Chemical Peels vs. Laser Treatment: How to choose which is best for you

Having once operated my own skincare clinic and formulated numerous chemical peels, I have seen positive results from peels and lasers. Both are recommended for resurfacing the skin and encouraging skin regeneration. There are some skin conditions that respond well to both but there are significant differences, risks and benefits too. Let’s look at the difference between the two and which may be more suitable for your skin concern.


Laser treatment:

Lasers use highly specific wavelengths of light to target skin concerns. Different light wavelengths have different skin targets. Some lasers target the brown pigment associated with uneven skin tone, sun damage and age spots. Other lasers target redness, rosacea and visible fine blood vessels, whereas ablative and fractional (semi-ablative) lasers are able to completely or partially remove the outer layer of skin (epidermis) and heat the deeper layer of the skin (dermis). As the skin heals and regenerates, more collagen is produced in the dermis and this improves the surface texture of the skin, so that it appears smoother and firmer.

Laser is highly effective but operator-dependant, so ensure the skin specialist is fully trained in operating the device. Lasers are generally more expensive than peels, but results can be achieved with fewer treatments.


Chemical peels:

Chemical peels encompass many ingredients and protocols, but broadly speaking they cause the skin to shed cells. This shedding reveals fresh, bright skin beneath and indirectly stimulates new collagen production in the dermis, promoting firmness and fewer fine-lines. Peels are an excellent option for improving skin texture and fine lines, addressing acne and congested pores, and reducing sun damage and pigmentation. Many peels such as lactic acid can also increase hydration levels.

Gentle peels

Peels can be superficial and involve the epidermis where only surface exfoliation occurs. Some gentle peels result in micro-exfoliation which is not even visible to the naked eye. These peels are great for acne, mild sun damage and fine lines. Light chemical peels use AHA’s (lactic, glycolic, malic acid), BHA’s (salicylic acid), retinoid peels, and light Jessner peels.

Medium level peels

Medium level peels are suitable for mild acne scars, fine lines, and hyperpigmentation. These peels exfoliate beyond the epidermis and reach the upper dermis. AHA’s, BHA’s, trichloroacetic acid (TCA) and Jessner are usually chosen for a medium level peel.

Deep peels

Deep peels use extremely aggressive ingredients such as phenol and trichloroacetic acid (TCA). The deeper peels completely remove the skin barrier and can result in serious side effects, so they should only be performed by trained medical practitioners. Generally, only one deep peel is recommended, and recovery time is extensive. Deep chemical peels are not performed as regularly now as many lasers can achieve excellent results with less risk.


What to ask yourself:

When choosing between laser and peels the most important questions are:

What skin concerns am I treating?

Gentle to medium level peels will be more effective at treating acne and blocked pores, while also addressing pigmentation, brightening, and reducing superficial wrinkles. Lasers are more targeted and better for addressing deeper lines, severe pigmentation, deeper scars, redness, and visible blood vessels. Lasers, however, are not able to treat acne and congested skin as effectively as peels.

What is my budget?

Peels are more economical but 5 to 7 fortnightly treatments may be needed for optimal results. Lasers are more expensive, but results can often be achieved with one or two treatments.

What is the social downtime?

Downtime is also an important consideration, so be sure you understand the likely outcomes and recovery times for all treatments and the affect this can have on your social life. Samantha from Sex and the City was not a great look!


Before commencing any skin treatments, a detailed consultation with your doctor, nurse or skin therapist is essential. Always begin a treatment with realistic expectations and a full understanding of any risks. Both laser and peels are great options if you know what you are treating. Whether you opt for laser or a series of chemical peels to address your skin concerns, arm yourself with as much information as possible to make an informed choice about your skin.


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