Needles aren’t new to skincare, but usually they’re found safely in the hands of a trusted dermatologist. Enter the dermaroller: a stainless steel skincare tool for home use that—as the name suggests—is rolled across the skin, and is covered with hundreds of tiny needles, ranging in length from 0.1 to 0.5 mm. But why, you ask? It’s all in the name of microneedling.
“Dermarolling is a treatment done with a beauty tool that has hundreds of tiny micro needles to perforate the skin, stimulating collagen and elastin production,” says celebrity esthetician Heather Nicole. “It also allows for 30 to 40 percent more penetration of products, plus many other benefits.”
The tool itself may have a slightly medieval appearance, but it’s not as scary as it looks. “What I love most about dermal rolling is it only takes a few minutes and is fairly simple to do,” says Nicole. And more importantly, the preventative anti-aging and other skincare benefits are worth it. “The more you do it, the better it works,” she adds. “Clients always ask what I did to my skin if they see me the day after I use it.”
Considering adding dermarolling to your skincare routine? Keep reading below to find out everything you need to know, from how exactly to use it to what the benefits are—and yes, whether or not it hurts.
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The needles don’t cut deeply into the skin, but they do cause “micro-perforations,” a process that “slightly wounds the skin, stimulating collagen production, elastin production, and blood flow,” explains Nicole. Theoretically, when the skin rebuilds, it will be stronger and more resilient than it was before. (Think: The same idea as when you exercise your muscles.) “This helps increase cell turnover to resurface the skin,” and can improve the appearance of “acne scarring, fine lines and pigmentation,” according to Nicole.
Although it takes repeated use to see those skin tone and texture benefits, dermarolling also helps in the short term. The micro-perforations allow skincare products to penetrate the skin more deeply, which in turn makes them more effective, according to Nicole.
“Dermarolling can be a little bit painful, but nothing crazy,” explains Nicole, who adds, “Your skin can sometimes be sensitive the next day, but you get acclimated to it.” How much it hurts depends on your pain tolerance, as well as the needle size—the shorter the needle, the less it penetrates the skin (and vice versa).
Another key is making sure you don’t roll too hard. For everyday use, just the weight of the roller (no added pressure), but if you have scarring or hyperpigmentation, “you can apply more pressure as tolerated,” says Nicole. Start by dermarolling in light, horizontal motions across your cheeks, forehead, and chin. Then repeat vertically in those areas (you can roll downward on the nose as well). If it feels like too much, you can stop after the first round. Your goal is not to draw blood, although Nicole warns, “you can get a few tiny blood spots.”
Nicole says that almost all skin types can dermaroll—with a few very important exceptions. “If you have active acne, you’ll want to clear that first before using a dermaroller. I would also suggest speaking with your esthetician or dermatologist if you have very sensitive skin or rosacea,” advises Nicole. If you don’t have any of these conditions, you should be good to go. However if you experience ongoing irritation when dermarolling or if it’s painful in a way that just doesn’t feel right, discontinue use and ask your dermatologist if they have another option for your skin type.
Keeping the tool sanitary will also help minimize the risk of side effects (after all, these are needles, people!). After each use, “Soak in isopropyl alcohol or peroxide for five minutes,” says Nicole. And be sure to store it in a safe, clean place between uses, too.
It’s best to dermaroll as part of your nighttime skincare routine, when you use your most concentrated skincare products—and just in case you suffer from any immediate side effects like redness. After cleansing, Nicole recommends incorporating the step after exfoliating, and before you apply your serums. Follow with a cushion-like moisturizer—and if you want extra credit, Nicole also finishes with a red LED light, which is also said to help fade acne scars and assist with wound healing. “I have a great portable panel I keep by my bed,” she says. Note: If you do dermaroll in the morning, be sure, as always, to follow with sunscreen!
With dermarolling, all skincare formulas are important, but serums perhaps most of all. Consider a hydrating hyaluronic acid serum that plumps skin and replenishes moisture levels, like FIRST AID BEAUTY Ultra Repair Hydrating Serum, or a skin-brightening, protective vitamin C serum like SUNDAY RILEY C.E.O. 15% Vitamin C Brightening Serum. One thing to avoid? Products with retinol, an ingredient that also leads to cell turnover, and may be too harsh when combined with dermarolling.
There are short-term and long-term effects of dermarolling. “Immediately you’ll look rejuvenated, but lasting results are cumulative,” says Nicole, who says you’ll need to dermaroll “three times a week for a month to really notice a good change.” (She even recommends storing it next to your toothbrush, just so you don’t forget to add it into your nightly routine.) The esthetician says you may notice some changes in your skin at first, too. “You are increasing cell turnover by creating micro damage, so you can experience a little dryness or flaking, which is totally normal.” Don’t forget the moisturizer, and if your skin needs an extra day off, that’s fine too. “Listen to your skin,” reminds Nicole.
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