Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Microneedling

Get to know the beauty procedure everyone's talking about.

woman getting a microneedling treatment
Photo: Getty Images

When I strolled into my dermatologist's office asking how I could finally get rid of my acne scars from my teenage (and let's be real: adult) years, I was surprised when she recommended microneedling. As a technique and service I'd only vaguely heard about, I didn't realize microneedling could be an effective warrior against the mild indents that have plagued my cheeks for years.

Because of the popularity of the microneedling technique, many companies have started to offer at-home microneedling products, but DIY microneedling is something skin doctors warn against. How come? Well, microneedling is exactly what it sounds like: tiny punctures made directly into your face. And wouldn't you only want a professional to be in charge of wounding you in the name of beauty?

Here, we asked dermatologists to explain the ins and outs of microneedling—and how to figure out if microneedling could work for you.

What is microneedling?

Also known as percutaneous collagen induction therapy, microneedling is controlled micro-injuries to skin, says Jeanette M. Black, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and fellowship-trained cosmetic dermatologic surgeon. Though this sounds a bit intense, she says it can actually be a great alternative to laser skin resurfacing and deep chemical peels, as microneedling provides comparable results with less risks and a shortened recovery time.

How does microneedling work?

In a microneedling treatment, your doctor will make tiny, naked-to-the-visible-eye holes on your skin to stimulate the wound-healing cascade. Dermatologist Papri Sarkar, MD, says this releases many growth factors, including platelet-derived growth factors (PGF), transforming growth factor alpha and beta (TGF-⍺ and TGF-β), connective tissue growth factor, and fibroblast growth factors, among others. All of these work together to stimulate fibroblasts to make new blood vessels and collagen. To put it in non-dermatological speak: Microneedling is breaking through the barrier of our skin and stimulating rapid-fire recovery, which can amp up our collagen production and break down scarring and wrinkles along the way.

Sometimes, microneedling treatment plans include platelet-rich plasma injections, too. "To do this, we harvest the patient's blood, separate out the platelet rich plasma using specialized tubes and a centrifuge, and then sprinkle it on the skin as we're microneedling," Dr. Sarkar says. "It helps the device glide and provide immediate access to the patient's own growth factors. It helps to speed up healing and often boosts the response."

If you're afraid of needles, don't panic: You won't really see them. In fact, they're even smaller and thinner than the ones in your grandmother's sewing bag, typically coming in around .5 to 2 millimeters in length. A dermatologist will select the size based on your unique chemical makeup and your goals for microneedling. These needles are also in a covered device, so you won't see them at all during the process.

Who is a good candidate for microneedling?

Well, anyone! But mostly, anyone who wants smoother skin, wants to look as if they have smaller pores, has dark spots, or has scarring tissue should consider microneedling, according to Dr. Sarkar.

"The best part about microneedling is that any skin type or skin color can benefit from it," she says. "The only thing we avoid are patients with a lot of active acne because it can inflame the area further if it gets traumatized."

Does microneedling hurt?

The good news is that most people won't find microneedling painful. As Dr. Black explains, dermatologists apply a topical anesthesia product at least 30 minutes before the procedure. By the time your skin is being punctured, you're numb and will likely only feel pressure. For most patients, Dr. Black says discomfort is minimal.

What are the benefits of microneedling?

If you're hoping for any of the below, considering microneedling as a process to get you on the road to brighter, healthier skin.

Decreasing acne scars

Unfortunately, cystic acne can leave indents and other visible remnants on our face, long after our hormones have calmed down. Dr. Sarkar says in the case of scar tissue, the mechanical instrumentation first breaks them down and then the new vessels and collagen help to remodel them to be smoother and clear.

Fighting signs of aging

Since microneedling creates more collagen, it's often used as an anti-aging treatment, according to double board-certified dermatologist Brendan Camp, MD, FAAD. As we make more laps around the sun, our bodies produce less collagen and elastin, which provide our skin structure and rigidity. And if we happen to spend a little too much time in the sun, we will look a little older for that, too. This creates fine lines, wrinkles, and sagging skin, and this minimally invasive treatment can be a way to decrease these visible signs.

"Stimulating the production of new tissue through microneedling helps reverse these inevitable skin changes," Dr. Camp says.

Improving skin texture

Want skin that is smooth and supple? After a few microneedling treatments, that's what you can expect, according to Dr. Sarkar. Wherever the micro-injury was placed, the skin underneath will feature an improved texture. And in conjunction with the addition of new collagen, you'll find it's that much more radiant.

Making skin products more effective

Sometimes, skin professionals will use microneedling techniques so products can penetrate pores more effectively, according to dermatologist Deanne Robinson, MD, FAAD. She says this is especially true for serums, chemical peels, and platelet-rich plasma. When these tiny holes are open, they are more accepting of anything that's placed on top. This is also why many dermatologists will apply a mask right after a microneedling treatment, like vitamin C for brightness.

What results should someone expect from microneedling?

First things first: It's important to head into your first microneedling session expecting to come out with a red face. And during the treatment, it's likely you will develop pinpoint bleeding, redness, and in some cases, swelling. However, Dr. Camp says any bleeding stops by the end of the session, and very few patients are aware it's happening.

After that, Dr. Sarkar says to expect one to two days of downtime, where your face will remain flushed and feel very tight. By days three and four, you will start to look like your normal self again, and once day five rolls around, you could experience some shedding. Day six and day seven are typically when the results are in full impact, Dr. Sarkar says, with clear, plump, vibrant skin that's bright and healthy. The key to a strong recovery is overdoing it with gentle face moisturizer at least a dozen times a day. In fact, Dr. Sarkar says patients often like to keep some lotion in the fridge, so it's refreshing and cooling when applied to their face.

A microneedling treatment can be conducted every month, and Dr. Sarkar says it typically takes around three to four treatments, with full results in six months. The cost associated varies from $250 to $1,500, depending on the area involved and if you add on any extra treatments.

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