The first time I witnessed the magic of microneedling, I sat in a room at a dermatologist’s office, holding my sister’s iced tea and watching her face bleed. (She’d gotten enough topical anesthesia to numb an elephant—don’t worry.) But the results were worth it: Her skin was glowing and clear just in time for her wedding.
“Microneedling is the creation of small micro-channels and injuries to your skin with acupuncture-size needles,” says Melissa K. Levin, M.D., a dermatologist at Entière Dermatology in New York City. “Your body will respond to these micro-injuries naturally by stimulating and producing collagen, which can treat fine lines and wrinkles, enlarged pores, stretch marks, acne scars, and textural concerns.”
But all of that payoff is the work of in-office microneedling, which requires a licensed aesthetician or dermatologist as well as good layer of anesthesia, depending on your pain tolerance.
So when NYC dermatologist Dendy Engelman, M.D., recommended microneedling at home as a possible solution for acne scars, I was intrigued. I could do this? On my couch? While re-binging episodes of Gossip Girl? I couldn’t sign up fast enough, having recently endured a months-long breakout that left my skin blotchy and uneven.
The Benefits of Microneedling At Home
Although at-home microneedling won’t nab you quite the same results (the needles are both shorter and duller), it can still offer benefits. “At-home rollers don’t pierce your skin as deeply as the medical-grade devices, but they can be used to enhance the penetration of products—be it hydrating, brightening, or rejuvenating actives—that are applied postperforation, as it creates these open channels,” says Engelman.
The other obvious plus is the price. While some of the best at-home dermarollers are still rather expensive—the BeautyBio GloPRO Microneedling Facial Regeneration Tool I tried is $199, for example—they don’t seem as much when you consider the average cost of a single in-office microneedling session is $625.
Step 1: Cleanse and Prep Your Skin
First things first: I plugged in my BeautyBio roller, which has a built-in red LED light to further address wrinkles and scars, and let it juice up for an hour. Jamie O’Banion, the CEO and founder of BeautyBio, suggests using it after cleansing and swabbing your skin with a cleansing wipe. “Make it part of your nightly routine: Cleanse, prep, roll, treat, and complete,” she says. “Ensure all your face and eye makeup is removed, then prep by swiping a Prep Pad across target treatment areas.” These pads, a few of which are included with the microneedling roller, are alcohol-free and contain an antibacterial complex to kill any germs lingering on your skin.
Step 2: Separate Your Face into 4 Quadrants and Roll Each Side for 15 Seconds
I accidentally started without reading the directions (old habits die hard), but the good news? It’s pretty foolproof. Unlike devices that work on a timer, the microneedle roller turns on and off the old-fashioned way—with a button. So I had no idea how long I was rolling it around certain sections of my face and still didn’t experience any redness or irritation. (I now know that you’re supposed to roll each area for 15 seconds.) I began with my chin, moved up to either cheek, and finished with my forehead. You’re supposed to roll over each area in a pattern. “Go over the area in an asterisk: up and down, side to side, diagonally left up to right, and diagonally right up to left,” says Engelman.
Step 3: Apply Your Face Serums
The microneedling itself was fine: You can feel pricks, but it wasn’t painful. Then, because I’m a glutton for punishment, I topped it with some exfoliating glycolic acid. Reader, it hurt. This is how I came to learn that experts recommend staying away from any kind of chemical exfoliants (like glycolic and lactic acids) and brightening ingredients like vitamin C due to the fact that they can increase your chances of irritation. Also off the menu? Retinol, since it can be harsh on your skin.
Fortunately, the tingling subsided pretty quickly, and I followed up with my usual antioxidant serum and lightweight moisturizer. Other ingredients derms say are great for post-dermarolling include EGFs (or epidermal growth factors, which help with cell regeneration), peptides (which help build collagen and elastin), and hyaluronic acid (which boosts hydration). The next morning I awoke to find that the dark spots on one cheek looked diffused—and while it seems counterintuitive, some redness had dissipated from my problem areas. My skin looked a little calmer and noticeably brighter.
Step 4: Clean Your Dermaroller
It’s worth noting that microneedling tools come with some risk. “The at-home microneedling devices are difficult to clean, and they dull quickly,” says Levin. “There is a higher risk of infection, discoloration, and injury to your skin.” Engelman agrees: “Piercing your skin by any means creates an open channel, thereby increasing your chances of getting an infection. As with all procedures, make sure to use sterile tools if you’re doing it at home.” (She's a fan of Environ Cosmetic Gold Roll-CIT, which has a coating of naturally bacteria-resistant gold.)
BeautyBio also does its due diligence by packing an empty spray bottle with the roller, which you can then fill with a DIY sanitizer. “We recommend spritzing the microneedles with isopropyl alcohol—70% or higher—after each use to completely sanitize and sterilize the needles, and letting it air-dry,” O’Banion says. Other brands, like Georgia Louise, have recently come out with microneedling devices that use plastic darts, which you can pop out and replace after every use. (Bonus: This kit also comes with facialist George Louise Atler’s famed EGF serum, which both Sandra Bullock and Cate Blanchett swear by, and have you seen their skin?)
As long as you can manage your expectations and use the device prudently (pros say to start at once a week, then build up to twice weekly), microneedling at home seems to be a worthwhile option if you’re not ready for the real, in-office thing. I’ll keep it up since I noticed a difference—so as it turned out, no pain, some gain.
Deanna Pai is a writer in New York City. Follow her on Twitter @deannapai.
This article was first published on Glamour. Read the article here.