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“Have you had work done?” my mom asked a little too casually during a visit late last summer. “Your lips, right? Or Botox?”
“No!” I said, shocked—I’ve always personally thought injectables and plastic surgery of any kind are just not for me, and she knew that. But indignity gave way to glee as I realized that my newfound derma-rolling habit to get rid of my under-eye bags had hit a new stage of success.
I had purchased a derma-roller on Amazon a few months earlier, after getting a micro-needling treatment at a dermatologist’s office and watching my might-as-well-be-tattooed dark circles and puffy under-eye bags disappear—and stay gone in the weeks that followed. I seriously doubted that I would get anything approaching similar results at home, but if nothing else, pressing tiny needles into my face seemed like a pretty badass thing to try, a funny story to tell either way. I’ve never been happier to be so wrong.
Keep scrolling to read more about these miracle-working needles and how they work.
What Is Derma-Rolling?
I asked that very question of celebrity facialist and derma-rolling proponent Kerry Benjamin, the founder of StackedSkincare and the StackedSkincare spa in Santa Monica, California, after it occurred to me that I wasn’t satisfied with my own explanation of, “Uh, I think it boosts your collagen by making tiny micro-injuries in the skin.” I wasn’t wrong, but it was so unbelievably simple that even after months of putting it into practice, I was still half-convinced that there was dark magic involved. Not quite.
A derma-roller is the at-home version of micro-needling, an in-office cosmetic procedure that uses tiny needles to puncture the very first layer of skin. It works to rejuvenate skin by boosting collagen production. Some micro-needling devices are in pen form (wherein the needles are stamped rather than rolled into your skin) and often involve highly skilled experts. In both cases, skin is undergoing trauma via mini-needles, the most noticeable difference is whether those needles are being angled into your skin or not.
Benefits of Derma-Rolling for Under-Eye Bags
• Boosts collagen
• Thickens skin
• Fills in fine lines
“Basically, the skin around your eyes is very thin and delicate,” Benjamin explained as she pressed a roller into my face. “When you see dark circles, you’re actually just seeing the blood pool around your eyes through the skin. By making those tiny injuries in the skin, you’re putting collagen production into overdrive and literally thickening that skin.” Doing so makes the blood much less visible and fills in those under-eye bags and lines, too.
For me, the most remarkable aspect with micro-needling is that while these very noticeable results are certainly advertised at the cosmetic dermatologist’s office after hundreds of dollars worth of treatments, I’ve been able to see such a dramatic transformation at home, with a comparably minute investment of $20 to $30 in a derma-roller—and far less blood, pain, and inflammation, too. Why isn’t everyone doing this?
Perhaps it’s because they just don’t know about it or where to begin. Maybe they’re convinced that it really hurts—all very understandable assumptions. So let’s clear that up, shall we?
What to Expect When Derma-Rolling Under-Eye Bags
Let’s get one myth out of the way: It really doesn’t hurt that much, especially when you’re the one in control. However, there are a few pointers to note before you begin rolling. First things first, never start derma-rolling without slathering on some kind of primer first: Not only does that medium serve as a buffer between the needles and your skin, but when you use a great treatment, you’re also literally pushing those ingredients deep into your skin for maximum absorption—far more than you would just by using your fingers and leaving it there. I typically use a serum with additional collagen-boosting ingredients like hyaluronic acid, such as the Grown Alchemist Age Repair Serum ($99). Just be sure to avoid super-reactive elements like retinol or vitamin C.
Hyaluronic acid is a naturally occurring polysaccharide found in the human body. It acts as a cushioning and lubrication agent for our joints, nerves, hair, skin, and eyes. When used in skincare, it acts as a moisture binder, which means that it will attach itself to the water in the cells (while also attracting and holding water from the air) making them plump.
After cleansing your face and applying a layer of serum or whatever primer you’re using, it’s time to start derma-rolling. Stretch your skin taut, and roll across it diagonally, horizontally, and vertically, pressing as hard as you can tolerate. I focus on my smile lines, lips, and underneath my eyes as well as any acne scars or discoloration that need tending to. After you’re done rolling, apply another layer of serum to your face and sterilize your device with rubbing alcohol before storing it in its case.
Also, another safety tip to be mindful of: Try not to roll over one single area more than a couple of times and never use your roller on existing zits or open wounds.
At-Home Derma-Rolling vs. In-Office Micro-Needling
In-office micro-needling means physicians can get a bit deeper into your skin, as they are using professional tools like the aforementioned pens, which essentially work to "stamp" your face with needles rather than roll the needles across the skin.
Even though at-home devices might not go as deep into the skin, they can still be effective. When choosing a derma-roller to purchase, you need to pay attention to the needle size. Most experts I’ve spoken to advise anything between 0.2 and 0.75 millimeters for use at home. (Benjamin advises staying under 0.5 to avoid damage.) I’ve only ever used 0.2 or 0.5 since I mainly focus on my lips and underneath my eyes, and those areas are particularly delicate.
I’ve purchased rollers from Amazon for as little as $12. Benjamin actually chided me a little for this; though, as with anything I purchase from that vast marketplace, I pay close attention to reviews before pulling the trigger. Still, it might be wiser to buy something from a more verified retailer, like Benjamin’s own Stacked Skincare.
You’ll want to replace your micro-roller after a few uses due to the potential of bacteria on the roller head.
Dermatologists use something called a Dermapen for in-office treatments, and that’s a little more intense—bleeding is a common side effect. But a derma-roller is a little less hard-core, and you can press as hard as your pain threshold allows. (If you've ever experienced a cat licking your face, the sandpapery sensation is comparable.)
I use my derma-roller two or three times a month. Some people recommend using it more often—Benjamin recommends a few times a week—but I like this frequency; it’s enough for maintenance without feeling too harsh on my skin. Sometimes, if it’s been a particularly stressful month or if I’ve been traveling, I’ll see those familiar shadows start to creep up again toward the end, but it’s nothing my go-to cream concealer (see below) and upping my water intake can’t help. (And that is a sentence I could have only dreamed of uttering so airily in my pre-derma-rolling days.)
Make no mistake: Maintenance is key. I've gone through periods where I stop derma-rolling (for reasons mostly having to do with laziness) only for those under-eye bags to start creeping in again. It's your choice whether to embrace them or roll them away again—I can vouch for both.
The Final Takeaway
I am officially hooked. At just 23 years old, I was used to looking perpetually exhausted. Genetics had played a role, sure, but very long hours at the office and a stress-ridden lifestyle certainly hadn’t helped. Even if I was able to diminish the shadows under my eyes with a heavy layer of color-correcting concealer, the bags remained—and in some cases, the creasing made them look even more obvious. But I was still happier to resign myself to this rather than the alternative: As much as I wanted to say screw it and just go without makeup, you can only get (rude) remarks like “Are you feeling all right?” and “Whoa—late night?” so many times before it starts to sting.
I was floored to realize this wasn’t how it had to be. The premature lines on my face disappeared and my upper lip plumped up, and finally—finally—I didn’t look so tired anymore, all thanks to micro-needling. And others were starting to notice.
And they wanted in—or really, I wanted them to want in. I would do those fitness supplement–peddling Ponzi schemes proud with my insistence that my friends, family, and co-workers try derma-rolling themselves. But then again, it’s probably easier to convince someone to try a protein shake than roll hundreds of tiny needles into her face. That’s fair.
Still, the results don’t lie, and slowly, a handful of people in my life have already become converts. “What needle size should I get again?” is a fairly common chat message I receive at the office. One of my best friends in New York sends me close-ups of her face on the regular. “This is so crazy!” the captions read. "How is this even working?!”
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Bukhari SNA, Roswandi NL, Waqas M, et al. Hyaluronic acid, a promising skin rejuvenating biomedicine: a review of recent updates and pre-clinical and clinical investigations on cosmetic and nutricosmetic effects. Int J Biol Macromol. 2018;120(Pt B):1682-1695. doi:10.1016/j.ijbiomac.2018.09.188
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American Academy of Dermatology Association. Microneedling: experienced hands can improve the face. Updated February 16, 2018.