Skin Care » Microneedling/Derma Rolling Guide: Pros, Cons, How-to & More

Microneedling/Derma Rolling Guide: Pros, Cons, How-to & More

This post may contain affiliate links.

In the skincare world, one of the most popular treatments right now is microneedling. The tiny needles hold a lot of power, especially as a skin-rejuvenating treatment. Whether done by a professional or at home with a derma roller, it seems clear that microneedling has real, profound effects on some of the hardest-to-treat skin concerns.

However, microneedling also raises a lot of questions. How does it work? How safe is it? How does at-home derma rolling compare to a professional microneedling treatment? We’ll answer all of those and more in this complete guide to microneedling and derma rolling. 

In this article:

What Is Microneedling?

Microneedling is the technique of using a needle-end tool – a dermapen or a derma roller – to prick the skin for rejuvenation and regeneration.

“Microneedling is a minimally invasive skin procedure that can help you achieve glowing, rejuvenated skin,” Says Dr. Denise Wong, a renowned plastic surgeon from Wave Plastic Surgery. “[It] uses mechanical energy to treat aging skin and improve the appearance of acne scars, stretch marks, fine lines, wrinkles, and other skin conditions.” 

“Historically,” she explains, “it was known as percutaneous collagen induction therapy.” This gives a pretty good hint of what microneedling does. The tiny needles poke into the skin, and they induce collagen production within it. The deeper the needle can penetrate, the deeper and more dramatic its results will be. This makes it a phenomenal solution for skin that needs deep, targeted repair.


How Does Microneedling Work?

“The controlled depth of micro-injury to the skin surface can stimulate growth factors to promote healing and new collagen formation,” Dr. Wong gives us the science-y lowdown.

That’s right. By damaging the skin in a very controlled manner, microneedling actually triggers healing and renewal of previous damage without causing any damage of its own. This is what is called “microtrauma,” and it’s a fascinating process.

Depending on their length, the little needles of the microneedling device penetrate into different levels of the skin. There, they create the micro-injuries that trigger regeneration and depending on how deeply they penetrate, they can improve specific skin concerns.


Microneedling Benefits

We already hinted at the kind of issues that microneedling can fade or reverse all kinds of skin concerns, but let’s get into it in a little more detail.

Scarring

Microneedling is most exciting as a treatment for scarring, which is notoriously difficult to reduce or eliminate. As Dr. Wong explains, microneedling helps with scarring in two ways: through collagen induction and through neovascularization. Neovascularization is the process when new blood vessels form. It helps to improve blood circulation and heal scars.

Microneedling as a solution for scarring has been studied very widely. Recently, the research included a robust study that looked at all kinds of scars and even followed up on results 12 months after the treatment. The study showed that microneedling can reduce the severity of scarring by at least 50% (and even more so in many cases) and that the benefits are long-term.  

The ideal needle length for scarring is around 1.5 mm, although shallow scarring might be improved with needles as short as 0.75 mm. However, even 0.75 is considered very long for at-home use. 

Microneedling Benefits
@susannebarnekow

Anti-Aging

As we age (and experience sun exposure), our skin slows down its production of collagen and elastin, which are the proteins responsible for keeping our skin looking firm and smooth. This results in loss of firmness and fine lines.

Therefore, by stimulating new collagen formation, microneedling can help to slightly reverse those signs of skin aging. There have been multiple studies showing that different kinds of microneedling and derma rolling treatments could help improve the appearance of wrinkles.

If you’d like to try microneedling as an anti-aging treatment, 0.5 mm is the shortest length needed for transformative results, although going up to 0.75-1.5 mm will have the most dramatic effects. However, even just small 0.1-0.2 mm needles will help boost the effects of your anti-aging face products.

Hair Loss

One of the most exciting potential effects of derma rolling is in combating hair loss, whether facial or on top of your head. It’s not comparable to a full-on hair transplant, but it can help stimulate some hair growth when done in combination with a topical hair loss medication like Minoxidil.

In this instance, microneedling acts as a drug delivery enhancement method, allowing Minoxidil to reach deeper and closer to the hair follicle, where it can reverse alopecia. One study showed promising results with 1.5 mm microneedles.

Pigmentation

Microneedling on its own is probably not a great treatment for hyperpigmentation, but it helps to boost the effects of other skin-brightening treatments, like tranexamic acid, vitamin C, or hydroquinone. 

Most hyperpigmentation and microneedling studies focused on melasma, using needles between 0.5 mm and 1.5 mm. However, one case study on hyperpigmentation around the eyes showed results with short 0.25 mm needles.

Those with darker skin often have a harder time finding solutions to hyperpigmentation since, as Dr. Wong explains, the heat from laser therapy can cause post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation all on its own. “Microneedling doesn’t induce heat,” she explains, “so it can be used as an alternative.”

Product Absorption

Our stratum corneum (i.e. the top layer of the skin) is a powerful barrier, so most skincare can only influence that very top layer. With most moisturizers and serums, this is perfectly fine since a more hydrated stratum corneum looks and feels a lot smoother and stronger. 

However, when it comes to serums loaded with active ingredients, at-home microneedling can improve product absorption. It can help those ingredients penetrate to levels of the skin where they can have greater effects. The result is more plump, hydrated skin in the short term, and better results in the long term, even with a painless 0.1-0.25 mm derma roller. 

Stretch Marks

Stretch marks on the body are incredibly hard to treat because they’re caused when collagen and elastin tear deep below the skin. Microneedling with needles that reach deep into the dermis can help re-damage those tears in a way that triggers their repair.

For microneedling to effectively reverse the look of stretch marks, it’s important to use deeper needles, around 1.5 mm. This means also using numbing cream since it can be quite painful. With professional treatments, it’s usually possible to see results after 3 sessions that are four weeks apart.


What’s the Difference Between Microneedling and Derma Rolling?

Derma rolling is a treatment that falls under the larger umbrella of microneedling. It’s done with a derma roller, a skincare device with a roller of rows of tiny needles that you can use at home. It is the DIY option of microneedling, which is way cheaper to use and still can provide great results when used correctly. However, you’ll not see the same results that you would get from a needling session carried out by a professional.

Compared to microneedling devices, derma rollers feature shorter needles. Instead of causing low-level trauma to the top layer of the skin, they form tiny pathways in the skin, making the absorption of skincare products more efficient. So, if you want to try microneedling at home, you need to get a derma roller and learn how to use it correctly.

How to Use a Derma Roller?
@allegra.garciavelez

Derma Pens vs. Derma Rollers

At-home microneedling solutions go beyond just derma rollers. These days, there are also a lot of derma pens or derma stamps on the market. Unlike a derma roller, a derma pen normally has a small, flat surface that is covered in microneedles. The number of needles and their length varies as much as it does with derma rollers.

In professional microneedling treatments, the provider usually uses a device that’s more similar to a derma pen than a derma roller. Most professionals recommend derma pens over derma rollers, citing precision and angles as the main reasons.

Most derma pens are electric devices, so the needles go in and out of the skin all on their own. There’s no need for the person holding the device to apply any pressure. This makes for a more controlled and even gentler procedure.

Because the derma pen is held perfectly perpendicular to the skin, the needles go straight in and out, as opposed to with a derma roller where they can come in and out on a slight angle. This results in tiny, straight microchannels that are much less likely to cause excessive damage to the skin.

For at-home use, derma rollers are more popular because they’re cheaper to purchase, and the treatments with them take a little less time. For those using shorter needles, the choice of the device doesn’t matter too much, but for those wanting to use longer microneedles, a derma pen is the better choice.


Radiofrequency Microneedling

As an in-office service, medical professionals often use devices that combine microneedling with radiofrequency. This treatment is sometimes referred to as RF microneedling.

The radiofrequency emits heat energy that slightly exacerbates the microtrauma from the needles, so it results in greater effects. Because of this, RF microneedling often requires fewer treatments than regular microneedling.

The provider controls the heat produced by the radio frequency to prevent any lasting damage to the skin, making this treatment a safe choice for all skin tones.  


Microneedling Side Effects

“Overall, microneedling is well tolerated with minimal discomfort,” Dr. Wong says. “Mild skin redness may result, which typically resolves within 5 days.”

There are also some side effects that don’t always occur but aren’t totally uncommon. According to Dr. Wong, they include skin irritation, peeling, bruising, and bleeding. Infection is an especially dangerous potential side effect that’s more likely to occur with at-home derma rolling. If that occurs, it’s important to seek out medical treatment.

“Skin will be more sensitive after treatment, so patients should avoid sun exposure and use sunscreen and other forms of skin protection during the recovery process,“ she adds.


Who Should Avoid Derma Rolling?

“Not everyone is a candidate for microneedling,” Dr. Wong explains.”It’s important to inform your provider of any pre-existing medical conditions or concerns prior to treatment.“

In general, these are the most common contraindications for microneedling:

  • Active acne breakouts
  • Fresh scars or a compromised skin barrier
  • Keloid scars
  • Skin infections
  • Active cold sores
  • Anyone taking immunosuppressants
  • Those taking anticoagulants
  • Anyone who is taking or has recently stopped taking Accutane/Isotretinoin
  • Hemophiliacs or those suffering from other disorders that prevent blood clotting
Microneedling at Home
@beautybio

Does Microneedling Hurt?

The level of pain you might feel from microneedling greatly depends on the length of the needle you choose, as well as your own pain tolerance.

  • Derma rollers with needles shorter than 0.3 mm are not painful at all for most users.
  • At 0.5 mm, some users report zero pain or discomfort, while others find that it stings.
  • 0.75 is the midpoint where microneedling starts to hurt, but it’s still tolerable for many users.
  • At 1 mm and above you will likely want to use a numbing cream

Should You Use a Derma Roller at Home?

When it comes to at-home derma rolling, Dr. Wong recommends sticking to the short, 0.15-mm derma rollers that help with skincare absorptions. “Increasing the depth of needle penetration increases the risk of damaging the skin,” she stresses, so if you want more dramatic effects, it’s better to seek the help of a professional.

In a medical environment, the person doing your treatment is trained to perform the procedure in a gentle and precise manner. You’ll know that all of the equipment is sterilized and that the chances of side effects are lower.

Additionally, in a professional setting, it’s possible to combine microneedling with other treatments that improve its effectiveness but are too dangerous for at-home use. This can include combining microneedling with radiofrequency or an acid peel (something that can greatly boost results, but it also increases the chances of complications, so we never recommend doing it yourself).

If you want to derma-roll or use a derma pen at home, we recommend practicing extreme caution. It’s possible to buy derma rollers with longer needles, and many people decide to use them at home despite the warnings of medical professionals.

Some use the derma rollers successfully with no adverse reactions, but there are also horror stories about significant inflammatory reactions or even skin infections. Ultimately, anyone who chooses to derma-roll at home is taking on some risk, so it’s important to be well-informed.


Microneedling at Home: How to Use a Derma Roller

If you do want to try derma rolling by yourself, we have some tips to help you do it as safely as possible.

Step 1: Sanitize Your Roller

When derma rolling your skin, one of the most important things to do is to keep it sanitized. This is essential for preventing skin infections, and the repercussions of skipping this step are quite serious.

  • To sanitize your derma roller, you’ll need either 70% isopropyl alcohol or a special cosmetic sanitizing liquid, like Barbicide. You’ll also need a cup to act as a sanitizing basin.
  • Simply place the head of your roller inside the cup or basin, and then fill it up to the top with the disinfectant.
  • Let the roller soak for 10 minutes.
  • Take it out of the basin, and place it on top of a clean surface to air-dry.
  • Do this both before and after using it to guarantee that it’s always clean.
  • Make sure the alcohol has evaporated completely before using the derma roller.

Step 2: Cleanse and Prep Your Skin

Next, it’s time to get your skin clean and prepped for derma rolling. You can actually do this while waiting for your derma roller to dry after it’s been disinfected.

  • If you’re wearing makeup, remove it completely with a makeup remover, micellar water, or oil cleanser.
  • Next, cleanse your skin to remove traces of oil, using a slightly foaming or lathering cleanser that you can then rinse away with water.
  • With your skin totally clean and free of cleanser residue, apply a gentle, fragrance-free serum of your choice. We recommend opting for a hydrating serum, and avoiding anything with strong active ingredients, especially if you’re using a large derma roller.  
  • If you’ll be using a derma roller with 0.5 mm needles or longer, you may want to apply a numbing cream instead. If that’s what you’ll be doing, apply the numbing cream and wait 20-25 minutes for it to take effect. Then, wipe it off and cleanse your skin before starting to derma roll.

Step 3: Learn the Derma Rolling Motion

Derma rolling is not particularly complicated, but there is still a lot of room for error.

  • When rolling, be very careful not to apply any pressure to the skin. The needles should sink in easily all on their own, and if they don’t, it means that your roller is too dull to use.
  • Rolling is done in a back and forth motion, going around 5 times over each “strip” of skin.
  • Never move the derma roller from side to side – only up and down. When moving to a new section of the face and body, it can be tempting to just drag the roller over or to use a zig-zag pattern, but this can be quite dangerous. Instead, make sure to lift up the roller completely when you want to move it over sideways to roll over a new section.
  • If you have areas where your skin is a little loose, you can use one hand to stretch it out, so it’s taut to avoid the derma roller skipping over the skin.
  • Now that you understand the correct motions for derma rolling, you can start to work section by section.
  • It’s easiest to break up the face into the following sections: the chin, the cheeks & jawline, the forehead & temples, the nose, and the eyes.
  • It doesn’t matter which part of your face you start with, as long as you keep track and don’t overdo the rolling on any specific area.
  • For each part of your face that you plan to derma roll, first start with up and down motions, being careful to lift the roller completely to move it to the side. 
  • Once you’ve rolled vertically over the entire section, you can now roll over it again, going side to side. Once that’s done, you can move on to the next section to roll.
  • Be extra careful rolling around the eyes and nose, and consider going over them fewer times. Be careful not to roll too close to the eye, and never use a roller longer than 0.1 mm over that delicate area.
Microneedling vs. Derma Rolling
@beautybio

Microneedling Aftercare: Which Products Are Safe to Use?

Once you’ve finished derma rolling, it’s time to reinforce the skin with some good aftercare.

  • If you’ve used longer needles or your skin is sensitive, reinforce your skin with gentle, fragrance-free products that have hydrating and soothing ingredients. Apply at least a serum and moisturizer.
  • If you want to treat your skin even better, apply a hydrating sheet mask, followed by as many soothing skincare products as you like.
  • If your skin is strong and you’ve used shorter needles, you might be able to follow up the derma rolling with some more intense products, like a retinol or vitamin C serum.
  • For the days following derma rolling, be extra-diligent with sunscreen since your skin is going to be more vulnerable to sun exposure.
  • Avoid very strong skincare ingredients, like tretinoin and exfoliating acids, for 3-5 days after derma rolling, especially if you’ve used longer needles.

How Often Should You Use a Derma Roller?

Microneedling or derma rolling frequency mostly depends on the length of the needles you choose. Shorter derma rollers that just increase skincare absorption can be used twice a week (and some users even make them part of their daily routine).

With longer needles, it’s important to be a little more cautious. For instance, on the totally opposite end of the scale, professional microneedling treatments with 1-1.5 mm needles are usually only done every 4-6 weeks.

The suggestions for 0.5- and 0.75-mm microneedles are all over the place. Some sources caution against using them more than once a month, while others say that once a week is perfectly safe. We’d suggest being cautious and starting with just monthly use. If you feel comfortable, increase it to twice a month. 

Your body might be able to tolerate more frequent derma rolling, while if you have sensitive skin, you may want to do it less often. Ultimately, different people require different recovery times, but it’s important to pay attention and always give your skin enough time to totally regenerate.


Microneedling Costs at the Salon

Microneedling can be done by both medical aestheticians and dermatologists, so the costs can vary quite a bit. On the lowest end of the scale, an aesthetician wielding a derma pen will charge around $100 to $300 per session.

At a dermatological clinic, it will cost between $300 and up to $1000 per session, depending on the area being treated as well as whether it’s combined with other technologies, like radiofrequency. Since the best microneedling results only come after multiple treatments, it’s often possible to purchase a series of treatments for a discounted price.

Photos via @emshelx, @RachParcell, Instagram