What Is Microneedling?

ANDRESR / GETTY IMAGES
ANDRESR / GETTY IMAGES

Microneedling, also known as collagen induction therapy, is a minimally-invasive procedure that uses tiny needles to create shallow, repetitive punctures in the skin. This treatment is often used to address skin concerns like scarring, stretch marks, and pigmentation issues. The idea behind microneedling is that these tiny punctures cause minor damage to the skin, which triggers the body's natural healing process. During this process, the body produces more collagen and elastin, leading to improved skin appearance.

While microneedling can be effective for several skin conditions, it's important to know what to expect during the procedure and understand the potential risks involved.

Benefits of Microneedling

Microneedling offers numerous benefits and is popular due to its minimally invasive nature and little to no downtime required.

Improves Overall Skin Appearance

Microneedling is primarily used to enhance the appearance and texture of the skin. The procedure can reduce the appearance of enlarged pores, dark spots, and stretch marks. Participants in one study received four facial microneedling treatments, each spaced 30 days apart. Their skin showed significant improvement in lines, wrinkles, skin laxity, and skin texture about 90 to 150 days after the first treatment.

Reduces Acne Scars

Microneedling is often used to treat scarring, especially scars caused by acne. A review of 33 studies found that participants in every study noticed an improvement in the appearance of their acne scars after microneedling. The treatment decreased inflammatory markers and increased collagen, which sped up the skin's healing process, reducing the appearance of scars.

May Help Hair Loss

Microneedling may also aid in hair regrowth for people with hair loss disorders like alopecia. The treatment has been shown to reduce hair loss when used alongside primary treatments, such as Rogaine (minoxidil) or other growth factor solutions. However, more research is needed to confirm these results.

What To Expect

If you're considering microneedling to address a skin issue, it's important to know what to expect before, during, and after your visit. Your healthcare provider can also provide a more detailed picture of the procedure.

Before Your Visit

Before undergoing microneedling, start by consulting with a trained healthcare provider, such as a certified dermatologist. Since these devices penetrate your skin and can come into contact with nerves and blood vessels, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends seeking someone with special training in microneedling. The FDA considers microneedling a medical procedure, not a cosmetic one, emphasizing the importance of finding a qualified healthcare provider.

Before the procedure, you'll need to consider if microneedling is right for you. The FDA has only approved the procedure for adults 22 years and older. You should avoid microneedling if you have any of the following conditions:

  • Active acne
  • An active herpes outbreak or other localized infection in the treatment area, such as warts
  • Moderate-to-severe chronic skin disease such as eczema or psoriasis
  • Keloidal tendencies or a tendency to develop raised scars
  • Undergoing chemotherapy or immunosuppressed due to medication or condition
  • Recent Botox injections in the area
  • A bleeding or clotting disorder or taking a blood thinner

Your provider may ask you to stop using certain topical creams, including retinoids or lotions, to prepare for your first treatment. They may also ask you to refrain from using certain medications and might give you a prescription for antiviral medication if microneedling is done on the face.

During Your Visit

When you arrive for your microneedling appointment, your healthcare provider will likely apply a topical anesthetic to numb your skin. They may also use an antiseptic solution to ensure the area is clean. Once your skin is prepared, they will glide a microneedling device over your skin, sometimes applying a topical serum like hyaluronic acid gel to help the device move smoothly.

You should not experience any discomfort during the treatment. The process usually takes about 45 minutes to one hour. After microneedling, some providers may apply a calming agent or other creams. Your provider will give you instructions on how to care for your skin in the following days.

After Your Visit

After a microneedling procedure, it may take two to seven days for your skin to recover. During this time, you might experience some minor side effects like redness and peeling, similar to a sunburn. Rare reactions include bruising or an allergic response. Contact your healthcare provider if you experience these or other painful symptoms.

You should wait 24 hours before using makeup and sunscreen. Your provider may also recommend waiting before applying certain topical creams like retinol or alpha hydroxy acids (AHA). Keep in mind that your skin will be more sensitive to the sun after those initial 24 hours, so avoid the sun as much as possible and wear sunscreen once your skin has healed more.

You may need additional microneedling sessions or other complementary treatments, depending on the skin condition you are addressing. Some people choose to receive a series of monthly microneedling treatments to achieve optimal results. Your healthcare provider will work with you to develop a treatment plan that addresses your individual goals.

Microneedling At-Home vs. In-Office

The FDA considers microneedling a medical procedure that should be performed by a trained healthcare provider using sterile needles in their devices. The roller devices used at home or at non-medical spas have shorter, duller needles that are not meant to penetrate the skin like the microneedling devices used in a doctor's office.

While these at-home devices can stimulate blood flow and create a brightening effect, they will not deliver the same results as in-office microneedling. Without proper sanitizing, these duller devices could result in injuries and infection.

Risks of Microneedling

While microneedling is relatively safe with minimal side effects, there are some potential risks. After the procedure, you may develop redness, peeling, and bruising. You might also experience:

  • Dryness
  • Rough skin
  • Tightness
  • Itching
  • Burning
  • Bleeding
  • Crusting

These symptoms should subside as your skin heals. Your healthcare provider can offer advice on how to best care for your skin during the recovery period.

Although rare, it is possible to develop an infection or have an allergic reaction after the procedure. There have been instances of people developing rashes post-procedure. Some may also experience pigmentation changes, swollen lymph nodes, or a reactivation of herpes cold sores.

A Quick Review

Microneedling is a medical procedure designed to improve your skin's appearance. Using a device with tiny needles, a dermatologist or other trained medical professional can help address scarring, wrinkles, fine lines, stretch marks, and more. Overall, microneedling is a safe and minimally invasive procedure with little to no downtime and few side effects. The most common side effects are redness and peeling. It is possible to develop a more serious response like an infection or an allergic reaction, though these are rare. If you are interested in microneedling, talk to a healthcare provider such as a certified dermatologist with experience in microneedling.