Chemical peels and lasers are both outpatient procedures to exfoliate (peel layers off) the skin. Both types of procedures offer several "levels" that determine how deep the exfoliation is. Exfoliating the skin can improve its texture and reduce wrinkles, acne scars and other blemishes. Chemical peels are cheaper and faster, but light peels must be repeated every four weeks for several months to maintain the look.

Comparison chart

Chemical Peel versus Laser Resurfacing comparison chart
Edit this comparison chartChemical PeelLaser Resurfacing
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Uses Exfoliate the skin using chemical solution to treat sun exposure, acne, wrinkles, freckles, irregular pigmentation and scars. Reducing wrinkles, scars and blemishes.
Average Cost $750 - $850 $1,100 - $2,200
Procedure Chemical solutions are applied to the skin to remove the outer layers then washed off. Laser targets and removes skin, one layer at a time
Side effects Redness, swelling, burning, scarring, peeling, infection, abnormal pigmentation. Redness, swelling, itching, blisters, acne flares, bacterial infection, cold sores, hyperpigmentation, scarring.


Chemical peels are used to improve the texture of the skin by causing dead skin to peel off. They can be used to treat sun exposure, acne and wrinkles.

Laser skin resurfacing can reduce facial wrinkles, scars and blemishes.


In a chemical peel, chemical solutions of phenol, tricholoraecetic acid and alphahydroxy acids are applied to the skin to remove the outer layers. For light chemical peels, after the face is cleansed, the solution is brushed onto the skin and left for up to 10 minutes. It is then washed off and neutralized. Deep chemical peels involve pretreatment, where Retin A is prescribed to thin out the skin’s surface layer. You are given a sedative and local anasthetic, and the chemical can stay on the skin from 30 minutes to two hours. A thick coat of petroleum jelly is applied, which must stay in place for up to two days.

In a laser peel, short, concentrated pulsing beams are aimed at irregular skin. This removes the damaged skin one layer at a time. It is an outpatient procedure than takes between 30 minutes and two hours. The skin is numbed with local anesthetic. The face is cleaned, and then lasers are used to remove thin layers of skin. The surgeon will then apply a dressing.


In 2009, the average fee for a chemical peel was $764. Additional fees may include anesthesia fees and surgical facility costs. Most health insurance does not cover chemical peels.

The cost of laser treatment depends on the expertise of the person performing the treatment and the time treatment takes. In 2009, the average fees ranged from $1,167 to $2,193, depending on the type of resurfacing. Laser treatment is also usually not covered by health insurance.

Side Effects

Medium chemical peels can cause burning or stinging and may turn the skin red or brown for a few days. It can take six weeks for the skin to return to normal. Deep chemical peels involve peeling, redness and discomfort for several days. There is often swelling, and the skin can remain red for up to three months.

Laser resurfacing causes redness and swelling, as well as potential itching or stinging for a few days. The skin may look like it has severe sunburn, with oozing and blisters. The skin peels about five days to a week after treatment. Complications can include acne flares, bacterial infection, cold sores, hyperpigmentation, scarring and swelling.


People who have deep chemical peels should not return to work or wear makeup for two weeks after treatment.

Laser peels are not recommended for people with active acne, very dark skin, deep wrinkles or sagging skin.


With good sun protection, the effects of a chemical peel can last for months or years, depending on the depth of the peel. However, hormonal changes, sun damage and acne breakouts can cause new changes in the pigment or new scarring.

The effects of laser resurfacing can also last years, with proper sun protection. However, they are not permanent, as skin will continue to age, and new sun damage will reverse the results.

Other Pros and Cons

Those with certain skin types may see a temporary or permanent change in their skin color after a chemical peel, especially if they use birth controls, become pregnant or have a family history of brownish discoloration. There is also the risk of hyperpigmentation or infection.

Laser treatment has fewer riskes of hypopigmentation, or lightening of the skin. Sunscreen formulated for sensitive skin must be used every day after treatment. Recovery times vary from one to two weeks.


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