Dermarolling: A Comprehensive Guide (How to, Benefits, B&As)

by | Jan 15, 2017 | Advanced Skincare, Guides

Mmmm, derma rolling (a.k.a. microneedling)… or uh… stabbing your face with hundreds of little needles all at once! BWAHAHA.

my scared dog

Before we proceed I have a confession to make: I probably have masochistic tendencies. You see, I quite enjoy derma rolling my face, and find the whole process pleasantly relaxing. Weird, I know.

You may be wondering, “HOW IN THE WORLD is inserting hundreds of little needles into your face relaxing? And why the hell would anyone want to do that ANYWAY?”

It sounds crazy, right? Well, let’s answer those questions so I can soon turn you into a masochist as well! 😀

We will be discussing what microneedling is, its benefits, the proper dermarolling technique including aftercare, how to maximize your results, stainless steel vs. titanium needles, and to help keep you motivated — include some micro needling before and after pictures. Let’s get started!

What is Microneedling?

Microneedling, often referred to as dermarolling, is a cosmetic procedure in which thousands of tiny little needles are inserted into the surface of skin via a rolling or stamping device. If you have no idea what these tools look like, here’s a picture of an inexpensive dermaroller I bought off amazon.

UPDATE: it has been brought to my attention that Amazon no longer carries the derma roller I use. :'( However, here’s a good option from Ebay.
dermaroller

As you can see, there are a ton of little needles encapsulated throughout the roller (192 in a total of eight rows to be exact). Those are the cute little things you’ll roll across your face in a controlled manner.

Despite how terrifying that may seem, it’s actually considered a minimally invasive procedure with little to no downtime. However, the recovery process does depend largely on the length of needles used. Obviously, the longer the needles, the lengthier the recovery time.

Micro Needling Benefits.

I know, I know. You may be thinking, “sweet jesus, this better have amazing benefits cause who in their right mind would want to roll their face with this TORTURING device?”

Easy: people that want to look to sexy!

Just kidding… sort of. But in all seriousness, people do it because there are a ton of benefits! These include (but are not limited to) a reduction in atrophic acne scarring, wrinkles, stretch marks, skin discoloration, increased skin thickness, facial rejuvenation, and enhanced product absorption. (1, 2, 3)

How Does Micro-Needling Work?

Derma rolling works by creating microscopic wounds which induce collagen and elastin production. Hence, it’s alternative name, “collagen induction therapy.”

If you didn’t know, collagen is the most abundant protein found in the human body and is responsible for holding together connective tissue like skin, muscles, tendons, cartilage, and bones. (4)

This lovely protein is also what keeps us looking young and gorgeous. Unfortunately however, it’s believed that collagen production slows down by about 1% after the age of 25, which to us mortals translates to the big A word — AGING.

What Size Derma Roller is Best?

This will depend largely on what you’re trying to accomplish. Since we’re all about simplicity on this blog, here’s a list of bullet points summarizing what length should be used depending on what you’re trying to treat.

  • Acne Scars (shallow) = 1.0 mm
  • Acne Scars (deep) = 1.5 mm
  • Enlarged Pores = 0.5 mm (thickens epidermis, making pores less visible)
  • Post Inflammatory Hyperpigmention (PIH) = 0.5 mm (increases product absorption and cell turnover)

Note: microneedling will not help Post Inflammatory Erythema (PIE).

  • Skin Discoloration (e.g. melasma, hypopigmentation) = 0.2 to 1.0 mm (start with the smallest length)
  • Sun Damaged or Saggy Skin = 0.5 to 1.5 mm (a combination of both is ideal)
  • Stretch Marks = 1.5 to 2.0 mm (depends on the body part, but start with 1.5!)
  • Surgical Scars (e.g. cesarean, vaccination, liposuction etc.) = 1.5 mm
  • Uneven Skin Tone or Texture = 0.5 mm
  • Wrinkles = 0.5 to 1.5 mm (depends on their depth, but again start with the smallest length!)

How Often Should You Dermaroll?

This too depends on the length of needles you will be using. Here are the absolutely maximum amount of times you can use a derma roller within a given time frame. Use your best judgment here, and make sure your skin is completely recovered before doing another session!

  • 0.25 mm = every other day.
  • 0.5 mm = 1 to 3 times weekly (start with less).
  • 1.0 mm = every 10 to 14 days.
  • 1.5 mm = once every 3 to 4 weeks.
  • 2.0 mm = every 6 weeks. I highly recommend avoiding this length for home use.

How to Use a Derma Roller.

Alrighty, now for the meat and bones of this post! Follow these steps precisely to avoid any hazards.

  • Step #1.

Disinfect your derma roller by letting it soak in 70% isopropyl alcohol for approximately 5-10 minutes. (5) No, 99% is not better. We need 70% because it evaporates more slowly which allows it to come into complete contact with microbial life.

  • Step #2.

Throughly cleanse your face using a gentle pH-balanced cleanser.

  • Step #3.

If you are using a derma roller with needles longer than 0.5 mm, you will need to wipe down your face with 70% isopropyl alcohol before the rolling process.

  • Step #4.

Depending on your pain tolerance, you might need to apply an anesthetic cream.

I can tolerate 1.0 mm just fine, but I’d like to imagine that’s because I’m not a wussy and have high pain tolerance — two things which probably aren’t true at all.

However, you will most certainly want some numbing cream for anything above 1.0 mm, since that needle length will draw blood via pinpoint bleeding.

If you use numbing cream, make sure to completely wipe if off BEFORE you start rolling! Different creams will have different guidelines, so make sure to follow the rules the manufacture provides.

Here are two good options:

  1. Numb Master 5% Topical Anesthetic Lidocaine Cream
  2. LMX 4 Topical Anesthetic Cream
  • Step #5.

Begin dermarolling! :O

The technique is very important, so listen closely! I like to split up my face in sections. It just makes the whole process easier. Here’s a visual of what that looks like featuring my derma roller test subject. (Yes, I know how amazing the drawing is. I studied art in college. Not.)

dermaroller-test-subject

Avoid rolling in the shaded area, that is, the orbit (eye sockets).

You have to roll in one direction 6 to 8 times (depending on your skin tolerance and sensitivity), while making sure to lift the roller after each pass.

Roll in one direction. Lift up. Repeat.

how to use derma rollerhow to use derma rollerhow to user derma roller

Lifting the derma roller after each pass prevents the dreaded “track marks,” that make you look like a cat clawed your face.

After you roll in the same place for 6 to 8 times, move the derma roller over slightly and repeat. Do this until you’ve covered the entire section of skin you’re treating.

After this step, it’s time to go back over the area you just rolled and repeat the process in the perpendicular direction. For example, say you finished rolling across your forehead vertically, now would be the time to go back and repeat that entire process horizontally.

how to derma rollhow to use a derma rollerhow to microneedle

By the end of this entire procedure you should have rolled over each area 12-16 times (6-8 horizontally, 6-8 vertically). Contrary to popular belief, we do not need to roll diagonally. Doing so creates an uneven pattern distribution with more stress on the center.

Despite this, some people still prefer to roll diagonally anyway, if you decide you’re gonna be that person please be safe and take extra precautionary measures.

If you didn’t understand any of what I just said — how dare you. Just kidding, I gotcho yo back homie! Here’s a video going over the proper derma rolling technique I just explained. (Click the picture below.)

how to use a derma roller

  • Step #6.

After you’re done microneedling, rinse your face with WATER ONLY.

  • Step #7.

Clean your derma roller with dishwasher soap. I like to create a soapy water mix in a plastic container, then swish around the roller vigorously making sure I don’t hit the sides.

The reason we use detergents like dish soap directly after rolling, is because alcohol does not dissolve the proteins found in skin and blood.

  • Step #8

Disinfect your derma roller again by letting it soak in 70% isopropyl alcohol for 10 minutes. Put it back in it’s case, give it a kiss, and store it somewhere safe.

  • Step #9

Follow up with a basic skincare routine. That means no chemical exfoliates or active ingredients like benzoyl peroxide.

How to Enhance the Results of Microneedling With Aftercare.

To take your results to next level, use products that focus on hydrating, healing, and increasing collagen production.

You should be looking for stuff that contains vitamin c (either ascorbic acid or sodium ascorbyl phospate), niacinamide, epidermal growth factors, or hyaluronic acid. Especially hyaluronic acid!

It’s gentle, and studies have shown it significantly speeds up wound healing in addition to hydrating the daylights out of skin. (6, 7, 8)

One quick note on vitamin C (ascorbic acid): take it easy with this one! It’s inherently low pH could be irritating so it’s probably best practice to avoid using it the day of rolling. I would suggest you simply load up on it a few days before a microneedling session. It only takes 3 daily applications of 20% ascorbic acid to saturate the skin with vitamin C, and it’s half life extends for a couple of days. (9) So keep that in mind.

If you really want to apply vitamin C the day of rolling, use sodium ascorbyl phosphate. It’s way more gentle and might convert into ascorbic acid in the skin anyway. (10)

Here is a list of product recommendations that include the ingredients listed above.

Hyaluronic AcidHada Labo Rohto Gokujyn Hyaluronic Acid Lotion; Benton Snail Bee High Content Steam Cream; CeraVe Moisturizing Facial Lotion PM (Full Review Here); Drunk Elephant C-Firma Day Serum; JJ Lab's Vitamin 20% C Serum
Niacinamide CeraVe Moisturizing Facial Lotion PM (Full Review Here); Mad Hippie Face Cream with Anti Wrinkle Peptide Complex; Benton Snail Bee High Content Steam Cream
Epidermal Growth Factor (Human Ogliopeptide-1)Benton Snail Bee High Content Essence (My Holy Grail);
Benton Snail Bee High Content Steam Cream
Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid)Drunk Elephant C-Firma Day Serum; Timeless Skin Care 20% Vitamin C Plus E Ferulic Acid Serum; [OST] C 20 Original Pure Vitamin C Serum; JJ Lab's Vitamin 20% C Serum; Skinceuticals C E Ferulic; Paula's Choice Resist C15 Super Booster (Available in sample sizes)
Vitamin C (Sodium Ascorbyl Phospate) (Very Gentle)Mad Hippie Vitamin C Serum

What Can I Expect After Microneedling?

After rolling, the skin will be red for a couple hours (sometimes less). It will feel like a sunburn, and the skin will swell initially (very minor). I can usually feel my face pulsing and the blood circulating after I’m done. Again, I find it relaxing and somewhat therapeutic (masochists unite?).

People often mistake the minor swelling they experience for overnight success. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but the plumping effect you see initially will subside within a few days. But like I said earlier, repeated rolling does have permanent results!

There will be some minor erythema (redness) for about 2 or 3 days, and the skin might start peeling. If this does occur, DO NOT pick at it! It will fall off naturally as time passes. Chill out, and enjoy being a lizard in the meantime.

When Will I See Results? The Science. Micro-Needling Before & After Photos.

Microneedling isn’t an overnight success kind of thing. This will take patience, time, and persistence.

You will generally see minor improvement pretty soon, but substantial progress might take a few months. Again though, that is to achieve substantial progress.

There is very well documented research showing that people can achieve major improvement in acne scarring or wrinkling in as little as 2 to 3 sessions using 1.5 mm monotherapy. (11, 12, 13, 14)

To help keep you motivated, check out these incredible micro needling before and after pictures. All of these were just 3 treatments with 1.5 mm over the span of 13 months. (Source:  Fabbrocini et al., 2014b)

micro needling before and after

micro needling before and after

micro needling before and after

And here’s a video showing what the gradual improvement of three 1.5 mm sessions looks like over the span of a year.

Keep in mind, all of these were with just 3 sessions! Continued use delivers better results.

And as a side note: recall that 1.5 mm needles can be used every 4 weeks, which realistically means you can squeeze in 12 of these sessions per year. The researchers in the above study simply wanted to see if the results of 3 sessions were permanent, 10 months after the last treatment was concluded. The answer was a resounding yes. 🙂

Stainless Steel vs. Titanium Derma Rollers. Which is Better?

dermaroller

(Beauty Wand Derma Roller)

UPDATE: the one I use is no longer in stock. However, here’s a good option from Ebay.

Derma rollers come in two varieties — either stainless steel or titanium needles. There’s a lot of confusion out there about which is better. Very simply put, it comes down to two things: durability and hygiene.

Titanium is more durable because it’s a stronger alloy than stainless steal. This means the needles will last longer and the sharpness won’t blunt as quickly. However, it comes with the major caveat of being less sanitary. Titanium isn’t as sterile as stainless steel, and as such requires more cleanliness.

Stainless steel on the other hand, is sharper and inherently more sterile, but blunts more quickly. In my opinion, stainless steel is the way to go. The fact that I’ve yet to encounter a study where researchers used titanium needles confirms my bias. There’s also reason why all medical professionals, tattoo artists, and acupuncturists use stainless steal — it’s called cleanliness.

So don’t listen to the garbage coming from companies about how titanium needles are somehow better… and uh, coincidentally more expensive.

spongebob kid not impressed

It’s a load of hokey pokey buIl$h!t. Besides, if you’re following proper protocol by replacing your derma roller every couple months (more about this in a bit), then stainless steel will do just fine and is more cost effective.

Best Practices.

1. Never Roll Over Active Acne.

Never, and I mean NEVER use a dermaroller on active acne lesions! If you have pimples, stay far away from microneedling until your breakouts have subsided.

If you don’t know how to clear acne, then read my guide about how to do it in 3 simple steps.

2. Replace Your Derma Roller.

These things have a limited lifespan, so you need to replace them every few months. Exactly how often you do this will depend on how frequently you use it.

Generally speaking, when you start sensing it doesn’t penetrate as much, or it feels a bit dull — that would be a good time to buy a new one. Luckily, these things are cheap so it won’t be costly doing so.

To give you a very rough estimate of how often that would be, a 1.5 mm should last approximately 4-6 months. Shorter needles (e.g. 0.5 mm) that are used more frequently, need to be replaced about every 3 months. But use your best judgement here!

3. Sun Protection.

It’s very important that you use sunscreen or avoid the sun a few days post rolling. If you’re planning on using 1.0 mm needles or anything longer, then you really need to avoid excessive sun exposure a week before rolling, and two weeks post treatment.

I mean, you should be using sunscreen daily anyway… but that’s a topic for another time.

4. Start Slowly.

Even if your skin condition requires longer needles, begin with the smallest first! Often you will see major improvement with the smaller ones, making the bigger needles unnecessary altogether.

There currently isn’t scientific consensus on what size needles are needed to induce collagen. Some studies have said it occurs at 0.5 mm, others have said it takes 1.5 mm. In all likelihood it probably depends on skin thickness (varies from person to person), and the pressure applied during rolling.

I once even read somewhere (but I can’t seem to find the source anymore), that using shorter needles more frequently gives better results than longer ones spaced out over a period of time. So keep that in mind, and start with the smaller ones!

5. Proceed With Caution.

Wait until your dang skin is recovered completely before doing another session! Rebuilding collagen is a slow process. You have to remember that skin takes approximately 27 days to regenerate itself. (15)

Often, you won’t even see the full results of a microneedling session until 6 weeks have passed. Keep that in mind when you’re getting angsty and want to impulsively roll again. Doing it too much, too soon, can result in serious damage. More is not necessarily better here!

6. PATCH TEST!

Because we can’t predict how skin will respond to certain treatments, you need to patch test first!

Simply roll in one small area (for example, a quarter of the chin) to see how the skin responds. If all looks good and dandy within a couple of days, then you may proceed with rolling the rest of your face.

7. Don’t Share Your Derma Roller With Anyone!

It’s your masochistic device, not anyone else’s.

Where to Buy Derma Rollers.

They can be found on Amazon. You don’t need to overcomplicate things and get an expensive one. The cheaper ones will work just fine. This is the one I use.

UPDATE: it has been brought to my attention that Amazon no longer carries the derma roller I use. :'( However, here’s a good option from Ebay.

derma roller in case

It’s made out of high quality stainless steel, and has the recommended 192 needles.

Welp, that does it for this article ladies and gents. Hope you’ve enjoyed it and found it resourceful. Be safe, be smart, and have fun with your dermarolling adventures!

Cheers,

—f.c.

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