Exfoliation Conundrum: Peel or to Microderm?


Exfoliation is an important part of having younger skin, and who doesn't want to have younger looking skin? Two of my favorite types of exfoliation are peels and microdermabrasion. Peels are a chemical exfoliation, while microdermabrasion is a mechanical exfoliation. Before we get into these two types of exfoliation, let's discuss the need for exfoliation.

Need for Exfoliation

As humans age, we lose the collagen and elastin in our skin along with the ability to turn over skin cells at a faster rate.Collagen is the molecule that is responsible for plumping skin to keep fine lines and wrinkles at bay while the elastin gives our skin elasticity. Elastin is too big of a molecule to put back in our skin. While collagen is also a big molecule, pores are large enough for some collagen to penetrate back in. However, anti-aging results will be limited without exfoliation such as microderm or peel. These exfoliation methods not only slough off dead skin cells but they also stimulate the production of new skin cells which will produce collagen and elastin.

Both peels and microderm exfoliate; however, peels will produce a deeper exfoliation because it is a chemical that penetrates down to the dermis while a micrdermabrasion will only work on the epidermis.


Peels come in different types. Glycolic acid is derived from sugar cane and is an alpha-hydroxy acid good for anti- aging and brightening the skin, while salicylic acid is derived from aspirin and is a beta-hydroxy acid known for combating acne.There is also a lactic acid which is the safest form of peel because women produce lactic acid. Jessner and tricloracetic acid (TCA) usually don't use a neutralizer and are done in a setting with a medical director because they are deep peels.

Peels are not usually recommended for pregnant women, as the chemicals can seep into blood stream, although I have seen some estheticians perform a light lactic peel on a pregnant woman. Peels are also not recommended for people higher on the Fitzpatrick scale due to risk of hyperpigmentation. Hyperpigmentation happens when the skin produces too much melanin and forms darker spots in some areas. Other contraindications for peels include scarring, scabbing, cold sores or herpes break out around the mouth if already present.


Microdermabrasion is completely different and safe for almost anyone to use. This type of exfoliation is usually done with a diamond head tip or a crystal spray. For the crystal spray, I like to use the analogy of a paint chipper. Imagine a paint chipper spraying away at all of the dead paint so that a brand new canvas can be produced, this is the same of a crystal spray microdermabrasion because it blasts away all of the dead skin cells showing brand new skin. It doesn't carry the risks associated with peels because it only is on the epidermis versus the dermis.

The diamond head tip is placed directly on the skin, and the diamond head smooths away the dead skin cells while a vacuum sucks them up. A vacuum is also used with the crystal spray. Hydramdermabrasion is used in the same capacity as a crystal spray with water being used to blast away the dead skin cells.

Microdermabrasion is not recommended for people with lesions, cuts, scrapes, dermatitis, keratosis, lupus or psoriasis.

What to Choose?

I prefer peels to yield depper, long lasting results. Although they usually come with a downtime of 2-7 days depending on the pH of the peel. However, peels are usually recommended in a series of 3–6 to get the results the client wants to see. Microdermabrasion is a safer exfoliation method that almost everyone can use and results are immediate. Both exfoliation methods can be used on different areas of the body. To decide which is better, use your skin care knowledge when consulting with the client, and they will see younger, firmer, glowing, healthy skin in no time.


Maxie Frericks is a licensed esthetician specializing in medical esthetics and waxing who currently operates at Velvet Day Spa in Greenwood Village, CO. She is a national esthetics educator, having taught for Heritage College and the European Wax Center.

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