The Difference Between Chemical Peels and Microdermabrasion, Explained

October 14, 2022
Margaret Fisher
By: Margaret Fisher | by L'Oréal
Chemical Peels vs. Microdermabrasion: What’s the Difference?

If your complexion is looking dull, it may be time to look into exfoliation procedures that can help take your skin to the next level. Two popular choices are chemical peels and microdermabrasion. Both procedures, which can be done at home (to a degree) or by a dermatologist, help remove dead skin cells. Where they differ are the concerns they target, how they’re performed and what you can expect afterwards. To find out the key differences between chemical peels and microdermabrasion, we tapped Dr. Dhaval Bhanusali, a board-certified dermatologist and consultant.

What Is a Chemical Peel?

A chemical peel involves applying a powerful chemical solution formulated to peel off the top layers of skin. The treatment resurfaces your skin, making the texture feel smooth and the appearance look more youthful. The treatment can also reduce the look of discoloration and scars. 


According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), it’s likely that your dermatologist will give you a pre-peel regimen to follow for a few weeks in advance to prep your skin. This will likely involve excluding retinoids and exfoliants from your skincare routine, as well as staying diligent about sun protection.


Afterward, they’ll likely give you a soothing lotion or cool compress to minimize any discomfort and redness from the procedure. You can also use at-home peel pads, such as the L’Oréal Paris Revitalift Bright Reveal Brightening Daily Peel Pads, in the meantime. While not as potent as an in-office treatment, they are still effective in removing dead skin cells and promoting a more radiant complexion.


What Can You Expect Post-Chemical Peel?

The reality is, all peels performed by a dermatologist will require at-home care and time to heal and for the skin to fully resurface. You may be directed to refrain from wearing makeup for a while or to apply ice packs for soothing relief, as your skin will most likely be inflamed and sensitive post-treatment. Healing varies from person to person and depends on the type of chemical peel you received, but typically lasts around a week. It’s important to note that results are not permanent. Ask your dermatologist how often they recommend coming back for the treatment.

What Is Microdermabrasion?

While chemical peels are a form of chemical exfoliation, microdermabrasion is a form of manual exfoliation, meaning the dead surface skin cells are physically sloughed away, revealing a smoother texture and a more even tone. Unlike a chemical peel, microdermabrasion doesn’t necessitate a pre-procedure plan. During the procedure, your dermatologist will use a handheld device to gently remove the top layer of skin, which may result in a non-painful sanding sensation. 


Dr. Bhanusali shares that diamond tips or crystals may be used to achieve the exfoliation and a vacuum can be used to remove the debris. According to the AAD, the entire process should take around 30 to 40 minutes for your face and 20 minutes for your neck. Afterward, your dermatologist will apply a moisturizer. For an at-home tool, look into the PMD Personal Microderm Pro.  

What Can You Expect Post-Microdermabrasion?

Unlike a chemical peel, microdermabrasion calls for little to no downtime. The AAD states that some patients may see their skin turn pink or red with slight swelling, akin to having a sunburn. During this time, you may need to apply a moisturizer and will need to be diligent about using sun protection when outdoors.


Most patients will need a series of microdermabrasion procedures to see visible results. Similar to a chemical peel, the results will also not be permanent. 

Which Procedure Should You Get?

Both procedures can improve the appearance of dull skin, uneven tone and texture, age spots and dark spots, so how can you choose between the two? According to Dr. Bhanusali, one major difference between chemical peels and microdermabrasion is that in addition to exfoliating, peels can also help stimulate collagen production. So if you want to target aging concerns, a chemical peel might be the way to go. 


Another difference, says Dr. Bhanusali, is that chemical peels are capable of penetrating the skin deeper for more dramatic results. However, microdermabrasion is less invasive than a chemical peel, so if you have sensitive skin or want a treatment with less pre- and post-care, the latter may be a better choice. As always, talk to your dermatologist for a personalized recommendation.



Photo: Lindsey Unterberger

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