Like most women over 40, I have mixed feelings about my complexion. I love my pores (they’re practically nonexistent), tolerate the fine lines around my eyes (I have to look pretty closely in the mirror to see them), dislike all the redness on my nose and cheeks (there’s lots), and full-on hate the brown splotches that are becoming all too prominent (like Lady Macbeth, I often use profanities to describe my spots). So when I read all the rave reviews about microneedling—which entails rolling a gadget embedded with tiny, thin needles across your skin to create plumper, brighter, smoother skin—I volunteered to try it.
As crazy as it sounds, the idea makes sense: The needles create “micro-injuries” that signal the skin to produce more collagen and provide a light exfoliation of dead cells (hence the glow everyone mentioned). As a bonus, the micro-injuries are also believed to boost the absorption—and efficacy—of anti-ageing creams and serums. Dermatologists have performed in-office microneedling procedures for a while, but I was intrigued by the slew of at-home tools on the market.
Since it can be tricky to accurately judge how well a new product or device works on your own skin, I enlisted dermatologist Dr David Bank to help monitor my progress. He agreed to analyse my skin pre- and post-treatment with help of the Visia-CR facial imaging system. This high-tech machine takes very precise, up-close-and-personal photos that make it easy to see improvement in wrinkles, spots, redness, and more.
After taking my “before” pictures, I was ready start experimenting with at-home microneedling. I chose an easy to handle tool which is embedded with 540 surgical-steel needles. With so many needles pricking your skin, you might think it would hurt to use the tool for even a minute a night (the recommended amount of time), but the treatment is ouch-free—probably because the needles are only .3 mm (that’s slightly more than 1/100th of an inch). My routine was to cleanse my face, “roll” it three or four times a week, and then apply a super-hydrating, antioxidant-infused moisturiser.
To see how well microneedling lives up to its reputation for improving delivery of active ingredients, I also applied a retinol serum to just the right side of my face every third night. To protect my skin from the UV light that could easily undo any progress, I also used sunscreen religiously every day for all six weeks of the testing period.
Unlike a lot of people who’ve reviewed microneedling, I didn’t see immediate results. But after a couple of weeks I noticed that my skin seemed smoother and a little dewier, which is no small miracle considering that my experiment coincided with some of the coldest weather. And the results at six weeks out were darn impressive. After scrutinising the photos, Bank said he saw “subtle but real improvement in the quality of skin.” That included some serious smoothing of the fine lines around my eyes, which virtually disappeared.
“It’s analogous to the original studies done on the anti-ageing benefits of Retin-A,” which is one of the most effective wrinkle-fighters on the market, says Bank. One reason for the improvement around my eyes: “The thinner the skin, the more change you’ll likely see,” explains Bank.
Another very welcome difference was in the amount of redness in my skin: The appearance of the tiny blood vessels known as telangiectasia was also improved. “Will it beat out a laser for removing broken blood vessels? No. But the effect is real,” says Bank, who explains that the freshly-stimulated collagen helps support the vessels and hold them closed. Another machine also picked up that there was more blood flow all around my face—versus in blotches or broken blood vessels, which is the norm for me—and that could be a sign of better overall skin health.
Interestingly, Bank said he didn’t see much difference between the left side of my face (where I used the microneedler) and my right side (where I used the microneedler and applied a retinoid). That might just mean that I’m slower to respond to the vitamin-A-based ingredient; it can take 3 to 6 month for benefits from retinoids to kick in.
The one disappointment was the lack of any reduction in pigmentation. It simply didn’t budge. To send those brown spots packing, Bank suggested that I add kojic acid or niacinamide, two ingredients proven to reduce and prevent pigmentation, to my needling routine—which is still going strong. My initial 6-week experiment might be over, but now that I’ve seen the effects of skin needling firsthand, I’m definitely going to keep rolling with it.
Although my experience was mostly positive, if you’re thinking of following suit, consider asking your dermatologist first. At-home microneedling devices aren’t currently regulated, and some people have reported scarring or pigmentation problems.