Chemical Peels, Microdermabrasion, Dermabrasion - What's The Difference?

Chemical Peels, Microdermabrasion, Dermabrasion - What's The Difference?
Chemical Peels, Microdermabrasion, Dermabrasion -What's The Difference?

Moving into summer, we want to shed the pounds, the layers of clothes, and, most especially, dull, wrinkled skin. Am I right or am I right?

Now is the perfect time to research and book a procedure that can diminish scars, wrinkles, blackheads and brown spots.

Personally, I've been noticing the results of a dry winter and past sun exposure, leaving my skin lacking in "freshness." That, and some tiny clogged pores plus not-so-tiny fine lines (getting more noticeable by the day!) have me thinking about what I can do to rejuvenate my skin and overall appearance.

As a lifelong chemical peel devotee, I immediately thought that another peel was in order, maybe a stronger one this time.

But looking into a few non-invasive procedures, I realized that I might be a better candidate for a different option.

Let's take a look at three of the most popular skin rejuvenation procedures –chemical peels, microdermabrasion and dermabrasion and see which one I should pursue.


Best for:
Lighter peels are great for exfoliating dead skin to improve texture, lines, acne and sun damage.
Deeper peels can tackle wrinkles and uneven skin tone.

Types of peels:

  • Alpha-hydroxy acid peel (AHA)
  • Trichloroacetic acid peel (TCA)


  • Phenol peel
  • Croton oil peel
  • Trichloroacetic acid peel (TCA)

For more details about each one, check out Smart Beauty Guide's chemical peel page.

The liquid of the peel is brushed, swabbed or rubbed on to the skin and allowed to sit for a period of time. The longer the peel is on, the more intense the effect.
After a light peel, there is little downtime, though you will be more sensitive to the sun, so stay away from the rays!

Following a deeper peel, a protective ointment is applied to protect and moisten the crust that will form. The ointment should stay on for up to 2 days. (Follow doctor’s orders!) For severe peels, bandages may be applied and will require a longer recovery period.

$574 Average Cost* (Varies by peel)

Recovery Time:
1-7 Days (7-8 Days for a deep peel)

The more intense the peel, the longer the results will last; a few months for lighter peels, up to years for deep peels.


Best for non-invasively resurfacing the skin to remove dead skin, which:

  • Produces a healthy glow.
  • Diminishes blackheads and whiteheads.
  • Reverses sun damage, acne scars and fine lines.

You may remember an earlier method for microdermabrasion, which was essentially a small sandblaster for your skin, shooting tiny aluminum oxide crystals to remove the epidermis. Then the process evolved to use a wand or pen to shoot the crystals on to the skin in a more controlled fashion.

Now the diamond-tip method uses a diamond-tip hand device to gently loosen and exfoliate dead skin cells. Like crystal microdermabrasion, the dead skin is suctioned off after it is mechanically removed.

Other options include HydraFacial or DermaSweep which is a non-particle microdermabrasion which is usually done monthly.

Exfoliating the dead skin stimulates collagen growth for healthier looking skin that also feels smoother. Skin regenerates more slowly as we age, so mechanically removing the top layers is a way to kick up collagen production. Regular treatments will likely improve fine lines, blemishes, dull skin and sun spots. And--bonus!--once the dead skin has been removed, it allows moisturizers and lotions to more effectively and easily absorb into the skin.

$127 per visit average cost *

Recovery Time:
1-2 days.

Can last for six to twelve months with diamond tip.

Depending on your desired results, it might be recommended to combine microdermabrasion with a light chemical peel to increase the effect. Immediately after your treatments, moisturize with SPF of 30 or higher.


Best for deeper skin scars and marks, such as:

  • Lines around eyes, nose or cheeks.
  • Facial scars from acne, chicken pox or another injury.
  • Blotchy skin or brown spots.

Dermabrasion purposefully "injures" the skin because good scar tissue can replace the bad scar tissue, which will reduce blemishes and wrinkles. (If that sounds freaky, all the more reason to seek an expert {link to:} for the best care.) A rough, small spinning wheel rubbed on the skin physically removes the outer layers of skin. Just like skinning our knees (I did that all the time), the skin that is removed is replaced by new, fresh and smoother skin.

$1,611 average cost*

Recovery Time:
In 7-10 days, new skin begins to form. The skin may remain pinker than normal for up to a month (longer for some). Within six weeks you can begin to see the positive results of the procedure.

Make sure to understand the recovery period associated with the location of the dermabrasion, as anything close to the mouth (for those fine lines that cause lipstick to bleed) will affect eating and drinking routines. Also inquire about what other activities may be affected during recuperation.

Dermabrasion produces more significant results and the effects will last years or permanently. Yay!

Given my skin and my desired results, I think diamond-tipped microdermabrasion is calling my name!

Join me in saying hello to summer fun and good bye to blah and dreary winter skin.

*Based on surgeon fees per Smart Beauty Guide.

About the Author

Mary Cunningham is a health and wellness writer and co-founder of the lifestyle site, Girl Around Town and travels regularly between New York, Austin and Houston. She loves speaking about the beauty we have inside and how to do the inner work to let that beauty radiate. Prior to leaving the corporate world to start her own company, Mary worked at the GRAMMYs in Los Angeles, before moving to Manhattan, where she joined Nokia's Digital Music Department.