Expert Doctor

Chemical Peels Vs. Microdermabrasion

Having beautiful, healthy skin is a goal shared by many people.  Glowing skin not only makes a person look better, but it also shows the world how healthy a person feels.  Sometimes diet and exercises are not enough, and it takes medical treatments to help a person achieve their skin goals.  Two of the most common procedures are chemical peels and microdermabrasion.  What are the differences and how can a person tell which procedure is their best choice?



Both chemical peels and microdermabrasion change the skin, skin surface, skin texture, skin quality, and pigmentation.  Chemical peels are used to soften the texture and quality of the skin. Microdermabrasion uses finer chemicals and a sandy powder that is placed in a machine.  The skin adapter is placed on the patients face and it shoots the exfoliants on to the skin.  The machine then cleans the exfoliants and abrades the skin. Dermabrasion is like using a sander that’s on a wheel to sand down the skin. 

A chemical peel treatment applies a solution to the face that activates the change.  It can range from very mild to something stronger that goes deeper into the tissues like a phenol peel.  The different types of peels include a fruit acid peel, a glycolic peel, a TCA peel, and a phenol peel. They have different penetration levels into the layers of the skin from the surface down.  When a chemical is put on the skin it gets absorbed.  There’s a self-limiting absorption where it does its own work, then stops at different layers of the skin.  Mild peels are easy to apply and can be done frequently. They can do as little as change the glow, pore size, and texture of the skin to making it look dewy and better.  There are stronger peels, which are deeper, and can really affect deep wrinkles and severe sun damage to the skin, like a phenol peel. 

Dermabrasion is an abrasion, rubbing, buffing and sanding of the skin, which has a deeper effect.  If you have a finer abrasion, like a microdermabrasion, the effect is not as deep and lowers the ultimate effect of the treatment. 



The different skin colors react differently to the various peels or dermabrasions.  There is a scale of skin color called the Fitzpatrick scale.  The skin of patients is classified by this scale and it is determined whether they will benefit from, or can even tolerate a peel or a dermabrasion.

Choosing what type of treatment a patient needs depends on the location and the problem they are experiencing.  Imagine a wood surface that needs to be smoothed out.  A person would use a rough sander more than a smooth sander to soften the edges out.  That’s what dermabrasion does for a patient. For example, the lines around the mouth that feed off the lips where there are deeper crevices can be smoothed out.  So instead of a jagged edge, it becomes a smoother edge. People with acne scarring sometimes have deep pits.  That pit is where the scar forms, casts a shadow, and makes it look deeper. Dermabrasion can soften that crater edge so it’s less noticeable. 

When using chemical facial peels, a doctor needs to be careful with the quality of the skin.  Depending on the depth of the peel, sometimes the skin has to be prepped before the peel is attempted.  Prepping can be done just before the peel or even weeks before the peel.  Prepping includes decreasing the melanostatic activity in order to get hyperpigmentation. Sometimes the chemical peel affects the melanocytes and leaves blotchiness or hyperpigmentation.  The skin has to be prepped for that. 

A person who wants a freshening of the skin with no downtime can do a glycolic peel or a fruit acid peel. Phenol peels, are a deeper peel, which leave a person looking more youthful than they did before having the phenol peel. It’s a significant peel that has to be done by someone who is experienced. If a person wants an improvement in the color and quality of the skin with modest downtime, they have a peeling and healing of the skin that can take one to two weeks.  That’s a trichlorocetic acid peel (TCA). The deepest peel is the phenol peel which has several weeks of downtime.  There is downtime because the skin will start to turn dark and form an onion like skin that skin peels off.  TCA peels can last from one year to several years.  A patient can have repeat TCA peels.  They can also have a glycolic peel every few weeks.



Recovery after the procedures, depends on the amount and depth of the peel, the recovery is usually longer than most people anticipate. The more aggressive the treatment, the longer it takes to heal.



The side effects of these procedures are hyperpigmentation, hypertrophic scarring, or scarring due to the trauma of the peel. The body reacts by forming collagen that thickens and becomes a thick scar.

Also, with dermabrasion and chemical peels, once the treatment gets rid of the pigmentation and blotchiness of the skin where it’s been peeled, it will look different than the area that hasn’t been treated.



A chemical peel or dermabrasion costs anywhere from $250-$2500 depending on the area treated. If it’s the lower eyelids, then it’s a lower price. If it’s the full face, then it’s a higher price. Doing dermabrasion for one area of acne scarring is less than it would be around the whole mouth.  If a full-face chemical peel is done, it could be up to $2500 dollars.  A full-face phenol peel can be $3500-$4000.



The results of dermabrasion can take up to two weeks to heal.  If a person has a light chemical peel treatment, like a glycolic or a fruit acid peel, they can walk out of the office without it looking like they had a procedure. With an acid type of peel, or a more significant TCA peel, it burns during the treatment, which makes the skin a little red after the procedure. Eventually turning the skin darker, until it peels several days after.  New skin grows and that continual process takes about a week.



While there are a variety of options available, it’s important to find an experienced doctor to handle the procedure.  Determining whether a chemical peel or microdermabrasion is best for a patient is best decided by a doctor.  Also, an experienced physician can use the Fitzpatrick scale to decide which procedure a patient’s skin is able to tolerate.  Having procedures performed on the skin needs to be handled carefully in order to avoid scars, burns or any other long term damage.


Written by Cosmetic Town Editorial Team - MA

Based on an exclusive interview by Dr. Stafford Broumand in New York, NY