Laser Treatment vs. Chemical Peel: Which is Best for Your Skin?
Are you someone who’s had or is currently suffering from problems related to acne scars, wrinkles, dark spots, or any other forms of skin irregularities? Unfortunately, issues with skin happen quite often as we begin the aging process, and when they do, we find ourselves in major panic mode.
Over the years, skincare products have claimed to cure many forms of damage that were caused to the skin, promising real results that enhance your appearance. While these claims can sometimes be valid, we have hunted down some of the best methods to treat damaged skin, hoping to eventually find that “magic” treatment that will erase textural skin irregularities and beyond!
During our investigation, we found there are quite a few solutions available. Enter the world of chemical peels and laser treatments, two skin resurfacing procedures that work to remove damaged regions and to encourage skin regeneration. The result? Smoother, revitalized skin that looks radiant and feels brand new!
These treatments have made combating your problem areas so much easier! We understand it can be overwhelming if you are new to the world of skin resurfacing, but with this guide, we hope to educate you more and hopefully broaden your horizons!
During this segment, we used resources provided by Dr. Sejal Shah, MD of SmarterSkin Dermatology, to get all the info on everything you need to know about chemical peels, Laser resurfacing treatments, and how it affects and benefits the skin. Let’s get started!
What is the Difference Between Laser Treatment & Chemical Peel?
Both laser treatments and chemical peels are widely known as skin resurfacing procedures that are used to slough away older, aged skin, and promote newer, healthier skin. Both treatments are used to minimize the appearance of hyperpigmentation and acne scars, while reducing visible fine lines and wrinkles, correcting skin damage from the sun and fading away dark blemishes that are related to age spots or dark spots.
In terms of what differentiates chemical peels and laser treatments from each other, it has to do with the procedure itself. As the name already implies for each of the treatments, one utilizes chemical solutions to treat the skin while the other uses lasers.
Chemical peels utilize acidic solutions that vary in different strengths to combat and treat the outer layer of skin. In total, there are three different types of peels: superficial, medium, and deep peels.
- Superficial chemical peels (e.g., VI Peel and lactic acid peels): are considered gentle and use mild acids to lightly exfoliate the skin, causing less irritation.
- Medium chemical peels (e.g., glycolic acid peels and TCA peels): are more impactful and penetrate into the middle and outer layer of the dermis.
- Deep chemical peels (e.g., phenol acid peels): are known to be the strongest and use powerful acidic elements to not only penetrate the skin but remove damaged skin cells considerably.
Laser resurfacing treatments involve the use of beams of light to penetrate into the skin, removing each layer of skin at a time. The laser method is quite effective, too, as it allows for a more precise removal process. However, the cost for laser treatment tends to be more expensive than chemical peels, according to 2017 statistics from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.
There are two different types of lasers used in laser treatments: ablative and non-ablative.
- Ablative lasers (e.g., CO2 and erbium): are considered to be more intense but provide the best of results by vaporizing the skin.
- Non-ablative lasers (e.g., Fraxel): are considered less invasive to the skin and work by heating the surface, without destroying it.
It’s essential to keep in mind that because non-ablative lasers are not as powerful as ablative lasers, multiple sessions may be required by the technician to achieve the best results.
Dr. Shah claims that although laser treatments and chemical peels are different from each other, there are some benefits they offer that make them differ, capable of tackling issues they each can correct significantly. “For example, a strong TCA (trichloroacetic acid) chemical peel can provide a resurfacing similar to a resurfacing laser, or both peels and lasers can be used to improve acne and acne scars,” she explains.
The two procedures also differ depending on the tone of your skin. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, those who have a deeper, darker skin tone greatly benefit from chemical peel treatments, as peels are more effective in fighting different forms of hyperpigmentation.
Deeper skin tones are more prone to hyperpigmentation related issues such as PIH (post inflammatory hyperpigmentation) because of the increased amount of melanin found in the skin. Chemical peels utilize acidic solutions to stimulate the production of collagen while also using antioxidants to help penetrate deeper into the skin effectively for better treatment against issues related to pigmentation.
The Popular Types of Chemical Peels
- VI Peel (superficial grade): The VI Peel is constructed to be a gentle, painless peel that works effectively on all different skin types and skin tones. The peel is made from a blend of trichloroacetic acid, Retin-A, salicylic acid, phenol, and vitamin C. It is often used to treat forms of hyperpigmentation and reverse sun damage.
- Lactic peel (superficial grade): lactic peels are derived from milk and work better on dry and sensitive skin types. The peel also helps to balance the skin’s pH levels and gently exfoliates the dermis by dissolving away dead skin cells.
- Glycolic peel (medium grade): A glycolic peel is made from glycolic acid that promotes the production of newer, healthy collagen and elastin by targeting the skin’s outer layer. The peel is often used to treat forms of acne and acne scars, as well as tighten pores.
- TCA peel (medium grade): A TCA peel uses trichloroacetic acid and is considered to be more aggressive than a glycolic peel. The peel is used to correct skin pigment related issues while softening wrinkles and fine lines.
- Phenol peel (deep grade): A phenol peel ranks high on the more potent spectrum of treatments. The peel penetrates into the skin to treat severe wrinkle and discoloration related issues. It often requires lengthy recovery time after being performed and may feel uncomfortable compared to milder peels.
The Popular Types of Laser Treatments
- Fraxel Laser Treatment (non-ablative): The Fraxel Laser Treatment involves the use of FDA approved fractional laser technology to rejuvenate the skin. This type of Laser works best on mild to moderate acne scars and fine wrinkles.
- CO2/Carbon Dioxide Laser Treatment (ablative): The CO2 Laser Treatment uses pixelated carbon dioxide lasers to treat more extreme skin related issues such as deep wrinkles and severe acne scars. This type of Laser is generally not suitable for treating redness of the skin.
- Erbium Laser Treatment (ablative): The Erbium Laser Treatment is more on the mild side of the spectrum and a less intrusive treatment than the CO2 Laser. The Laser penetrates the epidermis (the outer skin layer) while stimulating the production of collagen. It is often used to reduce wrinkles, fine lines, and age spots.
Which Treatment is Better for My Skin?
To put things into perspective, It depends on the skin type you have and the concerns you’re struggling with. “It can be difficult to determine the best course of action, so it is always important to consult with a board-certified dermatologist to discuss your concerns and treatment options,” Dr. Shah advises to those seeking treatment.
If you are someone with a darker skin tone, Dr. Shah warns that not all laser treatments and chemical peels are suitable for deeper skin tones. Unsure of your situation? Be sure always to consult a dermatologist to discuss further details before pursuing either treatment.
Which is Better for Acne Scars, Laser Treatment, or Chemical Peel?
For hyperpigmentation, Dr. Shah recommends undergoing a chemical peel treatment. For textural changes, like atrophic or indented scars, Dr. Shah believes laser skin treatments more beneficial.
“However, a TCA chemical peel can also improve these acne scars,” she explains. “Often, combination approaches are needed, combining laser, peels, subcision or fillers.”
What to Expect During Both Procedures
“With chemical peels, expect redness and peeling afterwards depending on the type of peel. Not all peels produce visible peeling,” Dr. Shah says. “The post-laser skin side effects depend on the laser, but include redness, peeling, swelling, and bruising.”
If you tend to use topical treatments, Dr. Shah mentions that your doctor may advise you to stop applying them a few days before having the procedure done. Depending on the peel and Laser, it may be advised that you stop using products that contain ingredients such as retinoids, hydroxy acids, benzoyl peroxide or other harsh, drying and potentially irritating elements.
Patients with a history of cold sores may also be prescribed antiviral drugs for prophylaxis.
What Makes a Perfect Candidate for Laser/Chemical Peel Treatments?
Dr. Shah advises against going down the route of chemical peels or laser treatments if you:
- Have active infections in the areas you want treated
- Will be exposed to the sun after the treatment
- Have a history of keloids or hypertrophic scars
- Do not allow an appropriate amount of recovery time post-treatment
- Have darker skin tones (applies to certain types of chemical peels and Laser resurfacing treatments)
Whether you decide to choose laser treatments or chemical peels, there are many things to consider. Regardless, there is a resurfacing skin solution for you out there, and hopefully, with this guide, you can find the one that best suits your situation!