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Dermabrasion, chemical peels, facials — these are all great things you can do to help your skin glow. But these methods only work on the top layer of the skin. Want to go further than just skin deep? Microneedling could be the answer. It’s not as scary as the name sounds, promise! Here’s a look at what microneedling is, how it could help improve your skin, and a firsthand experience of what it's like to gounder the microneedling pen.
You’re injuring your skin (just a tad) to make it better in the long run. “Microneedling falls under a procedure where we are trying to stimulate the skin to create new collagen,” says DC dermatologic surgeon Terrence Keaney, MD, explaining that the procedure punctures down a millimeter or into the skin with tiny needles, into the epidermis and the superficial dermis where collagen resides.
“We're actually injuring deeper down to create almost like a wound-healing response. That wound-healing response is what creates new collagen, and what can tighten, and improve scars and wrinkles,” he says. Those micro-injuries heal up quickly too.
Microneedling doesn’t necessarily look like a torture device. You might’ve seen those dermarollers that are covered with needles and look kind of terrifying. But many dermatologists switched over to handheld motorized microneedling pens — also called collagen induction therapy. “They really came into the US over the past three to four years, and they made microneedling more popular,” Dr. Keaney says.
It’s really helpful with acne scars or subtle signs of aging. Besides softening lines or wrinkles and scars, you can use microneedling to help with stretch marks, or even to help a serum penetrate the skin more effectively.
The microneedling craze is real. Visitors to RealSelf researched microneedling twice as much during the first half of 2016 compared with the same period in 2015. The procedure has a 90% ‘Worth It’ rating on RealSelf. Meanwhile, in NIH 2009 study on microneedling, more than 80% of patients assessed their treatment as ‘excellent’ on a 10-point scale.
It’s less expensive than lasers — and it works on all skin types. Microneedling is a little more cost-effective than similar laser treatments, says Dr. Keaney. There’s less downtime and it can be less painful as well. “I still think laser surfacing is probably going to induce more collagen than microneedling, but I find microneedling is great for younger patients, patients with subtle scarring or patients with darker skin who are not candidates for laser,” Dr. Keaney says.
A series of microneedling sessions is most effective. “I always tell my patients, unfortunately, the technology — whether it's microneedling or lasers — we're never going to create enough lasers to make their skin have the collagen they had when they were 10. We're not going to erase scars, we're going to significantly improve them,” Dr. Keaney says. “You might not get full correction but with a series of treatments we can get significant, significant improvement.
It doesn’t hurt — that much. You know how doctors always ask you how bad the pain is on a scale of one to five? My assessment of my .5 mm microneedling session at was that it would be a one on the pain scale — the numbing cream Dr. Keaney applied really worked. The pen buzzed around my face and sounded like a lawnmower, but Dr. Keaney kept things moving. As soon as I would register a pin prick as painful, the pen moved on to a new location. The forehead and chin hurt the most, but it wasn’t bad at all.
Don’t make appointments the day after you get microneedled. When I walked into my appointment on Friday, Dr. Keaney asked me if I had big plans that weekend. I understood why when I got home and realized why people had given me weird looks on the metro. My skin was bright red. It looked like a sunburn except I had perfectly straight red lines on my forehead showing the telltale tracks of the microneedling pen.
I laid low for a couple days and wore a baseball cap when I left the house. Thankfully, the lines were pretty much gone by Sunday and things were back to normal by Monday — and my skin was so soft and refreshed. “Sometimes you have pinpoint areas of bleeding that heal up really quick,” Dr. Keaney says. “I tell people: it takes about 3 days to recover, but day three, most women can put on cover-up foundation and they're fine.”
Take care of yourself afterwards too. After finishing up with microneedling, Dr. Keaney applied SkinCeuticals Hydrating B5 Gel with hyaluronic acid, and then gave me an Eclipse MicroGlide GF to moisturize at home. He advised me to stay out of the sun, not to use retinol, and to take care to avoid exposing my face to anything that could cause an infection. I didn't exercise or use makeup for two days.
“The skin is injured,” he said, explaining that skinning your knee is a good comparison. “If you keep it covered with a Band Aid, it's not going to get infected, but if you don't take care of it, all of sudden it could get infected. That's a rare risk but that's why we talk about post-microneedling care.”
What about at-home microneedling? Turns out you might not get the same results at home as you would at the dermatologist's office when it comes to stimulating collagen production. “The at-home ones, like any treatment, they're designed to protect the consumer from themselves,” Dr. Keaney says.
The depth of injury is shallower (just along the top layers of the skin), so you don’t hurt yourself. “There will be a benefit, but it will be more along the lines of more of a facial response," Dr. Keaney. "It's not going to induce as much collagen as induce more skin turnover so you're going to get a healthier glow. But you're not going to really attack wrinkles or scars for that.” Personally, I don't trust myself when it comes to sticking needles in my own face — I can't even face at-home waxing. So I'm happy to leave this one to the professionals, and I'm already thinking about booking another session.
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