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Image of a peeled orange and a lemon representing the difference between microdermabrasion and chemical peel

Microdermabrasion vs chemical peel – what's the difference?

Exfoliating is a great way to remove dead cells and smooth out the skin. But over-the-counter masks and acids sometimes don’t delve deep enough to make a real difference.

Instead, professional exfoliations can help reduce wrinkles, brighten your complexion and minimise acne scars.

There are many effective facial treatments competing in the cosmetic industry, but the two that consistently go head-to-head are microdermabrasion vs chemical peels.

So, what are their benefits and how do they compare to one another?

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What is microdermabrasion?

Microdermabrasion is a type of cosmetic procedure that uses a fine crystal device or a diamond-tip wand to remove the outer layer of skin. The rough surface exfoliates away any dead skin cells, which are then vacuumed up to leave a fresh surface of new skin cells.

The procedure usually only takes an hour, and anaesthesia or sedation is generally not needed. Afterwards, the area may feel tender and red, but this usually disappears after a day.

It often takes several treatments to see any results, which may include:

  • Smoother skin.
  • Reduced lines and wrinkles.
  • More even skin tone.

As with any procedure, the cost varies. However, you can expect to pay around SR765 per session.

What are chemical peels?

A chemical peel is when a clinician places an acid-based solution onto the face to remove the top layers of skin. Once the old skin is peeled off, new cells can form to create a smoother surface.

There are three types of chemical peels – light, medium and deep. Light and medium peels require less downtime and can be done without sedation, but often need more than one session. Deep peels are much more intense and can take weeks to heal. All procedures take between 30 to 90 hours.

Once the skin has healed, the results can include:

  • Reduced acne scars.
  • Minimised wrinkles.
  • Brighter complexion.

While it varies per clinic and city, chemical peels typically cost between SR300 to SR1,000.

How do microdermabrasion and chemical peels work?

In theory, microdermabrasion and chemical peels both work to improve the skin’s surface. But in practice, they couldn’t be more different.

The science behind it

Microdermabrasion – a physical, non-invasive procedure, microdermabrasion uses tiny crystals to ‘knock’ the dead skin cells off the outer layer of skin. This allows new cells to take their place.

Chemical peels – a solution-based procedure, chemical peels melt away the dead skin cells, again allowing new cells to grow in their place.

Before the treatment

With both treatments, it’s a good idea to discuss your goals at a consultation. Microdermabrasion is generally safe for all skin types and tones but may not be suitable if you’re prone to break outs. Chemical peels are generally not recommended for pregnant women or those susceptible to cold sores.

There may be some things you need to avoid before your treatment, such as certain medications, sun exposure or shaving the area. However, your clinician should explain all this during your consultation.

During the treatment

Microdermabrasion:

  1. The clinician will clean your face, then apply the handheld device.
  2. The device will move over your skin, gently spraying small crystals as it goes.
  3. Afterwards, the device will switch to a vacuum to remove the used crystals and dead skin.
  4. The clinician will then apply a moisturiser or a sunscreen.

Chemical peel:

  1. The clinician will first cleanse your skin and cover your eyes and hair.
  2. The solution is applied using a cotton-tipped tool or gauze.
  3. Your skin will begin to whiten – you may feel a slight stinging or burning here.
  4. After a few minutes, the clinician will apply a neutralising solution to wash away the chemicals.
  5. A cool compress may be applied to soothe the skin.

Aftercare

Microdermabrasion – your skin may feel tender and tight immediately after the procedure. You should apply moisturiser and sunscreen regularly. Avoid using any makeup for 24 hours.

Chemical peels – your skin may be sensitive and sore for several days after a chemical peel. Apply a light coat of moisturiser and try to avoid any sun exposure (applying sunscreen when necessary). Your skin can become itchy and irritated, but it’s important not to rub or pull at it to avoid scarring.

How do microdermabrasion and chemical peels compare?

It can be tricky to know the difference between microdermabrasion and chemical peels. Both procedures have their benefits and their drawbacks and may be more suitable to certain skin concerns than others.

Microdermabrasion pros and cons

Pros:

  • No downtime.
  • Suitable to most skin types and tones.
  • Non-invasive.
  • Minimal pain and discomfort.

Cons:

  • May need multiple treatments.
  • Isn’t adaptable or targeted.
  • Can irritate the skin and cause acne.

Best for:

  • Acne scars.
  • Fine lines.
  • Dry and rough skin.

Chemical Peels pros and cons

Pros:

  • Varying levels to suit all skin types.
  • Results are long lasting.
  • Encourages collagen production.
  • Targets deeper layers of the skin.

Cons:

  • Takes at least seven days to heal.
  • More expensive.
  • Can be painful, especially medium, and deep peels.

Best for:

  • Deep wrinkles.

  • Acne.

  • Hyperpigmentation.

Microdermabrasion vs chemical peel facts

  • The skin is your largest organ – making up of around 15 per cent of your body weight. So, you may be carrying more than 20 pounds of skin cells alone.
  • You naturally shed around nine pounds of dead skin cells every year through your skin’s 28-day renewal cycle.
  • Your body is made up of around 3 million skin cells – and you lose around 30,000 of them every minute.

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