2017 has been the year of many things. The rooster, if you follow the Chinese zodiac. Hell, if you subscribe to the CNN app. And in the beautysphere, taking sharp objects to the face. Botox syringes and plastic surgeons' scalpels are nothing new, but lately, it feels like we can't go to a cocktail party or call our mom without being asked to weigh in on dermaplaning and microneedling. Does it hurt? Should you see a facialist or a derm? Is it worth the price? What's the best at-home tool?
That's why it's not exactly surprising that Pinterest's 2018 trend predictions report a whopping 345% increase in saves for "derma roller" over the past year. Derma rollers, or microneedling devices, use ultra-thin needles to make tiny wounds in the skin, which essentially does two things: allows for deeper ingredient absorption and sends your skin into repair mode, leading to a more rapid production of collagen. There are the pro-grade rollers you'll find in your derm or aesthetician's office, and there are the at-home versions you'll find fashion and beauty bloggers raving about. At their best, derma rollers plump skin, make wrinkles less noticeable, improve skin texture, and help with discoloration — but they're not all created equal.
First, you have to consider efficacy. According to dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD, the professional tools used in a derm's office "penetrate much deeper into the skin, commonly causing pinpoint bleeding as a result of the procedure, which makes them more effective in addressing issues like acne scars and fine lines and wrinkles than at-home devices." The over-the-counter rollers generally don't create wounds that impair the skin barrier function, he says, which kind of defeats the whole purchase. Dermatologist Stefani Kappel, MD, says that in addition to having more efficient microneedling devices, professionals often combine the treatment with radiofrequency or PRP to amplify and prolong the results — the likes of which you won't see with an at-home roller recommended for daily use.
But if that were the only thing at stake, it'd only hurt your wallet. The real danger with buying needles and then sticking them into your face without supervision from a person who's been through medical school is infection. Medical aesthetician Mashell Tabe, who specializes in microneedling and believes at-home derma-rolling can be effective when done correctly, warns that it's crucial to look into the company's sterilization process before purchasing a tool. "You want to make sure the product goes through a strict sterilization process called gamma radiation. The at-home derma rollers I provide to my clients are sent to a company called Sterigenics and they're sterilized at a certain dose with gamma radiation, sealed in a hermetic pouch, and are guaranteed to be 100% contaminant-free upon delivery."
Beyond that, problems can also arise from not cleaning your skin or the roller properly before each use. "Rubbing alcohol can be used to clean at-home devices, but in order to kill bacteria, the alcohol must evaporate to be effective," says Dr. Kappel. "More importantly, make sure the skin is clean prior to using the microneedling tool to avoid infection, acne, and cysts from forming." Even if you take all precautions, though, your skin still may not react well. "Sometimes, the traumatization that these rollers cause to the skin leads to swelling, which can temporarily make wrinkles look better, but as the swelling goes down, the wrinkles reappear. Something called post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, or darkening of the affected skin, can also occur from this trauma," she says.
Your best course of action is to leave the microneedling to a board-certified dermatologist or skin specialist, but if you insist on buying that buzzy derma roller your Facebook friend is selling, stock up on sterilizing alcohol and proceed gently. And please, for the love of god, don't buy it used.