Derma Rollers are small tools with a wheel covered in micro needles. They’re about $20 on Amazon.
Over the years, I’ve grown more daring in my beauty adventures. I enjoy being the test subject for my own experiments—especially when I can report back to my friends and Peaceful Dumpling readers.
This weekend I performed a skin experiment that was perhaps more harebrained than any of its predecessors: I rolled teeny tiny needles across my face with what looks to be a miniature medieval torture device—The Derma Roller.
Before you send me off to an institution for the insane, allow me to explain. In 2012, I’d recently become a vegan, switched my skincare products to mostly natural ones, and managed to get my moderate-to-severe acne under control. It was awesome! Unfortunately, my decade of acne had left a legacy of permanent, pitted scars, mostly across my cheeks. Sure, there was also some hyperpigmentation, but that fades in time, especially with the use of antioxidant serums and exfoliants. It was the textured scarring I was worried about.
I wasn’t quite sure how—or if—these scars could be treated. As a gift, my parents sent me to an aesthetician. I figured I’d have to go under some sort of laser, but my aesthetician assured me that we didn’t need to do anything so invasive. Instead, she used a little tool that would prick the dermis, or lower layer of my skin. By delivering a tiny trauma deep in the skin, the body will rush to repair the damage and stimulate collagen in the process. (Scars are not read as trauma by the body, so the body normally doesn’t see the need to repair them. In fact, scars are the repair work in response to a previous trauma.)
This micro trauma erases the skin’s “memory” of the scar, and as the skin replaces itself over a period of months, textured scars begin to “fill in” and resemble normal skin. According to a 2016 meta-study, “microneedling leads to reorganization of old collagen fibers and laying down of new collagen, elastin, and capillaries leading to the effect of skin tightening. A significant increase in level of collagen type I, III, and VII, newly synthesized collagen and tropoelastin from baseline was observed after 6 microneedling sessions at 2-week intervals.”
Because the skin incurs only minimal damage, downtime for this procedure is short. My skin was pink (like a sunburn) for a few days, but that was about it. As my aesthetician predicted, my results were gradual—but noticeable and lasting. My scars were lessened by about 1/3, which, in my book, is pretty significant.
Recently, a little home-use tool came on the market, promising to work the same magic by pricking the dermis and resetting the skin’s regenerative process. Naturally, I was intrigued. It would be awesome to improve my scarring further (especially before my wedding!). At the same time, however, any kind of “cutting edge” home-spa treatment immediately strikes me as ineffective/possibly dangerous. At first glance, the Derma Roller seemed no different.
So like the good little beauty junkie that I am, I did my research—hours of it. I watched tons of Youtube videos (some helpful, some terrifying), and I read reviews on multiple sites. From my experience at the aesthetician’s, I knew that at least the philosophy behind the Derma Roller was legitimate.
I eventually ordered a Derma Roller with about five hundred 1.5mm needles. For individuals merely seeking the anti-aging benefits of the Derma Roller (it can help with fine lines, too), a .5mm roller is sufficient. Deep scars, however, require longer needles. (Ugh, I hated even writing that sentence!) Keep in mind that .5mm needles are more appropriate for more delicate areas of the face. The cheeks and forehead, however, can handle a 1.5mm roller.
How to use the derma roller for acne scars
The procedure takes about 20 minutes. You begin with a clean face and sanitized tool. (I let mine rest in rubbing alcohol for a few minutes, and then I made sure it was dry.) With gentle pressure, roll the needles against your skin: 10 times vertically, 10 times horizontally, and 10 times diagonally in any affected area. To change directions, lift the roller away from skin to adjust. Afterwards, sanitize the needles, and apply a serum of choice to your skin. I used a vitamin C and E serum. Allow skin to absorb the serum and then apply moisturizer. Apply sunscreen if you’re going outside (super important!). Avoid cleansing skin for 6-8 hours, and avoid wearing makeup for at least 24 hours—or more if you can swing it. Skin will be inflamed and sensitive for a few days, so be gentle.
In my case, I plan to use the 1.5mm roller only every 6 weeks. While some sites encourage very frequent use of the Derma Roller, I am playing it safe. Too much trauma to the dermis will cause it to be continually inflamed—and we need the inflammation to heal in order to see real results (not just swelling!). Less is probably more.
And now to answer the big questions.
Does dermarolling hurt?
Many report that microneedling with a 1mm roller (or smaller) doesn’t hurt too much. It may feel annoying, though—like getting a tattoo, according to one source. For longer needles, a numbing cream is recommended. For whatever reason, I thought I’d try my 1.5mm roller sans numbing cream, and I survived. It was uncomfortable, but it also felt kind of nice, like finally scratching an itch. (I swear I’m not a total masochist.) Also, for my first time, I was pretty gentle. Some sources indicate that one should draw pinpricks of blood during the procedure, but I did not. (My skin was pretty pink, however.) Again, I want to see if I can get results with the least amount of trauma. I can always apply a little more pressure next time if necessary. Most agree that anything more than pinprick bleeding is too aggressive.
When do you see results?
Results are gradual and may not appear for at least 2-3 months—and even then, you may not see the full results. See here for the update of my face 10 months after using the derma roller!
Would you try a Derma Roller?
More I Tried It: Thanaka for Acne Scars and Uneven Tone
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This article was originally published on February 10, 2015 and most recently updated on September 28, 2019.
Photos: Derma Roller UK via Amazon, Mary Hood