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- What is skin needling and dermarolling?
- Why skin needling and dermarolling can be effective
- Needling depths matter
- The advantages of skin needling and dermarolling
- How to needle and dermaroll safely and effectively (and a word of warning!)
Skin needling is a method of pricking the skin with tiny needles to :
- tighten loose skin and reduce lines or wrinkles,
- reduce scarring (e.g. acne scars, surgical scars, pitted scars/indented scars, raised scars/hypertrophic scars)
- restore normal skin pigmentation (e.g. hypopigmented, hyperpigmented or uneven skin)
Dermarolling is skin needling done with a dermaroller. A dermaroller is a hand-held roller with a surface of tiny needles. They come in different lengths and sizes.
To understand why skin needling or dermarolling can be so effective for all the conditions above, it’s necessary to have a basic understanding of what happens after skin is pricked by a needle deep enough to cause pinprick bleeding.
To the human eye, after the skin is pricked by tiny needles, the pinpricks will bleed slightly, scab and then heal. This appears to be the end of the story. But it isn’t.
Beneath the skin’s surface, much more is going on. In fact, the healing response, which begins immediately upon the injury, kick-starts a healing process that lasts for several months and up to a year. This natural healing process is when the real skin improvements take place.
- Fibroblast will migrate to the injured site and produce and deposit new extracellular matrix
- The new matrix cross-links and organizes itself
- Over time, new collagen will:
- fill in depressed scars and deep lines
- break down and reorganize scar tissue
- realign and stimulate new pigmentation
- After a few months, this new collagen will start to shorten. This leads to a slow tightening of the skin.
- After a year, this healing process will eventually lead to the formation of a thick layer of collagen, healthy elastin and improved blood flow at the initial injury site. Nestled in a small area, each needle prick’s healing process will blend seamlessly together to lay down an almost continuous sheet of collagen below the epidermis.
- The visible results can include the following:
- Hard or raised scars will soften and flatten
- Indented scars such as acne pits will fill in and appear less depressed
- Lines and wrinkles will soften, revealing tighter and smoother skin
- Hypo-pigmented areas will regain coloring, while hyperpigmented (darkened) skin will lighten to the color of normal skin
- Restored nerve endings will renew skin sensitivity for badly damaged areas
- If you decide to start skin needling and intend to do it yourself, you should be prepared for some amount of pain. The pain can range from mild discomfort and redness (for shallow pricking) to that of getting a tattoo (for needle pricks that penetrate about 1.5 mm into the dermis and cause slight bleeding).
- In general, deeper needle penetrations into the dermis produces better collagen and elastin production. (However, it is also more risky. ) The breaking of blood vessels appears to be key in kick-starting the 12-month healing and reorganizing phase. Anecdotal evidence supports this as some people have reported that treated areas that bled and scabbed led to better results than ones that didn’t.
With very short needle lengths, the needle only reaches the topmost layer—there may be improvements, but no dramatic results. This is also less risky. However, even with very short needle lengths, you may find improvements as any topicals you use after needling will penetrate deeper and become more effective many times over.
The surface skin remains intact. Unlike lasers that burn through the skin’s layers, including the topmost surface layer that is visible to us (the epidermis), needling does not destroy the surface layer. The tiny pinpricks will bleed with the initial injuries, but these heal quickly, leaving the visible skin intact. As the skin is intact, there is no skin peeling involved. And with that, very little downtime (roughly 5 days).
Low maintenance. The long healing process underneath will happen without any intervention. You may have to needle the site a few times for the best results, but other than that, your own body’s healing mechanism will do all the work.
Needling results in thicker and healthier skin. Needling does not permanently damage skin like lasers can. In fact, the skin’s natural healing mechanisms leads to healthier and thicker skin.
Low cost. If you choose to, needling can be done at home very inexpensively.
A word of warning — when done incorrectly, needling CAN and HAS led to scarring.
Thus, I urge you to tread carefully. It may be prudent to test an area on your body before taking the plunge as this will give you an idea of its effects. Results also seem to vary widely across individuals, so take positive testimonials as a guide only.
Results may differ widely for several reasons such as:
- needle length and the amount of pressure used when rolling
- the frequency of the needling
- your own skin’s thickness
- your skin’s propensity to scarring or forming keloids
- age (your real/biological age rather than chronological age) and state of health
The last point may be the most critical. If you’re in poor health (e.g. drink alcohol, smoke daily, ingest excessive caffeine, have a poor diet with lots of processed food, stressed, constipated, suffer from a chronic lack of sleep, have vitamin/mineral deficiencies), you may not be an ideal candidate for dermarolling as your body’s healing mechanisms will be stymied. This would increase the risk of scarring (which is “incomplete” healing).
- Use the right tools – Dermarollers or individual needles
The most immediate question is which tool should be used? The two most common options are dermarollers (also called skin rollers or CIT rollers) and individual needles. Some people have also reported good results treating acne scarring with a tattoo gun.
Using individual needles allows you to control the depth of penetration and target specific locations (like a particular scar or a wrinkle). Individual needles can also be used for subcision needling. However, if you wish to treat a larger area, using them may prove to be too time-consuming. Dermarollers, on the other hand, make it much more convenient to treat larger areas.
Use the right type of needles. These should not be sewing needles or hypodermic needles, as the kind needed for skin needling are extremely thin. You can use acupuncture needles or tattoo needles (if they are thin enough) if you are treating a very small area (e.g. a scar).
Use the right type of rollers. Most sites will market the use of skin rollers, dermarollers or the like. Note that these will have varying needle lengths, thicknesses, and uses. Some of these can be used again and again, while others are meant for single-use only.
- Keep things sterile
Whichever tool you choose to use, keep it clean and sterile. You can do this by soaking the tools in a sterile saline solution before and after use.
- Stay out of the sun until the redness subsides
As needling or dermarolling will lead to reddened skin, which can be highly photo-sensitive, keep out of the sun during the first week. This will reduce your chances of developing post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. Sun exposure is safer only after your skin has lost its redness, which can last for 5 days. However, you can use makeup or coverup safely.
- Space out your dermarolling/needling sessions
Space out your dermarolling sessions to give your skin sufficient time to heal. If you’re using longer needle lengths (to treat scars and wrinkles), taking a one-month break between rolls is recommended. You should continue to see changes during the break.
- Keep healthy
Skin needling and dermarolling will only work as well as your body can heal. And the key to healing well is eating well. Eat more fruits and vegetables, reduce your alcohol intake, and avoid smoking and drug use. Take light exercise and keep your stress levels down. Take extra Vitamin C — it’s been proven to boost the body’s healing response and helps build collagen.
Even maintaining a happy and relaxed state of mind can improve your body’s healing ability. Sleep enough hours so that you don’t feel tired when you wake up the next day.
- Use a Vitamin C-enriched topical
Applied topically, Vitamin C will also boost collagen and can make a great difference in your results. The Vitamin C will also penetrate deeper following skin needling or dermarolling, enhancing its effectiveness by many times. You can use a store-bought lotion or make your own. Several sites sell Vitamin C in powder form (eg ascorbic acid, magnesium ascorbyl phosphate), which you can mix with distilled water to make your own solution.
- Be patient (good things come to those who wait)
Finally, it is important to keep in mind when treating scars or wrinkles with needling and dermarolling that the best results will only be seen after a year. One year is a long time for most of us used to marketing pitches that sell quick fixes and miracle creams (and empty promises? lighter wallets?).
If you are interested in skin needling or dermarolling, but feel discouraged by the year-long wait for results, then think of it this way — the year will pass whether you do it or not. So if you believe in the science behind skin needling, isn’t it better to try it sooner than later?
Over the year as you get busy with living your life, you may even forget about it completely. But that’s okay, because your skin remembers and is healing itself without any outside help. If you do decide to try it, skin needling can bring long-lasting and dramatic skin improvements.