I don’t remember when I first heard about micro needling but as soon as I did I was intrigued. It doesn’t sound like some BS debunked beauty treatment (ehem.... body wraps) because to me at least the underlying mechanism seemed very plausible: tiny needles make holes that your body then fills in, plumping and rejuvenating in the process. Sounds legit right? That’s a thing the body does anyway.
As far as my experience with micro needling goes, it all started because I wanted faster and more dramatic results than my skincare routine at the time was giving me. I didn’t have the time for a professional treatment either, so I decided to look into alternatives. I had a lot of preliminary questions and I wanted all of them answered before I let those tiny metal teeth near my face. So without further ado, here is the result of that research.
WHAT IS It?
There are a lot of terms for the same procedure. You might have seen it called collagen induction therapy, micro needling, skin needling, derma rolling, just needling, or even vampire facial. In principle it all refers to the same thing: small needles (usually on a roller) puncture the skin to create controlled damage that the body's natural processes will then work to fill in with new collagen, while simultaneously also filling scars and fine lines, and helping to face dark spots and other pigmented scars.
Although the basic principe underlying treatment is the same, the way that treatment is done, the device used, and the cosmetics applied can make a big difference both in results and in cost. For example, the vampire facial made famous by Kim Kardashian is a high-end variation on micro needling where blood plasma harvested from your body is combined with stem cells or human growth factor and applied back onto the skin after a needling session. Practitioners claim that this high tech cocktail of actives makes the treatment much more effective. We discuss professional treatment in more detail below.
What Does it Do
There are a lot of claims surrounding micro needling including:
- It's just as effective as more invasive procedures like IPL and chemical peels.
- It's a cheaper alternative to more expensive professional treatments, especially when done at home.
- It uses the body’s natural processes to boost collagen and improve the appearance of skin.
- It increases the absorption of skin care products.
- It works with your existing skincare routine - no need to buy anything new.
- It’s good for anyone who prefers natural skin care.
- It can be done at home.
We explore each of these claims in depth below.
Micro needling as an Alternative to Lasers & Peels
It's been claimed that micro needling can be as effective as more invasive treatments like laser treatments and chemical peels. That might not be totally true and here's why: There aren't any clinical studies testing the effectiveness of micro needling compared to lasers or chemical peels. Such a study would pose challenges for clinicians because for one, all treatments would need to be administered on the same person and ideally on the same scar or wrinkle in order to give an accurate comparison. It's hard enough finding those conditions on one person, but replicating it with sufficient participants to get statistically significant results (and controlling for different skin types etc) would be a whole other challenge. Micro needling performs a different function as compared to chemical peels and lasers. Lasers and chemical peels can target the skin at different depths (and for different purposes) depending on how they are designed. A superficial glycolic acid treatment might just exfoliate the outermost dead skin cells, while a laser treatment can go all the way to the depth of the dermis for what's usually called a laser facelift. Micro needling targets the deeper layer of your skin called the dermis where it initiates the healing response and causes collagen formation. The key difference is that micro needling doesn't affect the epidermis beyond some temporary redness it can cause. It can be a much less invasive treatment option for scars and fine lines compared to lasers and chemical peels. Whether it's as effective isn't a question that's easily answered but our guess would be no.
Professional treatments range from as little as $50 a treatment for basic needling with no actives to as much as $750 a treatment for needling followed by advanced actives like platelet-rich plasma (PRP). Professional treatments are usually done 4-6 weeks apart to give the skin enough time to heal. For at home treatment a micro needling device and vitamin C serum can cost as little as $30 for a 2-3 month supply. Home treatment can be done as often as twice a week for a cost of just over $1 a treatment.
Micro Needling AT HOME VS PROFESSIONAL
There haven't been any significant studies done to compare the effectiveness of professional micro needling treatments versus an at home regimen. Based on the existing research the best answer is that professional treatments are more intensive and better suited to more significant skin issues like atrophic scarring and deep wrinkles.
Dark Spots & Post Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation
Beyond significant skin issues a conservative at home regimen is a great starting place for most people. As with skin care in general, starting small and working your way up is a good strategy to avoid spending more than necessary and treating the skin more aggressively than necessary.
Does Micro Needling Work?
Micro needling has been clinically and anecdotally proven to provide a ton of benefits with a relatively low risk and low cost. Microscopic analysis has shown that micro needling increases collagen production up to 400% and "leads to reorganization of old collagen fibres and laying down of new collagen, elastin, and capillaries.
" It's safe for darker skin tones and it's relatively accessible and inexpensive for home treatment. It's effective whether or not you use product following treatment, but of course results are faster and can be more pronounced when supported by the right actives.Clinical interest in micro needling has ramped up in the past 5 years. There's more research being done that clarifies best practices for effective treatment in both professional and at home settings, which means better treatment outcomes. Two years ago when this post was first published there was 73%
worth it rating on the website real self base
d on 57 reviews. Today, there's an 90% worth it rating
based on 92 reviews over the past 24 months.
Micro Needling Benefits, Results & Studies by Topic
Micro needling can be used on different parts of the body for everything from under-eye bags, stretch marks on the tummy, hair loss on the head, and scarring from head to toes.
Micro Needling For Your Face
Under Eye Area: Sagging, Bags & Dark Circles
Micro needling of the eye area can tighten the periorbital skin and reduce the appearance of eye bags and sagging. Dark circles are harder to treat since they're largely based on genetics, but micro needling has been shown to plump the delicate skin around the eyes, which can reduce the appearance of dark circles caused by thin skin.
Increasing Product Absorption
Anti-Aging, Fine Lines & Sun Damage
Acne Scars, Atrophic Scars & Burns
Micro Needling for Hair Loss
Micro Needling for the Body: Hands, Neck, and Chest Rejuvenation
The same principles apply to the body as to the face. Needling can improve the appearance of skin tone, tightness, dark spots and scars either on it's own or in combination with appropriate products. The Dermatology Review reported that micro needling is "proven to increase chemical absorption up to 1000 times.
" In one study in micro needling was shown to increase new collagen fibers by 206% 6 weeks after treatment
. In another, "4 microneedling sessions 1 month apart shows up to 400% increase in collagen and elastin deposition at 6 months
." Unlike laser treatments, "the epidermis remains intact and is not damaged
Micro Needling for Stretch Marks & Cellulite
Stretch marks respond really well to micro needling treatment. Stretch marks are a scar and they respond to micro needling the same way that all other scars do. After multiple microneedling treatments with a 1.5mm derma roller over 90% of patients saw reduction in severity of atrophic (deep and recessed) facial scars
. 80% assessed their treatment as "excellent" on a 10-point scale. No significant adverse effects were noted in any patient.
As far as current research goes cellulite does not respond to micro needling. It's not proven that cellulite creams work but if they do adding needling to a cellulite treatment regimen will increase the absorption of cellulite cream by 1000x
Atrophic Scars & Burns on the Body
Risks & Safety Guidelines
When this post was first written about two years ago the famous beauty site Paula's Choice had this to say about micro needling "...there is no research proving that at home derma roller devices produce results better than laser therapy can, or even equal what’s possible from using a well-formulated skin care routine.
" - Paula's Choice
Actually there is here,
- both peer review studies in which hand held derma-rollers were used with results that couldn't be achieved with a well-formulated skin care routine. In fact, this study
showed that unlike laser treatments, "the epidermis remains intact and is not damaged."
Material: Steel vs Titanium
Clinical studies recommend stainless steel
Derma Roller, Stamp, or Pen
It's been suggested that a stamp is better because a roller can cause tearing of the skin as it rolls whereas a stamp leaves clean micro incisions, as illustrated in this picture.
proposed comparison of derma rolling verses derma stamping
There are a lot of images like this online, however, most seem to be produced by the manufacturers of derma pens/stamps. Most of the studies I've cited in this post used derma rollers. They are generally easier to use, especially for at home treatment, unless you're using an electric derma pen. I haven't seen anything in any study that suggests that pens/stamps are better than rollers.
Electric Derma Stamps
Electric devices may seem intimidating but they are easy to use and can provide a lot of benefits even with home treatment.
How To Step by Step
1. Best way to sterilize a device Devices can be sterilized in a number of ways. A bleach solution 1:1 ratio mixed with water is a good option. Isopropyl alcohol is also effective. If you opt for a more high-end device then there are also gentler sterilization methods including steam sterilizer
or UV sterilizer
. 2. How to prepare the treatment area Thoroughly wash the area to be treated. Pat dry with a fresh towel. If you are using numbing relief cream apply all over treatment area about fifteen to twenty minutes before treatment. Wipe or wash off before beginning treatment. 3. About pain relief
The question of whether you need pain relief in the form of numbing cream (like Numb Master
) depends on your pain tolerance. At home needling is not very painful except when you get to the last few rolls when the blood has already rushed to the surface and your skin is much more sensitive. As with skin in general your mileage may vary. 4. Micro needling technique To put it simply the roller should be run across the skin with firm even pressure about five times each in every direction (up and down, side to side, diagonally each way.) For detailed information about how to micro needle see At Home Micro Needling Step by Step Instructions
. 5. After care guidelines Vitamin C serum
There are a lot of vitamin C serums on the market so choosing an effective serum can be a challenge. There are a few guidelines supported by scientific research that can make the process easier.
- Look for an opaque or dark bottle - a clear bottle will cause the vitamin c to oxidize and become ineffective much faster.
- Ascorbic acid with vitamin E and ferulic acid is a clinically proven combination that shows real results in trials.
- Penetration of the active ingredients is more important than the concentration percentage since concentration doesn't mean the actives will fully absorb. Plus, research indicates that concentrations higher than 20% don't make a difference.
|Length of needles||0.3mm-0.5mm||0.5mm – 1.0mm||1.0mm-1.5mm||1.5mm-3.0mm|
|Purpose||Increase penetration of skin care or hair growth products||Dark spots, fine wrinkles, mild sun damage or aging skin.||Acne/burn scars, stretch marks, loose skin, sun damage, fine lines & individual deep wrinkles.||Deep scars and stretch marks.|
|Ideal Frequency of Use||Less than 0.5mm: every other day. More than 0.5mm: once or twice a week on the same area.||1.0mm: once every 2 weeks on the same area.||1.5mm: once every three – four weeks on the same area.||Once every 5 weeks or more under supervision of a professional.|
When to replace your device
One study recommends using a device 100 times before replacing. It's likely you won't get that many uses from your device because they tend to break down quickly. Watch out for these common signs of wear and replace accordingly.
micro needling device showing rust formation
micro needling device with bent needles
Other Questions & Concerns
Micro needling darker skin
"In ethnic skin, traditional skin resurfacing procedures such as dermabrasion, chemical peels, and laser therapy can be effective but can also be associated with prolonged recovery and risk of complications. These complications can include a higher risk of dyspigmentation and scarring, and unsatisfactory clinical outcomes. Microneedling is an evolving treatment technique for an expanding number of dermatologic conditions. Microneedling may offer a more advantageous safety profile, particularly in the skin-of-color population
." Micro needling has been shown to have very little risk
of causing pigmentation problems. Micro needling for rosacea
Radio frequency micro needling has been used for the treatment of rosacea with "favourable results
" but currently there isn't enough information to support a home treatment regimen. Micro needling for acne
Micro needling should never be done over active acne
. The only role micro needling can play as far as acne goes is for post acne redness or hyper pigmentation. Micro needling & dermabrasion
This is especially true for skin of color or skin that is more prone to hyper pigmentation. Micro needling vs laser therapy
This is especially true for skin of color or skin that is more prone to hyper pigmentation. Micro needling & chemical peels
This is especially true for skin of color or skin that is more prone to hyper pigmentation.