Microneedling is a process where controlled injuries trigger the growth of new skin, reducing scars.
The procedure can be costly, so some people swear by alternatives called derma rollers, or use DIY kits.
Dermatologists say these alternatives can risk damaging your skin — and often are not as effective.
One popular method is microneedling, a procedure that uses tiny needles to make microscopic pricks in the skin that generate new collagen. This helps firm and smooth skin, according to Dr. Ivy Lee, a dermatologist practicing in Los Angeles, as well as diminish scarring and dark spots.
"I love it because of its ability to really take advantage of our body's natural healing response," said Lee. "It just blew my mind away with how impressive and how noticeable the results are, even after one treatment."
But microneedling can get expensive: One session averages around $300 but can hike up to $700, and multiple appointments are usually required to see optimal results.
To save money, some people on social media have been swearing by at-home microneedling tools, using products like derma rollers, which can cost under $10, in videos that garner hundreds of millions of views.
Derma rollers are "essentially rolling pins with microscopic needles attached to them," said Dr. Joshua Zeichner, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology and an associate professor of dermatology at the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.
But while they might be cheaper, they likely aren't as effective as an actual microneedling treatment.
Using derma rollers improperly can damage skin
According to Zeichner, the difference between at-home rollers and professional microneedling services is the depth of needle penetration. To be safe enough to use at home, the needles on derma rollers don't puncture the skin as deeply as the needles in your dermatologist's office.
Still, some doctors and beauty TikTokers have cautioned against using derma rollers at all, citing potential skin injuries like infection or irritation if you don't read and follow all the instructions carefully.
Dr. Cameron Rokhsar, a dermatologist and Associate Clinical Professor of Dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital, has treated patients who were "overzealous" and pressed down too hard, or rolled over active acne or lesions.
Ironically, Rokhsar says treating scars caused by DIY microneedling can involve in-office microneedling sessions in the end.
There's also the possibility that you could reactivate a cold sore source and spread the sores to other parts of your face — which happened to a client of Lee's, who had to delay their wedding as a result.
Zeichner said you should be particularly careful using derma rollers "if you have sensitive skin, a condition like eczema or psoriasis on the face, or if you are using active ingredients like retinol or glycolic acid, which make the skin more sensitive to trauma."
And, Rokhsar said, microneedling at home can lead to skin infections if you don't use a new roller every time. You should never, ever share a device with someone else, much like you would never share a toothbrush.
Microneedling at home is best for minor skin improvement
While Rokhsar says microneedling at home can't compare to the effectiveness and results of an in-office procedure, there can be some "slight benefits" if you follow all the directions carefully.
According to Zeichner, derma rollers are best for "improving radiance, skin tone, and perhaps some fine wrinkles." More significant creases or acne scars require deeper needle penetration, which can only be achieved with a professional microneedling treatment.
For Lee, if her patients decide to use derma rollers or other at-home microneedling kits for financial reasons, she encourages them to at least keep an open line of conversation with her. "Let me go over how to use it in a safe and effective way," she said.
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