What Is Microneedling?
Microneedling is a minimally invasive procedure that aims to treat scar tissue, lax skin, wrinkles, and large pores by increasing collagen production. It sounds scary—and it does involve needles piercing the skin—but the needles are very fine and short, and only mildly uncomfortable. And the advantages of the procedure greatly outweigh the disadvantages.
To help allay your fears and find out exactly how microneedling benefits problematic skin, we spoke to Whitney Conen, a certified physician's assistant who performs the procedure on patients at Chicago Cosmetic Surgery and Dermatology.
How does microneedling work?
"Microneedling works by making controlled microinjuries in your skin, which your body will then heal while producing collagen," Whitney explains. More collagen means smoother, younger looking skin.
Which skin problem can benefit the most from microneedling?
"Our most requested skin issue we use microneedling on is diminishing acne scars," Whitney says. "It's also a great procedure to improve the appearance of fine lines, skin tone, and texture, and can even improve the appearance of stretch marks!"
What happens during a microneedling treatment?
Typically, a microneedling treatment begins with a practitioner taking pictures of the treatment area, then applying a numbing cream. Once the area is numb, they use a handheld needling device on the skin for about 20–30 minutes, depending on the size of the treatment area. The device looks like a large pen with a cluster tiny needles on the end.
At Chicago Cosmetic Surgery and Dermatology, Whitney wields an InnoPen, which uses an automated, vibrating, stamping motion to pierce the skin. After the treatment, she applies a skin-soothing hyaluronic acid mask, which penetrates more deeply into the skin because of the needles. The mask remains on the skin for about six hours.
Does it hurt?
"The treatment is fairly comfortable due to the topical numbing cream we apply prior to treatment," Whitney assures us. "You might feel some tiny pin pricks, as some areas of the face are more sensitive than others. Overall, it's a very tolerable procedure!"
What's the downtime of microneedling?
The downtime is about 3–5 days. According to Whitney, on days 1–3, it may look like you have a sunburn, and your skin may feel tight, dry, swollen, or sensitive to the touch. On days 3–5, your skin should start to return to its normal tone and any swelling should subside, though there is still the possibility of some minor peeling or flaking.
How many treatments do you need?
It all depends on what you're trying to treat. "Acne scars typically require as many as six treatments, with treatments spaced four weeks apart," Whitney says. Those who just want to improve the overall tone and texture of their skin can usually get what Whitney calls "great results" in about three treatments.
Why choose microneedling over other collagen-boosting procedures?
Laser skin-resurfacing treatments, for instance, also increase collagen. But according to Whitney, microneedling is safer for all skin types and colors.
"Some treatments like CO2 or Fraxel laser have the risk of causing hyperpigmentation (dark spots) because they utilize heat to produce results," she says, adding that microneedling actually has a shorter downtime than most laser treatments, too.
Is there a difference between microneedling and dermarolling?
Microneedling is the overall name for the treatment, whereas a derma roller is one type of instrument used to perform microneedling, according to Whitney.
"Dermaroller was the first device used for microneedling. It has specific needle lengths covering a wheel, which a provider will roll over the skin," she explains. Dermapens, like the one she uses, are the latest technology.
"Microneedling pens are best because they can be set to very specific depths, taking away the chance of human error that comes with dermarollers. They also offer more consistent treatments, meaning you're getting the same procedure each time."
What is microneedling with PRP?
At some practices, including Chicago Cosmetic Surgery and Dermatology, patients have the option of combining microneedling with platelet-rich-plasma (PRP) taken from their own blood.
"Your platelets have growth factors, which will help stimulate more collagen production," Whitney says. While patients wait for their numbing cream to kick in, Whitney can draw their blood and spin it in a centrifuge to separate out the platelets from the red blood cells.
Once the patient is numb, she applies the PRP to their skin and then uses the microneedling pen. After the 20–30 minutes of needling, she applies the rest of the PRP as a mask, instead of the hyaluronic acid.
What does microneedling cost?
A microneedling treatment costs about $200–$700, depending on where you live and the size of the treatment area. Luckily, you can pay signficantly less by searching for microneedling deals near you.
Is there anyone who shouldn't get microneedling?
"Anyone with active acne breakouts, open wounds, cold sores, psoriasis, or eczema on the treatment area should not have microneedling," Whitney cautions. "Additionally, if you are on a blood thinner or have a history of keloid scars, you should consult with a medical provider prior to treatment."
Otherwise, she says, "there are very few people who can't get microneedling! It's perfect for anyone that's wanting an overall improvement to their skin."
Can you do some type of microneedling at home?
Medical professionals tend to disagree on this subject: some say that although at-home microneedling devices are less effective than professional ones, they can help maintain your results from an in-office treatment. But that's only if you really take care of the device, including sterilizing it.
Whitney personally doesn't like the shallow needle depths of the at-home rollers and the fact that they can spread an infection, which could lead to even worse skin issues and scarring.
"I recommend only getting microneedling treatments from licensed medical professionals, like me," she says.
This article was originally written by staff writer Kate Raftery in 2016. It has since been updated by our editors.
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