Is Microdermabrasion Better Than Glycolic Peels?

A glycolic acid facial peel reveals healthy-looking skin.

Photo: Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images

You do your best to care for your skin, but sometimes what you can get over the counter just isn’t enough. In these instances, you need some extra skincare help. Both microdermabrasion and glycolic acid peels can help you reveal healthier-looking skin, but the best option for you depends on your skincare woes.

How Each Works

Glycolic acid is a fancy name for fruit acids called alpha hydroxy acids. While the idea of putting acids on your face might sound scary, these acids are face-friendly. They penetrate your skin and then loosen the “glue” that holds your old, dead skin cells to your face. When the glycolic acid is taken off, you have healthy skin cells and not any of the old stuff. Instead of using acid to remove dead skin cells, microdermabrasion involves using a special wand that zaps dead skin cells. Think of it as a gentle sander for your face, using the wand to take away the top layer of skin cells. Microdermabrasion is like the kid sister of dermabrasion, which also uses a wand, but takes away more layers of skin and requires anesthesia to perform.


Glycolic acid helps to improve the general appearance of your skin. If you have acne or dead skin cells that just won’t quit, a glycolic acid peel can help you get rid of those stubborn cells. Microdermabrasion can treat a few more skincare troubles. This includes areas of discoloration if you spent too much time in the sun or acne scarring in addition to acne and enlarged pores. Both treatment types require several applications over the course of a few weeks for you to notice a big change in your skin.


Both microdermabrasion and glycolic acid are considered to be less-invasive treatments for your skin because both can be performed on your lunch break and you can go back to work without anyone noticing (unless they are really, really perceptive). Glycolic acid peels take a little less time -- about 15 to 20 minutes while microdermabrasion takes between 30 minutes to one hour. If you are short on time, a glycolic acid peel may be your preferred method to refresh your skin. For both treatments, you’ll want to avoid the sun and retinol-containing creams until your skin becomes less sensitive after your procedure.


Because microdermabrasion and glycolic acid peels offer similar benefits and side effects, often the choice between the two comes down to your skincare preferences. You may prefer chemical exfoliation to manual or vice-versa. However, there is one exception when glycolic acid peels are not preferred over microdermabrasion: if you have darker-toned skin. This is because the peel may not remove dead skin cells evenly, which may cause your skin to appear discolored. Talk to your aesthetician or dermatologist about the best approach for you and if your skin color may be too dark in tone for a glycolic acid peel.

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