What is microneedling and is it safe?
Would you roll needles all over your face for smoother skin? That’s the promise of the trendy treatment microneedling, with compelling before-and-after photos flooding the internet.
In the microneedling procedure, a dermaroller wand studded with tiny needles is run over skin to even out its texture, including wrinkles and scarring. There are even claims that it can help reduce stubborn stretch marks.
But is microneedling safe and does it work? Skin scientists and dermatologist experts weigh in on everything you need to know about microneedling, and if you should ever do it at home.
What does microneedling do for your skin?
The treatment (which can be performed by a dermatologist or aesthetician in-office or done at home) involves rolling a roller with tiny needles along the skin. The microneedling pen's needles produce micropunctures in skin that can enhance the absorption of skincare products and cause an increase in collagen production, which can minimize fine lines and scarring from causes like acne over time, among other benefits.
Is microneedling effective?
Yes: When done by a professional dermatologist, microneedling can be effective at boosting the penetration of topical skincare and plumping skin, and there is data to show its efficacy in reducing fine lines and wrinkles. And a study found microneedling may be as helpful lasers and other resurfacing devices for reducing acne scars.
It's also a great option for minimizing stretch marks, experts say. Microneedling is the single best treatment for stretch mark reduction. Microneedling improves the color and appearance of stretch marks by creating tiny pinhole injuries in the stretch mark itself. The skin responds by making new collagen, filling in the broken dermal layer. As the dermal layer expands, the color fades because the skin thickens and the tiny blood vessels that give early stretch marks their pink/purple color retreat.
Does microneedling hurt?
Done in the hands of a professional dermatologist, there should be zero to minimal pain, side effects, or down time from microneedling treatments, though some may experience minor skin irritation immediately after. If done improperly at home, microneedling has the potential to cause scratching or burning pain and irritation, redness and inflammation, marks, and even bleeding and scarring on skin. Your dermatologist can advise you on the proper after-care procedure for your skin to minimize irritation and facilitate best results.
Microneedling can help with problems like:
Microneedling may reduce fine and deep wrinkles
One of the main benefits of microneedling is its ability to stimulate the growth of collagen and elastin, which is the key to new, youthful-looking skin. Because of its ability to trigger the generation of new skin cells, dermatologists have found that a few sessions will noticeably reduce fine lines, crow’s feet, and deep wrinkles on the forehead.
Microneedling may repair visible scars
In a study on the effects of microneedling published in the Journal of Cutaneous and Aesthetic Surgery, nearly 100 percent of acne-scarred participants reported a marked improvement in the visibility of their scars. With at-home microneedling, a 1.5-mm handheld roller is long enough to improve the appearance of acne scars. For severe acne scars, however, you may need longer needles for maximum results. Professional grade microneedling devices (used in a dermatologist’s or facialist’s office) can be as long as 3 mm, which will treat deep acne scars that occur beneath the surface of the skin.
Microneedling may reverse sun damage and pigmentation
Collagen is arguably the best way to improve the look of skin, and this goes beyond reducing wrinkles. Stimulating collagen growth with microneedling can also reverse sun damage and discoloration, including the hyperpigmentation that comes with melasma. To improve extra pigmentation from sun-damaged skin, dermaroller needles should range from 1.0 mm to 1.5 mm in length.
Microneedling may shrink pores
It’s a bit counterintuitive, but microneedling doesn’t actually enlarge pores as you might think piercing your skin hundreds of times would. Rather, one benefit of the procedure is that it helps pores appear much smaller. Microneedling stimulates collagen in and around your pores, which causes them to plump and appear shrunken, if not closed. And let’s be honest, who doesn’t want smaller pores?
Microneedling may make your skincare products work better
Did you know that only 4 to 8 percent of that expensive serum you’re using on your face actually penetrates your skin? Another microneedling benefit is that it improves product absorption. This makes sense considering that microneedling creates thousands of invisible holes in your skin that are ready to absorb products in a way clogged pores can’t. The tiny punctures actually act like little channels, allowing topical products to penetrate better and work more effectively.
Microneedling can be done all over your body
Another microneedling benefit is that this treatment isn’t exclusive to the face. It can be done on any area of skin that needs to be repaired—including areas that display stretch marks or acne scars, like the legs, chest, back, and butt. Four to six sessions could make a difference in these areas.
Microneedling is less expensive than laser treatments, which can cost about four times as much. Microneedling may work better for people with darker skin tones because it doesn’t involve heat the way laser treatments do, which can affect your skin’s pigmentation, or color. Ask your dermatologist what’s best for your skin -- and your budget.
What happens when you get microneedling
Dermatologists (doctors who specialize in skin care and skin disorders) can do microneedling. Aestheticians also do it. If you try it somewhere other than a doctor’s office, first check on the person’s experience and credentials, and make sure that all of the equipment is sterilized. There are do-it-yourself versions of microneedling devices. But dermatologists warn against using those because you might accidentally hurt your skin, and you may not have a good way to sterilize the needles.
The procedure usually takes 10-20 minutes, depending on how big the area is. Most people need 4-6 treatments to see a difference.
First, you’ll get a numbing cream smoothed onto your face so you can’t feel the needle pricks. Then the person doing the microneedling will move a pen-shaped or rolling tool with tiny needles around your face. The needles make small cuts in your skin, which causes a bit of bleeding. Your doctor may spread a cream or serum on your face after that.
The goal of the procedure is to start your body’s healing process by sending collagen and elastin to patch up the tiny injuries. Collagen helps fill in and smooth out wrinkles.
Most people get microneedling on the face, but it can also done on other parts of the body, such as your stomach or thighs.
How long does it take to see results from microneedling?
Response to treatment may vary, but some may need four to six sessions over several months to obtain the desired results, while others may be happy after one to two. But maintenance treatments may be necessary to keep the progress up and prevent further damage. In between, your dermatologist can advise you on whether you can continue your regular skincare regimen, including other types of exfoliating and skin resurfacing products while receiving microneedling treatments.
Depending on the skin issue, the severity of it, your age and skin condition, and whether the treatment is done by a professional, the results can range from subtle improvement (i.e. softening the look of lines and marks) to a dramatic change (erasing of wrinkles and acne scars), as seen here.
Microneedling healing and risks
Some things to think about before deciding to try it:
- It’s not a quick fix. It takes time to notice a difference. That’s because your body is healing itself. Most people need a few treatments before they see any change.
- Healing time. It may take days or weeks to heal, depending on how deep the needles pierce your skin.
- Pain and redness. You may have some minor pain after the procedure, and your skin may be red for a few days.
- Your skin may feel tight and flake a bit while it heals.
- Bruising and bleeding. There’s usually no bleeding during microneedling. But deep microneedling treatments may cause the skin to bleed or bruise.
- Possible scarring. Microneedling isn’t a good idea for people who’ve had keloids, scars that look like large bubbles on the skin. It could make the condition worse.
- Microneedling creates tiny holes in the skin, which could let germs enter, especially if the equipment isn’t cleaned well. But the risk of infection is very low. If you’re healthy, an infection from microneedling is unlikely.
Microneedling is a cosmetic procedure, so insurance doesn’t cover it. Your doctor will tell you how many treatments you need, and give you an idea of how much they’ll cost.
How much does microneedling cost?
Depending on the location and practitioner, professional microneedling by a dermatologist or aesthetician can cost anywhere between $100 to upward of $500+ per treatment, with a series of four to six treatments often required to see results, the number of which can vary based on skin issue and condition.
Is microneedling at home safe?
Recently, the FDA issued an alert to manufacturers about potential regulation of microneeding pens as medical devices. It may not be worth the risk to DIY: In a GH Beauty Lab study, 25 women used a popular at-home dermaroller system. After four weeks, there was no difference in the appearance of skin on the side where the dermaroller was used, or in the improvement of firmness. Testers also complained that the tool hurt during use, felt sharp, and scraped their skin. One developed a rash from use and two did not complete the study due to skin irritation.
If you want to try microneedling, experts recommend going pro for optimal results and less risk: This procedure can work wonders if used correctly, but microneedling devices are best used by a trained professional to mitigate the risk of overuse and permanent damage. Getting the treatment at a dermatologist's office will also ensure the needles are sterile, which is crucial for preventing skin damage and infection. Consult a dermatologist to see if it’s for you and come up with the best treatment plan.