The idea of rolling hundreds of tiny needles all over your face in the name of better skin may sound like a recipe for disaster — especially for those with dark complexions who, by nature, are more prone to showing signs of skin trauma like scars and dark spots. But when those tiny needles take the form of professional microneedling, a treatment often used by dermatologists to help refine skin texture and appearance, that's a different story entirely.
That said, there's still a misconception that the treatment is best avoided by people with dark skin, so we turned to top dermatologists for the truth about microneedling. Ahead, the best experts in the biz break down exactly why the myth is just that: a myth.
What Is Microneedling?
Before assessing the real benefits and risks of microneedling, it's essential to understand its purpose. Seemal Desai, MD, a dermatologist and President of Skin Of Color Society, tell us that the procedure utilizes tiny needles by way of a device that creates small punctures in the skin. "By doing so, we are creating channels that allow the skin to remodel itself," he says. Think of it this way: The needles create multiple minor "injuries," which will then allow your skin to heal and produce a newly rejuvenated complexion.
Corey Hartman, MD, a dermatologist at Skin Wellness Center in Alabama, swears by microneedling for many of his patients who have acne scars, large pores, hyperpigmentation, or an uneven complexion. "The whole point of it is to stimulate collagen production and produce an even skin tone," Dr. Hartman says. "It's interesting that people think it isn't safe for dark skin, because when I see skin lightening for reasons like a tattoo removal or excessive peeling after a chemical treatment, my go-to method to get color back to the skin is microneedling."
Dermatologist Candrice Heath, MD, also loves the service for people with acne scars. "Microneedling is a great middle ground between topical treatments and aggressive lasers that are commonly used for scarring," she says. "It's great if your skin feels lackluster, and it can also help your skin-care ingredients penetrate a little deeper than usual."
Is Microneedling Safe For Dark Skin?
One of the main misconceptions about microneedling is that the punctures caused by the device can cause darkening of the skin, which is a valid concern, according to Dr. Hartman. However, it is one that he says is generally fiction. "By that logic, every time someone got a biopsy or got their blood drawn, a scar would be left behind," he says. "The depth of penetration hits the dermis because you want to stimulate collagen, but to get it to scar you have to cut into the dermis. That's not what happens with microneedling, when done correctly."
When done properly, both Dr. Hartman and Dr. Desai highly recommend microneedling for their patients with deeper skin tones. "The needles are so tiny it's even less likely to cause trauma to the skin," Dr. Hartman says. Both experts say the vast majority of risk prevention comes before and after the microneedle service.
What Happens Before Microneedling?
Microneedling isn't a service you should walk into blind — no matter your complexion. Dr. Desai says that prep work leading up to the service is highly recommended to ensure the best results. "Priming the skin pre-procedure is important to get optimal brightness and results. A few weeks before the treatment, I usually start my patients with hydroquinone, a retinoid, a topical steroid, and SPF to kickstart the process," he says. "Not only does this regimen help boost microneedling results, but it's also just a great way to ensure healthy skin-care practices after. Think of this procedure like a journey, not a one-way ticket."
Gilly Munavalli, MD, dermatologist and founder of Dermatology, Laser & Vein Specialists of the Carolinas, says increasing your water intake is also crucial before any skin-care service — especially microneedling. "Skin that is properly hydrated works best with this treatment, so make sure you are drinking water and thoroughly moisturizing leading up to your service," he says.
During The Process
During your appointment, a topical numbing cream is applied to your skin before the process begins. Then, a pen-like device is used to move tiny needles across your surface. The SkinPen by Bellus Medical is the first FDA-approved microneedle device, which Dr. Desai uses on his patients. Other tools like Profound by Candela may utilize controlled heat, which is where experts say people with dark skin should tread lightly. “The potential for unwanted side effects increases when the wrong hands perform microneedling,” says Dr. Munavalli. “I’d strongly suggest doing your homework and choose a dermatologist with a great deal of experience using energy-based devices and with treating skin of color.”
Dr. Heath adds that candidates with dark skin tones should consider multiple sessions of microneedling versus squeezing it all in one. "You want to make sure you're not too aggressive because that can cause excess irritation, which can become hyperpigmentation," she says. "Your doctor should have a light hand, and you both should be willing to do things gently over multiple session, instead of one aggressive procedure."
Experts say appointments are typically spaced out between three to four weeks — and Dr. Heath also advises you steer clear of at-home devices that claim to provide professional results. "It's so easy to purchase these tools and not know exactly what to do with them, or what the caveats are," she says. "You may actually end up damaging your skin with incorrect use, so always consult a professional."
Once your procedure has wrapped, your skin might be visibly red, but it should subside after a few hours. According to Dr. Desai, downtime is minimal, and you can resume your regular schedule with a few limitations. "You don't have to go into hiding, but you should limit sweating, heavy makeup, and sun exposure while you heal," he says.
Dr. Desai recommends using a sunscreen that contains physical blockers like zinc oxide and titanium oxide immediately after the treatment. "I like Elta MD sunscreens," he says. "They don't have a heavy tint and won't make dark complexions look pasty." Protecting your skin from the sun will ultimately keep your fresh complexion vibrant, healthy, and hyperpigmentation-free.
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