Acne affects upwards of 50 million Americans annually, according to The American Academy of Dermatology. It’s considered to be the most common skin condition that prompts individuals to seek treatment with an estimated 3 billion annually spent on addressing the condition. With that much spent annually on treating acne, if you own a beauty business you will surely come across clients who come to you for help with this skin condition.

While it is common knowledge that exfoliating the skin will help with cell turnover, it’s important to know what kind of exfoliation works best for your clients who suffer from acne since not all exfoliation is appropriate for acneic skin. This post is dedicated to outlining the different types of exfoliation and which one is best for people with acne.

What Is Exfoliation?

Exfoliation involves removing the dead skin cells from the skin’s epidermis (the outermost layer) to help promote glowing, healthy skin. Exfoliation also helps with cell renewal, which is a natural bodily process where new skin cells push dead skin cells to the surface of the skin. When these dead cells are not removed, it can cause the skin to look dull and can contribute to the skin’s pores becoming clogged, which may lead to acne. Exfoliation also helps to increase blood flow in the skin and is an important part of every skincare routine.

How Is The Skin Exfoliated?

There are three ways the skin can be exfoliated including physical, chemical, and mechanical. Below we will explain the differences between the three.

Physical Exfoliation: Physical exfoliation is done with a type of granular scrub that is massaged into the skin to manually remove the build up of dead skin cells.

Chemical Exfoliation: Chemical exfoliation is done either with the use of enzymes or some form of acid-based peels that dissolve the protein bonds that exist between dead skin cells that facilitate the removal of the dead skin cells.

Mechanical Exfoliation: Mechanical exfoliation is done with a machine or a device to assist in the removal of dead skin cells. For example, lasers and microdermabrasion would fall into this category.

Which Type Of Exfoliation Is Best For Acne—Microdermabrasion or Chemical Peels?

All skin types benefit from regular exfoliation of the skin. But, when your clients present with acne you need to be careful with how you exfoliate their skin. So, what are the differences between microdermabrasion and chemical peels? We will explore the differences below.

Microdermabrasion is performed with a device that typically utilizes a diamond tip to mechanically exfoliate the outermost layer of the skin. Since the dead skin cells are immediately removed through suction, this method of exfoliation helps to address congested pores, treats light scarring, minimizes discoloration including sun damage, and improves the skin’s overall texture and tone. It also helps to stimulate collagen production, which helps the skin to look tighter and more youthful.

However, despite the instant gratification with results, microdermabrasion is not the best treatment type for people with acne—or inflamed skin in general, like rosacea. While microdermabrasion may be suitable for people with mild acne or comedonal acne, if your clients have inflammatory acne (i.e. active acne), this is not an appropriate treatment protocol because the treatment can make already inflamed skin more inflamed. Furthermore, microdermabrasion can spread the bacterium that is the cause of active acne around the face making it worse. Once your client’s active acne is resolved, microdermabrasion can be performed.

Chemical peels on the other hand, utilize various chemical solutions to initiate exfoliation and eventually peel off to reveal brighter, smoother, less wrinkled skin after the skin heals. There are three basic types of chemical peels including superficial, medium, and deep.

  • Superficial Peels: Mild acids like Alpha-hydroxy or salicylic acid are applied to the skin to gently exfoliate the epidermis. Superficial peels, including fruit enzymes, are used to eat away at dead skin cells, help with the appearance of mild skin discolorations and smooth out rough skin.

  • Medium Peels: Medium peels use acids like glycolic to treat the epidermis and dermis layers of the skin to improve age spots, fine lines, wrinkles, skin texture, moderate discoloration, and even treat some precancerous skin growths like actinic keratosis.

  • Deep Peels: Deep peels utilize trichloroacetic acid or phenol to deeply penetrate the middle layer of skin to remove damaged skin cells. This type of chemical peel may be done under anesthesia and removes age spots, moderate scars, moderate wrinkles, and pre-cancerous growths with dramatic results. However, deep peels should only be done once since this treatment does carry some risks and requires a lengthy recovery time. Therefore, it should be performed by a licensed skincare professional, like a dermatologist.

When it comes to treating your clients with active acne, chemical peels offer an excellent solution. After several sessions, they can even treat deep acne scars. But they must be handled with care and performed by knowledgeable skincare professionals—especially since darker skin tones can be at risk for post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.

Final thoughts...

There isn’t a one-size-fits all when it comes to treating your clients with acne. If your client presents with active acne, chemical peels are the better treatment option. Once the active acne is under control, microdermabrasion can be used. Either way, you will need to evaluate each individual client to determine the best protocol for their skin.