What Is Microneedling and Does It Work?

Dermatologists have used microneedling for decades to lessen the appearance of scars and wrinkles. Robert Przybysz/Shutterstock

Microneedling, also known as collagen induction therapy, has a lot of people talking. Dermatologists have used it for decades to treat facial scars, but recently microneedling has seen a surge in popularity due to the availability of at-home dermarollers, or microneedling devices.

But is it really a miracle cure for scars and wrinkles? And is it safe to do it yourself? We asked Dr. Sonoa Au, a dermatologist with offices in and around New York City, to weigh in.

microneedling dermaroller
A dermatologist will run a dermaroller over your skin during a microneedling procedure. marcinm111/Shutterstock

“Microneedling, also known as skin needling, is a procedure using a device covered with tiny, shallow needles to essentially poke holes in the skin surface,” she says. “Those holes are actually therapeutic, since they cause a ‘micro injury’ that prompts skin to stimulate collagen production, filling in fine lines, plumping the skin and contributing to a younger look.”

If you’re afraid of needles, this treatment may be too much for you. However, if you don’t mind a bit of prickly therapy to help combat acne scars, wrinkles or stretch marks, this treatment might be for you, says Au.

“Microneedling works great for sunken areas on the skin caused by acne or chickenpox, as well as for fine lines, discoloration and general skin rejuvenation,” Au explains. “This safe procedure isn’t just for the face, though. It can also be used on many areas of the body, including the arms, neck, legs, abdomen, back and hands. We can customize microneedling to the desires of each patient.”

Don't try this at home

While home devices for microneedling are available, Au advises people considering that option to think twice. “I urge caution in doing this at home because the risk of infection and scarring is ever-present,” she says. “You’re creating a wound in the skin, which always carries with it the potential for scarring. This procedure is valuable and effective, but best done by a dermatologist.”

Another doctor echoed that sentiment to the Wall Street Journal:

Longer needles increase the risk of infection or scarring and hurt more: “Once you get over one millimeter, you need to be pretty brave,” says Michael Gold, a Nashville, Tenn., dermatologist who is a consultant to EndyMed Medical.

The risk of harm is real. University of Utah scientists studied three women who received microneedling treatments at a spa. Apparently, some of the skin-care products used were not specifically tested for use with microneedling devices, such as a vitamin C serum. The women had allergic reactions that resulted in rashes lasting as long as a year, according to a 2014 study published in JAMA Dermatology.

What to expect during microneedling

First, an anesthetic cream is applied to the patient’s skin to keep them comfortable during the procedure. The dermatologist may apply a light layer of water, too, to lubricate your skin and make the dermaroller glide more smoothly. A dermatologist then rolls the microneedling device over the patient’s skin, creating tiny holes in the surface.

The process typically takes less than 30 minutes, and afterward, your skin can be somewhat red, similar to a sunburn.

“It takes only a couple of days for skin to look fairly normal, but results gradually become apparent. Natural collagen growth happens over weeks and months, so it isn’t an instant fix, but your skin will be much improved over the long term,” Au says.

One thing to know, though: You’ll need more than one treatment. This isn’t a one-time event. Depending on the skin areas treated and what you’re trying to achieve, somewhere between three and six microneedling treatments are typically required for optimal results, Au says.

“Those looking to treat deep wrinkles, stretch marks, severe sun damage or scarring may need six or more microneedling treatments,” Au adds. “And to ensure the safety of your skin, treatments are usually spaced out three weeks to a month apart.”

A dermatologist demonstrates microneedling on a young woman's face in this YouTube video: