No matter how effective the products in your skin care lineup claim to be, there’s really nothing more powerful (or fast-acting) for your face than a laser treatment or a chemical peel. Both of these processes can do wonders for your skin, but each caters to different needs. If you’re wondering whether you should get a laser treatment or a chemical peel, here are some answers from experts that’ll help you decide.
Both of these treatments get a bad rap for being painful or taking too long to heal, but many of the myths are just not true. Lasers and chemical peels have been around for a long time, and the technology in lasers and acids in peels are constantly evolving and changing — nowadays, these processes are much less painful, take less time to heal, and offer benefits that last longer than any lotion or potion could.
Of course, when you’re at your dermatologist’s office, they can suggest which type of treatment to get after examining your skin. But what about those times when you just want to book a laser treatment or chemical peel at your local spa or esthetician’s office, and need to decide which treatment to get before actually walking through the doors? That’s where Jordana Mattioli, celebrity aesthetician, and Roberta Moradfar, advanced aesthetics nurse specialist and owner of EFFACE, come in. These experts shared their extensive knowledge about laser treatments and chemical peels with me that way you can figure out which to try at your next appointment.
Laser Treatment vs. Chemical Peel: Main Benefits
Let’s start with laser treatments, which target multiple skin issues, such as broken vessels, wrinkles, pigment, and scarring. There are two types of lasers: ablative (breaks the skin’s surface and has longer healing time) and nonablative (doesn’t break through the surface of the skin and has much less downtime). “Some lasers offer mild resurfacing with little to no downtime, while others can have a week of pink, swollen skin,” Mattioli tells Elite Daily. And, both are notably not too painful. “Usually a warm, tingling sensation can be felt on areas like the cheeks and chin, while bony areas like the forehead may become slightly more sensitive,” Moradfar says. “As long as eyebrows, beards, and large, dark moles are avoided, pain level should be no higher than a two or three on a scale of one to 10, with 10 being the most painful.” If that still seems too painful for you, you can get laser treatment with a numbing cream.
A chemical peel, on the other hand, can range from mild to deep, depending on what you’re trying to treat. Milder peels can help even out skin tone, pores, and texture, while medium-strength peels will target discoloration and fine lines. “Peels work by dissolving the desmosomes that hold the skin cells together, allowing for them to shed more easily,” says Mattioli. “Removing this outermost layer results in immediately softer, smoother skin.” Since laser treatments now target scars and wrinkles more easily, they’ve replaced a lot of stronger peels on the market.
Laser Treatment vs. Chemical Peel: Skin Types
All skin types can benefit from mild- to medium-depth peels, “but the stronger ones should be used with caution on darker skin types, because they tend to be more prone to post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation,” says Mattioli.
Laser treatments, however, will usually yield faster results than peels, and there are color-blind lasers that can treat darker skin. “I think peels are great for superficial skin irregularities, but for deeper wrinkles, stubborn pigment, and vascular issues (like broken capillaries), we need to go deeper into the skin with lasers,” says Mattioli.
Laser Treatment vs. Chemical Peel: The Cost
There’s definitely a price difference between the two treatments as well. According to Mattioli, mild peels can range between $150 and $300, while medium-strength and stronger peels can range from $300 to $500 per treatment. Lasers, on the other hand, can run anywhere between $150 and $3,000.
Laser Treatment vs. Chemical Peel: Healing Time
When it comes to the healing process, there isn’t a huge difference in downtime between a laser treatment and a chemical peel. Moradfar notes that generally, laser facials take less time to heal from — only a few days — while healing from chemical peels can take up to two weeks. If you’re looking to stimulate collagen production in your face and opt for an ablative laser treatment, though, you can expect two to four weeks of healing time and even, according to Moradfar, “significant scabbing during the healing process.”
So, which one should I get?
“It really depends on the issues being treated, how fast [my clients] want results, and cost,” says Mattioli. Laser treatments are very similar to chemical peels in that they can be used to treat skin texture, tone, and fine lines. If those are the skin concerns you’re trying to tackle, then Mattioli would go with a chemical peel.
“If you’re looking for a quick turnaround, a chemical peel would be your best bet,” Moradfar advises. “However if you’re opting for a major transformation and you don’t want to do several sessions of laser treatments or chemical peels to achieve those results, an ablative laser treatment … would be your best option. It would definitely be more costly, however, and downtime is longer.” While you can do multiple sessions of either to achieve your results, it all really depends on your goals, budget, and how much time you want to spend healing.
If you have a few acne scars or spots you want corrected, then Mattioli recommends laser treatments due to how precise they can be, meaning you can leave the other areas of your face that you aren't trying to treat alone. “Lasers are also better for deeper collagen remodeling,” says Mattioli, so if you’re trying to target moderate to deep wrinkles, you might consider splurging on a laser treatment.
If you’re not too concerned with wrinkles and aren’t interested in a pricey laser or peel, Mattioli recommends another option. “Many times, especially for most skin issues that arise in our 20s and 30s, an at-home peel will give you incredible results, and [is] also a great option for keeping skin radiant in-between in-office treatments,” explains Mattioli. “I get my clients on the Dermalogica Rapid Reveal At-Home Peel ($85, dermalogica.com) because it’s easy, affordable, and gives instant gratification.” With lactic acid and phytoactive AHA extracts, the peel works to exfoliate while still giving the skin a dose of soothing hydration.
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At-home peels are a great gateway into the world of high-priced laser treatments and chemical peels, and can give you a general idea for the results you may get from an in-office treatment.
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