What are the differences between mechanical and chemical peel?

Mechanical and chemical peels are effective procedures for brighter, healthier skin. They also both help treat acne. However, each person must choose the modality that best suits them, according to their case.

Last update: 04 September, 2021

Have you heard of mechanical and chemical exfoliation? Probably yes, although you may not know what the difference is between one and the other, nor do you know their advantages. Thus, it is not easy to decide which is the best for you.

Remember that exfoliation is a procedure done to remove layers of dead skin cells. It should be done periodically, as it contributes to healthier skin. Mechanical and chemical exfoliation meet that goal.

There are several differences between the two, but the most important of them is that the first is harsher, while the second is more subtle. Depending on the type of skin, one or the other will be more convenient.

What is mechanical exfoliation?

Choose between mechanical and chemical exfoliation according to your skin type.

Mechanical exfoliation is one that is carried out by physically scrubbing the skin with an abrasive. It then implies a rubbing, either with an instrument such as a sponge, a facial brush or another device. You can also use a substance with small grains.

The objective is to detach the outermost layer of the skin through abrasion. The most common modality of this type of exfoliation is carried out with granules or abrasive particles. An example of this is the use of sugar or gel granule masks.

The use of facial brushes is also common, some of which are electric. The latter have different types of heads to make the procedure more uniform. In addition to exfoliating, these tools also provide deep cleansing of the skin.

Secondly, there are more complex procedures that are done in beauty centers, such as microdermabrasion. Some modalities of peeling they fulfill this same role.


The main advantage of mechanical exfoliation is that allows to control the degree of pressure on the skin. This makes the procedure adapted to the level of sensitivity of each person. In general, there is more control when using these types of procedures.

What is a chemical peel?

Chemical exfoliation is one in which acids or enzymes are used to remove dead layers of the skin. These substances break down lipids. These act as a kind of "glue" that holds the dead cells together.

In chemical peel there is no need to rub the skin, but only to apply the product indicated in it. They usually come in the form of toners, cleansers, serum, or even moisturizers. There are three main types of these scrubs:

  • AHA (Alpha Hydroxy Acids). They include glycolic, lactic and mandelic acid. They have moisturizing properties and act on the surface of the skin. They are the most commonly used.
  • BHA (Betahydroxy Acids). The most common is salicylic acid. They help break down oil and clean pores. They work both on the surface of the skin and within the pore. They are soothing and also have antimicrobial properties.
  • PHA (Polyhydroxy acids). The most common is lactobionic acid. It is an antioxidant that hydrates, exfoliates, and helps prevent photoaging.

Chemical peel requires a lot of care, since the specific product for each skin type must be used, following all the indications and precautions of the case.


Chemical scrubs are best at preventing skin irritation or inflammation. In general, they are safer and offer better results with regular use. They help to unify the skin tone, act well against acne, hydrate and prevent aging.

When is one recommended over the other?

Mechanical and chemical peels carry some risks. The first is a bit more aggressive and can cause small lesions on the skin. It can also be too harsh for sensitive skin. The second must be chosen carefully so that it produces the desired effect in each individual case.

In general terms, chemical peel is more effective because it reaches deeper areas of the skin and is kinder to the skin. It is particularly recommended for sensitive and mature skin. Also for sun-damaged skin.

It is best to consult an expert on the subject. Each skin has its own needs and characteristics. Mechanical and chemical exfoliation are effective. The choice depends on each specific case.

Can I use both scrubs?

Can mechanical and chemical exfoliation be used at the same time? The answer is yes and no. It is possible to alternate both exfoliation modalities. What you cannot do is use them simultaneously. In other words, one or the other must be chosen for each exfoliation.

On the other hand, it is important to note that it is not always possible to combine different modalities of chemical peel: AHA, BHA and PHA. Sometimes it can be a lot for the skin, so it is necessary to consult with the dermatologist on the correct way to use these products.

Consultation with a dermatologist is recommended

You have to be very careful with sensitive skin. This admits the use of mechanical and chemical exfoliation, but caution must be exercised in both cases. The same applies to skin with problems such as rosacea or others.

If there is any unwanted reaction when applying the exfoliation, it is indicated to suspend the procedure. The most advisable thing is to consult a doctor or an aesthetic professional to find the ideal procedure in your specific case.