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Microdermabrasion vs. Glycolic Peel

By Rachel Nall ; Updated July 18, 2017

Whether you are looking to make your skin appear younger, smoother or blemish-free, microdermabrasion or a glycolic acid peel are two methods dermatologists and skincare professionals use to enhance the skin's appearance. While each uses different methods, both have exfoliating, wrinkle-reducing and blemish-fighting properties.

Understanding The Process

Microdermabrasion is a noninvasive procedure that uses a specialized wand applied to the skin. This wand sprays small crystals onto the surface of the skin -- which feels like a fine sandpaper rubbed over the skin -- to remove dead skin cells, revealing fresher, younger-looking skin underneath.

A glycolic acid peel uses glycolic acid, derived from sugarcane, to deeply exfoliate the skin. When applied to the skin (typically in a ratio of less than 30 percent), the glycolic acid binds with the "glue" that holds dead skin cells to the face and makes these dead cells fall away. The skin underneath is much smoother and brighter in appearance.

What to Expect

The exfoliating properties of both glycolic acid and microdermabrasion mean less dry skin is able to infiltrate the pores, which results in fewer blemishes. However, each offers a few differences in overall effect. For example, glycolic acid's ability to draw out old skin cells is also coupled with an ability to draw moisturizers into the skin. This effect is not true for microdermabrasion. However, microdermabrasion offers an added benefit because it stimulates collagen and elastin production in the skin, making it appear more vibrant.

Timing and Commitment

Microdermabrasion typically takes 30 minutes to an hour to perform and is typically performed every two to three weeks for best results. While you may see results instantly, it may take up to five treatments before you see significant results, such as less pronounced wrinkling. Glycolic acid peels typically take 10 to 15 minutes for the peel itself. However, they often are associated with other applications, such as a moisturizer or facial steam to open pores. Treatments are delivered three to four weeks apart to experience the best results.

Deciding Which To Use

Microdermabrasion is best indicated for fine lines, mild acne scars, sun damage (such as age spots) or "crow's feet" on the sides of the eyes. Glycolic facial peels treat rough or dry skin, acne, signs of sun damage and mild wrinkling.

After Treatment Care

Because both glycolic peels and microdermabrasion reveal sensitive skin underneath the epidermis, or outer layer of skin, both treatments make the skin more sensitive to the sun and sunburn. You must use a sunscreen with a sun protection factor of 30 or higher at all times following a peel or microdermabrasion treatment. Other side effects include your face appearing more red than usual for a period of time. Because both procedures are considered mild forms of facial treatments, it's unusual for you to experience serious side effects with either procedure.

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