Nowadays, plenty of procedures that were once reserved for the dermatologist’s office can be carried out at home.
Microneedling is one of them. The DIY option of this scary-sounding facial technique goes by a different name: derma rolling.
These handheld devices, featuring a roller with row upon row of tiny needles, are way cheaper and more convenient than visiting a pro.
But do they provide the same benefits as traditional microneedling?
What’s the short answer?
To get the most out of any derma roller, you need to know how to use it in a way that helps your skin, rather than damaging it.
Plus, you need to limit your expectations.
While at-home derma rollers can provide a noticeable effect, you won’t see as much of a difference as you would from a needling session with a professional.
What are they used for?
Derma rollers have a number of uses, but the main ones are for improving pigmentation issues and improving the surface of the skin.
Fine lines, acne scars, and hyperpigmentation are all said to be diminished with regular derma rolling.
In reality, the above tend to need the help of professional microneedling, which uses longer needles than the at-home version.
For example, a 2008 study found that four microneedling sessions resulted in up to a 400 percent rise in collagenTrusted Source, a protein that makes skin firmer.
You may not be able to produce these results at home.
However, derma rollers can allow skin care products to penetrate deeper, producing more powerful effects.
How do they work?
Microneedling causes a low level of traumaTrusted Source to the outer layer of the skin.
This prompts the skin’s healing process, leading to skin regeneration and to the production of anti-aging substancesTrusted Source such as collagen and elastin.
Derma rollers, on the other hand, create tiny pathways in the skin with shorter needles.
Serums can use these pathways to travel deeper, absorbing more efficiently and hopefully producing more visible effects.
Does it hurt?
Rolling hundreds of needles over your face probably won’t be the most relaxing experience, but it shouldn’t hurt.
Of course, the level of discomfort depends on your pain tolerance.
However, it’s the longer needles found in microneedling devices that are likely to cause some pain.
That’s why any decent aesthetician will numb your face beforehand.
Are there any side effects or risks to consider?
Derma rolling is a minimally invasive procedure so as long as you use the right technique in conjunction with the right serum, you’re unlikely to experience side effects.
Some people should avoid derma rolling completely. This includes those with eczema, psoriasis, or a history of blood clots.
People with skin conditions that could easily spread to other parts of the face, such as active acne or warts, should also consult with a healthcare provider before DIYing.
If you’re using retinol, taking Accutane, or have sunburn, you should also be wary.
Experts advise stopping retinol 5 days before derma rolling to avoid an adverse reaction.
When it comes to things like sunburn or inflammation, you can still use a derma roller as long as you avoid affected areas.
How do you pick the right one?
Although you can buy longer needles for at-home use, it’s best to stick to a derma roller with a needle length of less than 0.5 millimeters.
Any needle above this length runs a higher risk of damaging skin and is best left to a pro.
Don’t forget to do your research. Only buy from trusted sites and stores, and check that the product has been properly sterilized before it reaches you.
How do you pick the right serum?
If you do decide to use a serum with your derma roller, choose one that will benefit your face when it penetrates your skin.
Some serum ingredients can cause an adverse reaction if sent further into the skin.
Steer clear of potentially irritating retinol and vitamin C.
Instead, opt for ones rich in hyaluronic acid, says aesthetician Laura Kearney, owner of Skinsanity.
These will seal in moisture and assist with the regenerative process that can improve skin tone and texture.
How do you do it?
Thankfully, derma rolling isn’t too complicated to master. Stick to these simple steps for a sterile, effective experience.
To reduce the chance of bacteria transfer, thoroughly cleanse both your skin and the roller. Use gloves if possible, advises Kearney.
It’s best to derma roll at night when your skin isn’t susceptible to sun damage.
If you’re sticking to this evening regime, you may want to consider double cleansing to get rid of oil and dirt that’s built up on your skin during the day.
To clean the derma roller, soak it in an alcohol-based solution. Then dry and place on a clean paper towel.
If using a serum with your derma roller, apply the product to your face before getting down to business.
The rolling method involves three parts: vertical, horizontal, and diagonal movements.
Start by rolling the derma roller up and down your forehead, cheeks, and chin, making sure not to apply too much pressure.
Then, switch to horizontal movements followed by diagonal ones. Spend no more than 2 minutes doing this.
Stay away from the eye area and be extra careful on sensitive places such as the nose and upper lip.
After the rolling is complete, apply the same serum again or choose another hydrating or anti-aging product.
Just make sure the ingredients list doesn’t include retinols or vitamin C.
As your skin may be more sensitive after derma rolling, it’s a good idea to wear sunscreen.
You should also avoid wearing makeup, taking hot showers, or exercising for 24 hours afterward.
Always clean your derma roller after each use.
Disinfect it by spritzing with a 70 percent isopropyl alcohol spray, says Dr. Kim Peirano, a specialist in acupuncture and Chinese medicine at Lion’s Heart.
She adds that you can also soak the roller in a once-weekly solution of hot water and a denture cleansing tablet.
Don’t let anyone else use your roller and replace it at least once every 3 months to prevent irritation from dull needles.
How often should you repeat the process?
Start once a week to see how your skin reacts to the needles.
If everything’s looking good, you can increase the frequency to two or three times a week.
Just make sure you aren’t going over the 2-minute limit each time.
When will you see results?
The longer you carry on rolling, the more likely you are to see a difference.
Take stock after 6 to 12 weeks of regular derma rolling.
If you’re trying to improve signs of aging or scarring, it may take months before you see prominent changes, notes Kearney.
Results will also depend on age and the amount of elasticity in your skin, Kearney adds.
When should you consider in-office microneedling?
If you’re looking to improve fine lines, wrinkles, or scars, it’s definitely worth a trip to the dermatologist’s office.
Their needles can penetrate the skin up to 3 mm, making visible results more likely.
Kearney adds that in-office microneedling with one-time use needles causes more “ideal” micro-injuries that are perpendicular to the skin’s surface.
This is compared to derma rollers, which can “be more traumatizing to the skin [by creating] larger and fewer holes as the needle enters at an angle and leaves at an angle.”
The bottom line
Although dermatologists have reported numerous benefits to microneedling, much of the research comes from small studies.
There is even less concrete evidence when it comes to at-home derma rolling — although users generally note positive results.
While the technique deserves further exploration, it’s worth a DIY try if you’re looking to boost your skin care regimen.
If you’re in any way worried about the impact on your skin or looking to combat more complex issues, head to a dermatologist for advice.