Will dermarolling give you smoother skin?
Dermatologists explain the skincare technique.
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There are plenty of products and treatments that claim to smooth the skin and keep it looking young. If you're on the hunt for one, you may have come across dermarolling as an option. People chasing after plump, even-toned skin have added dermarollers into their skincare routines in hopes of replicating the effects of the popular in-office treatment known as microneedling. We spoke to two dermatologists to find out if this is an at-home skin trend worth getting in on.
What is dermarolling?
To understand dermarolling, you first have to understand its predecessor, microneedling. Microneedling is a procedure that involves puncturing the skin with tiny, sterilized needles. The treatment, first performed in 1905 by German dermatologist Ernst Kromayer, creates microscopic abrasions in the skin that prompt the body’s natural healing response. During the wound healing process, the body creates collagen and elastin (proteins in the skin that uphold its structure), which results in plumper skin and less texture and discoloration.
Fast forward to 1996, when plastic surgeon Dr. Des Fernandes decided to make microneedling more accessible by creating the industry’s first at-home needling device, the dermaroller.
What is a dermaroller and how do you use it?
Consider the dermaroller the jade roller’s prickly sister. Instead of offering a soothing, chilly touch, this small handheld wheel is covered in hundreds of needles poised to puncture your skin. (Don’t worry, it doesn’t hurt!) Non-medical, at-home dermarollers max out at an FDA-approved 0.25 millimeters to 0.3 millimeters in depth, a mere fraction of the more intense professionally performed microneedling, which can go up to 2.5 millimeters. Translation: Using this tool shouldn’t cause any pain, but it may not be as effective as professional treatments either. Most rollers on the market are for the face, but there are also slightly larger ones for the abs, buttocks, and thighs.
You'll want to use a dermaroller after cleansing the skin. Gently roll the device across the area up to five times in each direction (first vertically, then horizontally, then diagonally). “Some people think more passes or more pressure must create better results, but that isn’t the case. More can cause harm,” warns Dr. Katherine Masterpol, medical director of DermPhysicians of New England in Burlington and Woburn, Massachusetts.
You might feel a slight sting with each roll, but the needles won't penetrating deeply enough to cause pain. If it is, you may be applying too much pressure or rolling for too long. Your skin will likely look pink and a little puffy when you’re done, which is the reason many people who dermaroll make it part of their nighttime routine.
What do people claim dermarolling does?
Dermarolling can help roll back the years, according to manufacturers of these tools. Riding on the coattails of microneedling and its proven benefits, they claim to induce the production of collagen and elastin, which leads to a reduction in wrinkles, stretch marks, acne scarring, and skin discoloration. “The premise behind dermarollers is to create micro-injuries to the skin at its top layer (epidermis), which then repairs itself, creating a temporary effect of plumpness and improved texture,” says Masterpol.
As microneedling has been shown to do, dermarolling claims to enhance product absorption into the skin, with many likening it to aerating the lawn before fertilizing it (the holes allow air, water, and nutrients to reach the grass roots).
What do you do after using a dermaroller?
Avoid potentially irritating active ingredients, like retinol, vitamin C, and salicylic acid directly after dermarolling, as your skin will be more sensitive. “I’ve seen ads market dermarolling as ‘the best way to make your skincare penetrate deeper,’” says Dr. Scott Paviol of Paviol Dermatology in Charlotte, North Carolina. “This is potentially very dangerous. Not all skincare is meant to penetrate the skin’s barrier. If a consumer applies highly active ingredients immediately after dermarolling, it can cause unnecessary issues.”
Instead, follow rolling with a warm water rinse and apply a hyaluronic acid serum, like the popular one from Cosmedica, as this ingredient is known to soothe and hydrate the skin. If you decide to lather on your moisturizer, stick with something simple, like the Cerave Moisturizing Lotion, and avoid anything with the active ingredients already mentioned.
Does dermarolling do what it claims?
While in-office microneedling has proven effective at stimulating collagen production, dermarolling is dull in comparison. Masterpol explains: “Home devices don’t penetrate the deeper skin layer, the dermis, where the collagen-producing cells live. Therefore, [they] cannot impact the skin the same way in-office microneedling can. More significantly, visible, and lasting results can be only achieved in-office.”
In order to reach the dermis, a dermaroller’s needles would need to be between 0.6 millimeters and 2.5 millimeters (like the ones you’ll find on professional microneedling tools). At-home options usually have needles that are no longer than 0.3 millimeters. Still, that doesn’t mean you should look for a pro-grade tool, as improper use could lead to serious injury or even scarring on the skin.
Masterpol acknowledges that dermarollers can improve skin texture and wrinkle appearance, albeit temporarily. “Derma rollers can likely provide certain short-term benefits, but they need to be used on an ongoing basis,” she explains. “[Because] they work by causing injury, they also come with risks. When there are so many different kinds available and limited regulation, some things about them make me nervous.”
Should you use a dermaroller anyway?
Effective dermarolling comes with caveats, from when you should roll (not during acne, sunburn, or rosacea flare-ups) to how much you should roll (it must be done regularly enough to see improvements).
Rollers also boast a hefty price tag for a short life span. You should only buy from trusted companies and replace the roller’s head after a few months, as dulled needles can cause damage and infection. Prices range from this one from Elizabeth Grant for $40 to Environ’s gold standard at $300.
If you do decide to try dermarolling, you should be comfortable with needles and some inflammation. You can expect temporarily plumper skin with regular usage and you may notice a reduction in fine lines, wrinkles, acne scarring, or discoloration.
“Dermarolling hit the market as a way to add a professional touch to your personal skincare routine,” says Paviol. “Although curiosity will not kill the cat on this one, I encourage everyone to educate themselves on the proper use of dermarolling should they decide to give it a go.”
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.