Adventures In At-Home Dermarolling

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I’m deeply suspicious of anything marketed as a cure-all, so when my editor assigned me 1,000 words on dermarolling (aka microneedling) I was wary. Well, in truth, it was the hyped-up claims in association with the fact that a dermaroller is like a little lawn aerator—but for your face. I am not good with needles. And I am not good with the idea of having my face aerated. But I'm having one of those months where, like Liz Lemon, I say yes to life, love, and microneedles. I email back that I'll give it a whirl, thinking I'll deal with whatever consequences later.

I alluded to it earlier, but just to get specific: The tool looks kind of like a miniature paint roller, except that the roller is pricked with hundreds of small, sharp needles. The needles come in varying lengths, which are designed specifically for different areas of the skin and different desired results. These needles penetrate the dermis, a layer of skin below the surface, creating “micro injuries”—basically, tiny pinpricks—which instigate collagen production (if it sounds a bit like a laser, that's because it is). But since your skin isn’t really injured (just stabbed with a bunch of tiny needles, NBD), the rush of collagen makes your skin look fresh, young, and gorgeous. The technique is also said to dissolve stubborn acne scars, fade stretch marks, treat hyperpigmentation, and even decrease pore size. All good things.

And believe it or not, the research is promising. In a study from 2006, doctors performed biopsies on patients’ skin after eight weeks of dermarolling and found a “dramatic formation of new collagen.” Studies from 2008 and 2010 corroborated those findings and suggested favorable results for acne scars, too.

For all its promises, dermarollers are startlingly cheap. You can get the procedure done by an aesthetician for the cost of a facial, or you can buy high-quality dermarollers for as little as $20. Coincidentally, that is the price of the top-rated dermaroller on Amazon. It had almost 900 five-star reviews and proudly advertised 540 one-millimeter titanium needles (cue panic). Not eligible for Prime though. Even well-liked needle tools have their drawbacks. I ordered anyway.

An important note from our sponsors, your general health and wellness: You’re supposed to opt for needles between 0.5 and 1.5 millimeter needles in length—anything smaller won’t stimulate collagen, anything bigger can cause damage on sensitive areas of the face. The needles don’t go all the way into your face, but they go deep enough that you can easily cause infections if you don’t thoroughly cleanse both the tool and your face. It’s recommended to disinfect the tool with isopropyl alcohol and cleanse your face as best you can before rolling.

Once I had done this, I took a deep breath and rolled it on my face as instructed—five to 10 rolls in each area horizontally, then vertically, then diagonally, in the shape of an asterisk. It didn’t really hurt, and I didn’t draw blood (thank God), but my face was very red and sensitive by the time I finished. Afterward, I applied a layer of Kate Somerville’s Mega-C Dual Radiance Serum and moisturizer.

Since you’re literally poking holes in your skin, anything you apply afterward is absorbed quickly. That means you get extra mileage out of luxe products, but it also means unwanted substances can easily get trapped in your skin. One study showed products that weren’t skin permeable at all could become absorbed after dermarolling. So you have to be really careful that anything you apply after rolling is something you want deep inside your face. Don’t take my word for it—read this horrifying medical report, about a woman who used the wrong serum after her microneedling treatment and suffered an allergic reaction, which left her with a “disfiguring rash” on her face. BE CAREFUL PEOPLE.

The morning after my first roll, my face still felt a little sensitive, but the redness had gone down. I applied a layer of Hourglass Equilibrium Day Fluid (it’s ridiculously expensive) since I knew I’d get the most bang for my buck while my skin was still super-absorptive. Aestheticians say most people notice results from dermarolling after about eight weeks, so it’s too soon for me to tell if it’s working; right now, I’m just happy no one’s noticed all the micro holes in my face.

And on that note, have you tried it? What are the results? I'm feeling impatient and would like some comrade reports.

—Arielle Pardes

Photographed by Tom Newton.