Beauty always comes at a price but would you be willing to let hundreds of tiny needles prick your skin? If you’re worried about derma rolling, then let me break the good news to you first: it’s not as scary as it sounds. But of course, it’s easier said than done. Therefore, I thought I would try derma rolling at home myself and share that experience with you! I’ve also I put in some elbow grease to find out about the science behind it, and just to make sure I know what I’m getting myself into. I hope I’m going to address all the doubts, myths, worries, and queries related to derma rolling, and let you make up your mind whether that’s something that could work for you.
What’s Derma Rolling?
Let’s get the basics right first and begin with what’s derma rolling and what are derma rollers? Well, derma rollers are hand-held devices that are covered with micro needles. Micro needles are fine and have the length ranging from 0.25 mm to 1.5 mm as well as a diameter of 0.1 mm (source). A standard derma roller is drum shaped and has 192 needles. Also, it’s widely used for Collagen Induction Therapy or CIT (source). The reason why derma rollers are used in CIT is because they cause tiny punctures on the skin surface, which trigger the skin’s repair system. It produces a fresh layer of collagen under the epidermis. However, I’m going to talk a bit more about that later in the article.
A Brief History
It all begins with the German dermatologist, Ernst Kromayer, who is also known as the father of dermabrasion (source). In 1905, he applied for a patent of a ‘therapeutic apparatus’ (source). Initially, this device contained circular knives that were driven by a motor and responsible for removing dead skin layers. He later developed it into a contraption with rotating burrs that were attached to a dental drill. The primary goal of the device was to get rid of the dead skin layers. That was possibly the first recorded appearance of a derma roller. Kromayer also proposed a theory stating that it was possible to have a scar free healing if the deeper reticular layers of the dermis were left untouched (source).
Later, a Hungarian physician Charles Lázár picked up this practice and wrote a ‘Manual of Cosmetics’ that detailed the use of this ‘dental drilling machine’ (source). Unfortunately, it was 1937 and the British Medical Journal classified it as ‘cosmetic art’. Therefore, his work didn’t gain any recognition in the medical field. In the book, Lázár suggested that instead of having a motor-driven drill, the the machine should be controlled by a foot. That was to ensure that the skin drilling is carried out slowly and thoroughly. He also proposed to use various sized burrs to treat multiple skin issues. The invention helped Lázár treat acne, freckles, pigmented nævi, and milia (source).
In 1953, Abner Kurtin, changed Kromayer’s prototype by ditching the dental burrs and replaced them with stainless wire brushes (source). His work was carried forward by the Nobel laureate, Alexis Carrell. The Frenchman moved to New York, which, at the time, was becoming the hub of dermatology. By 1995, Carrell’s protégés, David Orentreich and Norman Orentreich, formulated a new technique that made use of hypodermic needles. Later on, Canadian plastic surgeon André Camirand and his associate Jocelyne Doucet found the correlation between needling and reduction in scar tissue formation (source). Initially, they treated their patients by camouflaging scars behind skin coloured tattoos. They later realised that scar reduction was caused not by the pigments but the needles (source). Finally, the derma roller as we know it, was developed. Soon enough, micro needling, derma rolling, and collagen induction therapy were made popular with the help of many contemporary dermatologists such as Dr Des Fernandes (source).
1955 Drawings of Kurtin's wire brushes (source)
How Does Derma Rolling Work?
Now it’s probably a good idea to understand what exactly takes place when you use a derma roller. Basically, the micro needles create micro punctures, also known as micro channels, on the stratum corneum, which is an outermost layer of epidermis (source). Most importantly, these micro punctures don’t cause any damage to epidermis, as pointed out my histopathological reports (source). While you might experience minimalistic bleeding on the superficial skin, it does trigger a wound healing mechanism. Therefore, different growth factors such as platelet derived growth factor (PGF), connective tissue activating protein, transforming growth factors alpha and beta (TGF-α and TGF-β), fibroblast growth factor (FGF), and connective tissue growth factor are released. The fibroblasts initiate neovascularisation and neocollagenesis, forming a fibronectin matrix 5 days after the procedure (source). The formation of new capillaries treats scarring. The needles also break down the scar tissues without ablating the epidermis. Finally, new collagen and elastin deposition in the papillary dermis leads to skin tightening.
Is Derma Rolling Safe?
After reading all of that, you’re probably wondering whether derma rolling is safe for you. Don’t be intimidated by the derma rollers which may resemble mini torture devices because to put it straight - derma rolling is absolutely safe. Irrespective of your ethnicity, race, or skin tone, derma rolling is safe for everyone who’s willing to give it a try (source). It is a no-fuss and simple technique to treat wrinkle, scars, and other skin imperfections. If you’re worried about the skin punctures and the micro channels, once again, remember that epidermis remains unharmed (source). The micro needles do not create any real wound but tricks the body into believing that it’s been injured (source). Therefore, you can repeat procedure regularly. Although, adequately space out the sessions. You can also use derma rolling on areas for which laser treatments and deep peels are no longer effective (source).
According to Sylvia Silvestri, a registered nurse and aesthetic trainer at the Beverly Hills, California, micro needling is free from chemicals, and effective at triggering collagen production. You can use it all over the body or target specific areas such as face, neck, and chest. It can be performed on all skin types too. Also, there’s no risk of burns unlike in the case of laser treatments (source). It may cause erythema (redness of the skin due to increased blood flow) right after the treatment, but it’s normal and subsides the following day. All in all, derma rolling is safe if you follow the instructions and do it right. Keep on reading to learn how to do that.
Derma Rolling Benefits
Derma Rolling has a host of benefits. Here’s some of them.
Increases Chemical Absorption
Science has already proved that derma rolling enhances skin’s ability to absorb whatever is applied to it (source). When the skin gets punctured, the chemicals can bypass the stratum corneum easier. Therefore, micro channels allow free transportation of hydrophilic macromolecules (you’ll find a lot of those in creams) (source). Thus, it exposes the deeper layers of your skin to the goodness of all the beauty products you use.
Similarly, microneedling is used for transdermal delivery of drugs. The needles can help with transmitting macromolecular biopharmaceuticals like growth hormones, insulin, albumin, tetanus toxoid, influenza vaccines, and aspirin. It can be paired with sonophoresis, electroporation, micro pumps, iontophoresis, and calcein (source) for a deeper drug penetration. This whole process is actually called mesotherapy (source).
Induces Collagen Production and Tightens Skin
When your skin is slightly injured, your brain gets signals that it’s in that state. Therefore, the brain releases growth factors that are supposed to help with healing and collagen production stimulation (source). In fact, a study that took place in 2014 concluded that derma rolling is indeed a promising minimally invasive treatment for helping your body produce this protein (source). As you’ve probably already know, the lack of collagen usually causes the appearance of wrinkles. Hence, this treatment helps to keep your skin tight.
Repairs Visible Scars
In a study conducted in 2009, it was observed that more than 88.7% of the microneedling therapy participants noticed a reduced visibility in their acne scars (source). That’s mostly due to naturally improved collagen production. Additionally, derma rolling is known for being able to break down scar tissues, which mostly consists of accumulation of collagen. It rejuvenates skin by equally distributing it. Derma rollers can, in fact, help with fading out a variety of scars (source): surgical, acne or even stretch marks. However, it doesn’t work on keloid scars. Micro needling can also be an alternative treatment for post burns(source).
If the scar is severe, you should probably consult a professional and see what could be done. Usually, more prominent ones need to be treated with longer needles, and for that you most definitely need someone who knows what they’re doing. Another interesting fact, a study published in 2016 showed that micro needling was slightly better than fractional laser treatments. Micro needling was simply better tolerated on skin, had less downtime, and fewer side effects.
Reduces Skin Discoloration
The sun can greatly influence skin’s appearance and alter it. Since derma rolling helps with collagen production, it can reverse the damage caused by the harsh sun rays, and, therefore, reduce discoloration. That also includes hyperpigmentation that occurs with melasma (source). It does it by removing the top layer of the skin and reducing an abnormal melanin production. Therefore, derma rolling is slowly becoming the leading treatment for photoaged skin.(source).
Reduces Stretch Marks
The cause of stretch mark formation is a rapid skin stretching. They’re tougher to treat than scars but it’s been reported that derma rolling has been somewhat effective (source). You’ll probably want to seek professional help with this one. Although, do note that it takes almost 3 to 12 sessions to observe your stretch marks going away. The biggest advantage of derma rolling is that it can be done anywhere on your body and is not limited to just the face.
You might think that puncturing your skin would enlarge your pores but derma rolling does just the opposite. When collagen is produced, the region around the pores becomes plump, thus tightening them (source). Do note that derma rolling cannot completely eradicate enlarged pores because that’s genetically inherited.
Quite recently, it’s been observed that micro needling your scalp can help you fight hair loss. Alopecia, otherwise known as male patterned baldness, has been, in fact, responsive to derma rolling. That’s mostly because micro needling stimulates the brain to extract endothelial growth factor, which promotes hair growth and increases hair follicle size (source).
Yes, you’ve heard me write! There are a few misconceptions that need to be cleared up. Seriously!
Micro Needling Doesn’t Reduce Cellulite
Unfortunately, cellulite is a thing and a lot of us, especially women, suffer from it (source). While derma rolling may seem like the ultimate device to tackle a lot of skin-related issues, it does have its limitations, and this is where it draws the line. You cannot get rid of cellulite using a derma roller. The two possible ways of getting rid of cellulite includes switching to a healthier diet, exercising, and consuming more water (source). So far, there are no studies that can concretely prove the relation between micro needling and cellulite reduction.
Derma Rollers Cannot Be Reused
This may be confusing, because a few derma roller sellers claim that you can reuse them. This, in fact, is in direct conflict with the guidelines established by the FDA since these little beauty products fall under the category of disposable medical devices (source). Obviously, derma rollers penetrate the skin, and therefore, they have to undergo strict quality checks. But what happens when you make use of it? Once the derma roller loses its sterility, there is no way you can roll it back to where it was. Unless you have a gamma ray machine lying around your house, you cannot properly sterilize it! Additionally, the needles lose their sharpness after constant use, and therefore aren’t that effective anymore.
What Needle Size Should You Use?
So far you must’ve figured out that different needle sizes can be used to target certain skin problems and body areas. Therefore, you’re probably wondering what’s the size that would be best for your needs? Here’s the list of possible advantages you could get with each needle length.
0.25 mm Needles
0.25 mm dermarollers usually just help with increasing your skin absorption. They’re not really painful and don’t do much when it comes to increasing collagen production. However, your skin might as well benefit from absorbing a little bit more of vitamin C that encourages collagen production anyway.
0.50 mm Needles
If you have a 0.5 mm derma roller, you can use it to treat shallow damage on skin and small discolorations. Additionally, they trigger collagen production. However, you will feel slight discomfort. Anyway, if you’d like to see results achieved with this needle size, continue reading, because I’ve tried this one myself.
0.75-1.0 mm Needles
If you own a derma roller in the range of 0.75 to 1.0 mm, then you should probably target wrinkles and scars. These needles have a stronger impact and are more painful. Therefore, it might be good to use an anesthetic to numb the pain a little bit. You might bleed a little bit too.
1.5-3.0 mm Needles
When it comes to 1.5 – 3.0 mm derma rollers, it’s best to use them only with professional help. These aren’t for any DIY activity and should be reserved for serious skin treatments. The needles will help with severe scarring and stretch marks. Although, do expect bleeding and infliction of pain.
Shallow acne scars
Deep acne scars
0.25 – 0.50 mm
Skin blemishes (post inflammatory hyperpigmentation)
0.25 – 0.50 mm
Skin discoloration scars
Start with the smallest size and then slowly increase it; 0.25 – 1.00 mm
Photoaged (sun damaged) or sagging skin
0.50 to 1.50 mm
1.50 – 2.00 mm (seek professional help since the needle size exceeds 1 mm)
Uneven skin texture or tone
Wrinkles and fine lines
0.50 to 1.50 mm
In a nutshell, if you’re a beginner and wish to use a derma roller at home, I’d suggest anything ranging from 0.25 mm to 1.00 mm. In a professional setting, you’ll get to see needles as long as 1.5 mm or more (3 mm being the longest permitted length). Note that these needles are used only after numbing the skin. Otherwise, it might be a bit too hard to bear the pain.
How to Use a Derma Roller
Now, the most important part of owning a derma roller is knowing how to use one. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to use it.
Step 1: Prep your skin
Prep your face by first washing it with a gentle pH-balanced cleanser and then removing all the superficial grime.
Step 2: Exfoliate
While exfoliation isn’t absolutely necessary, it’s definitely recommended. Getting rid of dead skin cells is always helpful, especially before a treatment.
Step 3: Wash Your Face
Wash your face once again to ensure that there no leftovers on it. Feel free to use plain water.
Step 4: Apply an Anesthetic Cream (Optional)
There are people who have low tolerance for pain or sensitive skin. Hence, it’s probably a good idea to apply anesthetic cream to numb the skin. When it comes to using it, just follow the instructions on the packaging. If you’re using needles longer than 1 mm, use the cream, because it’s most likely going to get painful.
NOTE: Don’t leave the numbing cream on your skin for longer than 30 minutes. Also, make sure to remove all of it carefully.
Step 5: Begin Derma Rolling
When derma rolling, ensure that you’re not applying too much pressure. It should feel comfortable. Additionally, don’t press too hard on more delicate areas. Stay off the eye sockets (of course!). It’s often advised to divide your face into 4 sections and take on each one-by-one.
Step 6: Wash Your Face
For intense derma rolling, it’s advisable to apply saline swabs to your skin for an hour or two. For a regular at-home derma rolling session, rinse your skin with cold water. Also, avoid taking hot baths, and don’t use very warm water in general since your skin will be extra sensitive just now.
Step 7: Finish off in style!
Now it’s time to apply a serum or a moisturizing cream to your skin. It’s best to use products that contain vitamins A and C to encourage collagen production and boost healing. You could also apply a topical antibiotic cream to prevent infections. Other than that, just sit back and relax.
How Often Should You Use a Derma Roller?
Again, that depends on skin condition you’re trying to combat and the size of needles. Here’s a table for your reference:
Every 2 weeks
Every 3 weeks
Once a month
Once a month
Once every two months
I Tried Derma Rolling Too. Here are My Results
I wanted to try derma rolling just for the sake of it. I don't have acne scars or any other skin problems that would require microneedling. However, the minute I've heard about it, I knew it was something I had to try. I bought a derma roller with 0.5 mm needles without doing too much research, because I wanted to play it 'safe'. Anyway, here's how it went.
Before Derma Rolling
The only part of my body that I wasn't very happy about was my forehead. As you can see, at the time I had a few very small pimples as well as red patches. Overall, my forehead didn't look clean. Therefore, I wanted to see whether microneedling would make it look better.
And here's my full face for later comparison.
How Derma Rolling Felt
I wouldn't say it's a pleasant experience. However, nothing too uncomfortable. My goal was to simply cover all of my skin and see what's going to happen. My skin did feel tingly and itchy, and I slowly became red. However, I didn't bleed mostly because the needles were quite short. I also tried to be as soft as possible. Overall, in the end I just had a feeling that blood is rushing into my face and something is definitely happening!
1 Day After Derma Rolling
As you've probably noticed, after around 24 hours I still looked a bit red. However, I did receive a compliment from my boyfriend saying that my skin 'looks very healthy'. Let me assure you, he's not the type of guy who notices anything at all! Overall, my skin started feeling tighter, shinier and more alive.
2 Days After Derma Rolling
I'll be honest, 2 days after I felt like my skin was tighter and more alive. It was glowing and I was feeling great!
My forehead ''situation'' improved quite a bit too. Obviously, you can still see a bit of redness, but overall - a significant improvement. The skin looks smoother and less patchy.
I'll be honest, I loved microneedling so much I wanted to do my own little research and share all the facts with you. Not because nobody knows about it, but because there are some misconceptions and not enough scientific facts shared with regular readers. I'm sure you want to know what's happening to your skin when you're ''stabbing'' yourself with a bunch of needles! Ha ha! Anyway, I hope you've learnt something new! If you have tried derma rolling yourself, feel free to share your own thoughts!
My Other Articles