Imagine the Anti-Aging Fairy floats down from crystal clouds and taps you on the shoulder. “Shh! Don’t be startled, dear. I’m here to give you a magic wand that will make all your skin imperfections disappear! Ooh, and it’ll even fight baldness, too! Enjoy!”
And just like that, the Anti-Aging Fairy levitates back up into the sky, leaving you scratching your head and looking down in disbelief at what she’s left behind: an unassuming-looking, curved black wand with a roll of pointy needles at the end.
The above basically describes how I felt on my first day of using a dermaroller. Healthline, in their how-to guide, has described this device as “the prickly time machine that’ll erase your scars and stretch marks.” We’ve blogged about dermarollers multiple times here on Peaceful Dumpling, as dermarolling helped some of our writers say goodbye to acne scars or fade an uneven skin tone. How does the wand work its miracles? In short, the tiny needles of a dermaroller create micro-tears in the skin that stimulate healing to the area. The effect can be remarkable.
After watching a few instructional videos, I got right to rolling, and results were immediate. Overnight—nay, overhour—my face looked younger, less lined; forehead to chin shone clear and bright. And while baby hairs take their time to start sprouting, I was already digging the gentle burn on my scalp from the procedure. Surely that extra stimulation, on top of the daily head massage I already did, would help wake up sleepy follicles. As I began to get comfortable dermarolling above the neck, pretty soon I got ambitious and tried the device on my arms, legs, and everywhere.
Unfortunately, my high hopes for dermarolling were about to get dashed…
Within a few months, the Pandora’s box I had opened would lead to a cascade of devastating health problems. And I sorely regretted that I hadn’t thought it all through more.
Think about it. Dermarolling is an at-home way of saving money on professional microneedling. Like any DIY usage of needles, you can bet that there are dangers!
The embarrassing story of how I nearly ruined my life with a dermaroller
Let me walk you through everything that went wrong. First, I was hideously unsanitary. You’re supposed to soak the roller in 70% isopropyl alcohol for 5–10 minutes, then let it dry before using. Your face is supposed to be clean from a cleanser. Then after rolling, Healthline recommends swishing the roller in dishwasher soap because “alcohol doesn’t dissolve the proteins found in skin and blood.” Once that’s done, you can once again sanitize the needly part of the roller in a fresh container of alcohol for 10 minutes. Oh, and wash your face again, right away, water only!
Yeah… to say I didn’t do all that every time would be an understatement.
The roller I got—its needles only .25 millimeters in length—was one of the more modest options, not for ridding serious scars and not as intense as what you’d see a pro for. The shorter a dermaroller’s needles, the more frequently you can roll. Every other day felt fine (I became hooked on the skinsation), but I used the inconvenience of time as an excuse to skip steps.
The next part of the dermarolling process that I butchered was the aftercare.
And this is where I think the online how-to guides fall short. They don’t properly warn you of all the dermarolling risks. They don’t all give you clear, conservative guidelines for how long to wait after treatment before exposing your skin to various things. For example, that Healthline guide I’ve been linking (as of this posting) says nothing about waiting before you put on makeup. It says nothing about the need to stay out of the sun.
Some guides tell you to use serum and moisturizer after dermarolling, so you can soak up the benefits even more than usual. They tell you to to be choosy about which ones, perhaps ruling out vitamin C, retinol, and anything too intense. But beauty products have a myriad of ingredients, many of which are suspect to begin with. How does each different ingredient in our serum or moisturizer affect us while we’ve got countless unnatural punctures in our skin for them to seep through? It’s unknown.
Anyway, what happened to me is that after dermarolling my hands one day, I accidentally spilled a product on them. And it was a product full of silicones. I intuitively disliked the product because it felt and smelt toxic, but I had been using it in my hair as a rescue detangler. Now, that sketchy cocktail of chemicals was absorbed into my fingers, my palms, my wrists, all while they were at their most vulnerable. Who knew what trouble that might cause…
I think I totally missed the memo about dermarolling and sun exposure. I must have been trying to look my best for the beach. I had dermarolled all around, I put on lots of sunscreen, and I was out for hours.
That night, it was horrible. My skin wasn’t red, and yet I felt badly burnt deep inside. Something just felt seriously off. I also noticed new moles on my skin that I hadn’t seen before, or moles that had seemingly grown gnarlier. I worried I had skin cancer, and that I’d need to consult medics immediately.
The next day, while typing on my phone, pain in my fingers started creeping up on me. Within days, I could no longer use a computer. Even texting became too much. It got so bad, I decided to take a 6-day break from all technology. A writer by passion, I suddenly had to grapple with the reality of being completely incapable of doing my thing.
And then, after not having been sick in 3 years, I got COVID. And at this point, I don’t even want to have to explain how bad everything got. I had some sort of electrolyte disorder, where water tasted off and would actually make me weaker. But even if I fed myself to the brim with fruits and vegetables and limited my fluids, every day I would have these episodes of full-bodied anxiety as I felt my hands, legs, feet, and mouth growing frailer by the minute. I almost had to be hospitalized because I could no longer find the strength to cut open a mango. Meanwhile, I struggled to breathe and was completely without a voice for well over a month. For sure I had some pre-existing health issues that came to the surface with COVID, but my parents got COVID with me and they were 100% fine. I felt convinced that whatever had penetrated my dermarolling-exposed pores must have made me an easy target for the virus.
Somehow, 9 months after embarking on what would become a dermarolling horror story, and 3 months after testing positive for COVID, I’ve made it out alive (and able to write again).
I’ve learned my lesson: Use your brain before you do anything for beauty
After how miserably sick I got post-dermarolling, I don’t want to touch one of those “prickly time machines” ever again. I know I did things wrong, but accidents happen. I think any beauty device that can be sold on Amazon without warning signs everywhere should have to be just a little more accident-proof.
What if you get distracted and forget to disinfect the dermaroller, and then your child, wondering what it is, touches it?
What if a chemical spills on you after you dermaroll, and normally it wouldn’t be that bad, but now it causes something in your body to go dangerously out of balance?
What if you intend to stay out of the sun, but then crazy circumstances happen and you’re forced to be outside, winding up with sun damage far more severe than would have been expected?
Worse, what if these miniature needles are doing something much slower and more sinister to our bodies… something we would never even notice until it’s too late? Dermarollers are generally approved as safe for now—despite a number of dissenting dermatologists who say they’re not—but think about how many times in the past “the experts” have been sadly mistaken. They were wrong about cigarettes being okay. They were wrong about talcum powder being okay. Could they also be wrong about it being fine to cut our own skin from home with thousands of tiny needle pricks?
In dermarolling’s defense, what happened to me was a combo of the rolling itself with poor cleanliness + contamination from cosmetics. I even realized that the sunscreen lotion I was using, which contains lavender, could be worsening my sun sensitivity, and that many sunblocks have hidden benzene or other carcinogens. It might be time for me to try out a more natural, zinc oxide-based sunscreen like this one from Earthwise Beauty!
My real intention behind this article is not to bash dermarolling if you feel it’s right for you, but to make us think about how we are approaching beauty. Many modern humans feel so bombarded with ads and images, we don’t even know what our true desires are anymore. Is aging skin, or even hair loss, so urgent that we must hop aboard the latest trend with indiscretion? Of course not.
We can take our time to research, take thorough notes, and check in with our intuitions.
We can notice how things feel on our bodies, instead of just intellectualizing whether they’re healthy for us or not. We can give it another month before deciding whether we really need that dermaroller. We can be more skeptical of new cosmetic technologies, as they lack the proof of longer-term study and could have unforeseen consequences.
We can realize that simply staying safe, and avoiding hurting ourselves, is the #1 anti-aging strategy to ensure before anything else.
Next time I feel tempted by the Anti-Aging Fairy, I’ll use my brain and proceed with caution.
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Photo: Fleur Kaan via Unsplash