You think active acne is one of the most irritating dermatological conditions you could suffer through, until you're forced to deal with acne scars. We're not talking about the little dark or red marks that go away with time, exfoliation, and scar-fading spot treatments. Instead, we're talking about atrophic scarring—aka indented scars that form below the upper layer of skin tissue as a result of severe acne that prevents the skin from being able to regenerate tissue correctly, leaving behind uneven texture in shapes known as ice-pick, rolling, and boxcar scars.
We've written about the benefits of micro-needling on Byrdie before. The treatment can help with everything from wrinkles and dark under-eye circles to stretch marks, discoloration, and enhanced product absorption. However, we've never gone into the specifics of what it can do for acne scars. Yet the evidence that this minimally invasive, relatively risk-free procedure (which can be done professionally by a dermatologist or at home with a derma-roller) can help with their appearance is compelling. A 2015 study of micro-needling's effect on atrophic acne scars revealed that patients experienced noticeable ("good to very good") clinical improvement in the look of their post-acne scarring after three months of micro-needling treatments. The logic behind it makes sense: Gliding tiny needles over the skin breaks down collagen bundles in the top layer of the dermis, which are responsible for those uneven scars. It also stimulates the repair process by immediately boosting the production of more collagen. The result? Plumper, more even skin texture and tone, plus less obvious scarring.
So how can you benefit from micro-needling for acne scars? If you plan to do it at home, first you'll need a derma-roller—a drum-shaped device with a handle and teeny-tiny stainless steel needles sticking out of it that usually come in sizes between 0.25 and three millimeters long. After cleansing and (mildly) exfoliating your skin, you gently roll them over your scars, and as you do, the needles penetrate the epidermis, creating itty-bitty micro-injuries that stimulate this collagen process. The procedure is gentle, painless, and doesn't break the skin.
To make the treatment even more effective, you can combine it with a complementary serum. After cleansing (but before rolling), apply a collagen-boosting serum containing ingredients like hyaluronic acid, stem cells, or peptides.
Founder and CEO of Stacked Skincare, Kerry Benjamin, told us last year, “These are the types of ingredients that will really maximize the effects of micro-needling to stimulate collagen, speed up cell turnover, lift hyperpigmentation, smooth out fine lines, firm, plump, and hydrate." After you're finished rolling, follow up with another layer of serum, or for extra exfoliating power (and if your skin can handle it), a retinol product.
As for what size needles to choose: For shallow acne scars, you'll want a derma-roller with one-millimeter needles, and for deeper scars, one and a half millimeters would be best. For the one-millimeter roller, move through your routine once every 10 to 14 days, and for the one-and-a-half, every three to four weeks.
The science speaks for itself: After several months of consistent use, your scars should drastically improve, revealing the glowy, even skin texture you were always meant to have.
El-Domyati M, Barakat M, Awad S, Medhat W, El-Fakahany H, Farag H. Microneedling therapy for atrophic acne scars: an objective evaluation. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2015;8(7):36‐42.