaving a more youthful appearance.”
While microdermabrasion can be completed with no recovery time, some chemical peels can take up to six weeks to fully heal. Although, again, it depends on the strength.
“I think many people have heard some sort of horror story of a chemical peel that has left the person holed up in a house for weeks. In those cases, the person most likely had a very deep peel that may only be performed once or twice in a person’s lifetime,” Lyons said. “The majority of peels, however, are much milder and have little to no downtime. In fact, not every peel actually results in peeling, although it is still doing its job.”
Why Not Both: Notable Differences
If all you want is prevent and reverse some of the signs of aging, the less invasive microdermabrasion might be the best bet. If you are dealing with long-term issues, a peel might work better.
“In my opinion, peels are typically more aggressive at treating hyperpigmentation caused by acne scarring, sun damage and melasma [commonly called pregnancy mask],” Lyons said. “When using a beta hydroxy acid, acne can also be effectively treated with a peel.”
So even though they do similar things, a peel can go deeper into the skin’s outer layers. Although using both of them may be the best bet.
“You’ll often see the term ‘micro-peel,’ which is a service that includes both microdermabrasion and a chemical peel together. By first manually removing the dead skin cells with microdermabrasion, the peel can then penetrate the skin more effectively,” explained Lyons.