“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 that 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 micro-needling habit had hit a new stage of success. I had purchased a derma-roller on Amazon a few months earlier, after getting a 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.
And I was 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.
So imagine how floored I was to realize that this wasn’t how it had to be. I watched the premature lines on my face disappear and my upper lip plump 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?!”
I asked that very question of celebrity facialist and derma-rolling proponent Kerry Benjamin 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 simplistic that even after months of putting it into practice, I was still half-convinced that there was dark magic involved. Not quite. “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 micro-needling and 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 bags and lines, too.
But for me, the most remarkable aspect 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—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?
Does it hurt?
Let’s get one myth out of the way: It really doesn’t hurt that much, especially when you’re the one in control. Dermatologists use something called a Dermapen for in-office treatments, and that’s a little more intense—bleeding is a common side effect. (That’s why they call it the “vampire” facial.) 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 sandpaper-y sensation is comparable.)
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.
How often do I need to do it?
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 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.)
What skincare products should I use with it?
Never start micro-needling 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—up to 90% 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. (Just be sure to avoid super-reactive elements like retinol or vitamin C.)
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. 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. 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.
Will the results last forever?
Make no mistake: Maintenance is key. I've gone through periods where I stop micro-needling (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.