Everything You Need to Know About Microneedling, According to Derms
Plus, how to score the benefits with at-home dermarolling.
Microneedling sounds like an intimidating procedure, no thanks to the word "needle" in its name. Yes, numbing cream is involved, but the procedure is actually minimally-invasive — and comes with a host of skin-boosting benefits that go beyond a basic facial.
"You're building collagen and thickening the skin, so instead of looking good for a few days after your traditional facial, your skin is smooth and radiant for much longer," explains Beverly Hills-based plastic surgeon Sheila Nazarian, M.D.
Of course, the idea of getting needles inserted into your face for the sake of skincare can seem intimidating, but if you've seen the before and after shots, there's no questioning the treatment's effectiveness.
Ahead, we chatted with Dr. Nazarian and another dermatologist for a crash course on the treatment, including what microneedling involves, what the aftercare process is like, and, of course, whether or not it hurts.
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What Is Microneedling?
Microneedling — also known as Dermapen and Rejuvapen — is a collagen induction therapy, a treatment that is designed to promote skin rejuvenation, explains Debra Jaliman, M.D., a board-certified NYC dermatologist and the assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.
“Needles are used to create small punctures on the top layer of the skin which would cause the body to create new collagen and elastin,” she says.
To be exact, the tool uses 11 super-tiny needles in the very tip, which can be adjusted by your professional between 0.5 and 2.5 millimeters, says Dr. Nazarian. The smallest setting — 0.5 millimeters — “penetrates the stratum cornea, or the superficial layer of skin,” she says.
“Your body treats a small wound the same way as a large wound, and sends fibroblasts to create more collagen in the affected area,” Dr. Nazarian explains. “We are basically tricking your skin into thinking it has been wounded, but as a result, we're thickening the skin and improving the texture with this procedure."
The treatment can also help reduce pore size and heal acne scars, Dr. Jaliman says.
What Happens During Microneedling Treatment?
The treatment begins by first cleansing the face, then applying a topical numbing cream. Once that takes effect (typically about 10 to 20 minutes), your doctor will apply a serum that promotes skin repair and healing (Dr. Nazarian favors the Biopelle Tensage Intensive Serum 40).
A microneedling pen is then passed back and forth all over your face — at this point, the needles are moving up and down — in order to “needle in” the serum, according to Dr. Nazarian. Once the procedure is completed, another layer of serum is applied and, in Dr. Nazarian’s office, a mask which is used to seal everything in.
Keep in mind, microneedling is not the same procedure as the controversial vampire facial, which uses growth factor from your own blood, and is recommended for very advanced signs of aging.
Does Microneedling Hurt?
If the idea of tiny needles piercing your skin sounds like it would bring with a serious ouch factor, you don’t need to worry. Not only does the numbing cream help take away what experts agree is minimal pain during the procedure, but what you can expect post-procedure is a bit of pinkness, kind of like a sunburn. At the very worst, a few tiny punctate scabs may pop up, only to fade in a few days.
Who Should Try Microneedling?
"It's great for acne scarring, and because it doesn't use heat and is totally mechanical, it's safe for all skin colors and types," Dr. Nazarian says. "The treatment is wonderful for smoothing out the skin and filling in acne scars, but if you have those small bumps from clogged pores, it can help to clear all of that up as well."
Just make sure there aren't any inflamed or infected areas on your skin, and if you have a cystic breakout, wait until it clears up before going in for your appointment. You should also steer clear of microneedling if you have eczema, rosacea, or very sensitive skin, Dr. Jaliman says.
You should also skip the procedure if you are on blood thinners or a frequent alcohol drinker, which causes dehydration and can render the procedure ineffective.
Can You Microneedle Your Body, Too?
Yep! Microneedling isn't exclusive to just the face. While it's the area of skin that is most often treated, the procedure can be done anywhere the skin on the body needs a collagen boost, particularly those that have stretch marks, like the legs, chest, or butt.
How Often Should I Get Microneedling Done?
It depends on the severity of the skin issue you're looking to fix, Dr. Nazarian says. "If your skin is generally fine and you take care of it, you can microneedle every three to six months,” she says. “But someone with dramatic acne scarring should plan to do one session per month for four to six months.”
After that, Dr. Nazarian says you should plan on coming in once a year for touch-ups, especially if you feel like your skin needs a reboot. When it comes to other areas of the body, you can expect about four to six sessions to do the trick.
What Does the Microneedling Aftercare Involve?
Microneedling leaves you red and sensitive, so Dr. Jaliman advises slathering on a broad-spectrum, chemical-free sunscreen with at least SPF 30 during the weeks following your treatment (and, let's be honest, always).
"You should also avoid retinol and acids, such as glycolic and salicylic," she notes. "These ingredients will be too strong right after microneedling is done."
Make sure you also keep skin hydrated by applying a mild hydrating serum and use a mild cleanser, taking care to avoid exfoliating scrubs in the days immediately following the treatment.
Ideally, you'll also want to avoid putting on makeup for the rest of the day, but if you have prior commitments, it's totally safe to wear later in the night, Dr. Nazarian says.
How Do At-Home Dermarollers Compare?
Curious about at-home microneedling tools and how they measure up to in-office treatments?
"The at-home devices have much shorter needles and don’t penetrate the skin as deep," says Dr. Jaliman, which means that while they're safe to use, you won't get the same results as heading to your derm.
"When you come in for a microneedling treatment, I'd compare that to working out with a trainer, whereas a dermaroller is like working out at the gym by yourself," Dr. Nazarian adds. "Working out by yourself is definitely good, but you'll have more dramatic results and a better workout with a trainer."
If you choose to incorporate an at-home dermaroller into your home routine, Dr. Nazarian advises doing it on completely cleansed skin before bed, then applying a serum over the top.
How Can I Find a Professional for Microneedling?
Just like with any procedure, do your research to find a licensed practitioner, and ask your fair share of questions.
"A lot of places won't do a mask or serum, or even numb the patient," Dr. Nazarian says. "You should ask if they numb, if they use a growth factor serum, if they use a mask, and if aftercare is provided. These all help to get the best result." (And may result in a higher price, FYI.)
While Dr. Jaliman recommends seeing a board-certified dermatologist for treatment, she advises making sure a spa uses sterilized equipment and all of their licenses are up to date before booking an appointment.