Cosmetic vs Medical Micro-Needling
I started to add cosmetic micro-needling to our services menu, when it occurred to me - most people don’t know what cosmetic needling is. Most of you probably know what micro-needling is, but do you know the benefits of cosmetic vs medical micro-needling? All of the jargon gets confusing and what you really need to know is how each benefits YOU. I hope this post helps!
There are OH SO MANY micro-needling devices available. Dermarollers use wheels of needles while micro-needling pens have cartridges with a cluster of needles at the tip. Both work by causing an injury to the skin to stimulate the growth of new collagen and elastin, our skin’s scaffolding. Increased collagen and elastin improves the appearance of scars and wrinkles. To learn more, read our blog post, What is micro-needling? | 3 Ways It Can Improve Your Skin!
What are some advantages of micro-needling? Microneedling is cost-effective, and can be done in areas where chemical peels or laser resurfacing cannot – like around the eyes or mouth. It’s well tolerated by patients and has minimal downtime. Better yet, it is easily individualized. So areas with skin damage that require a more aggressive approach can be treated with a longer needle.
Micro-needling - sometimes you'll hear it called collagen induction therapy - is a simple, fast and safe treatment for wrinkles and scars. Because the top layer of skin, the epidermis, stays intact, the procedure can be repeated safely. It’s widely used to improve fine lines, wrinkles, skin texture, and acne scars.
When a micro-needling device is used with topical serums, the skin’s absorption of vitamins, enzymes, lipids, and other ingredients is enhanced. The repair process begins almost immediately.
Micro-needling also helps smooth small, thin wrinkles, like those around the eyes, and “does a very nice job” on upper-lip wrinkles, says Tina A. Alster, an Associate Professor of Dermatology at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.
The FDA Defines 2 Types of Micro-needling: Medical & Cosmetic.
Medical Micro-needling (any needle length greater than 0.3 mm)
Medical micro-needling is done in a doctor’s office and goes deeper than cosmetic needling. It is done at a depth of greater than 0.3 mm and can only be done by a medical esthetician, nurse or doctor.
Treatment at a doctor’s office with a medical-grade device costs anywhere from $250 - $1,000 depending on where you live and the qualifications of the person doing the treatment.
During the procedure, there may be pinpoint bleeding. Afterward, your skin looks red and slightly puffy.
Unlike laser resurfacing, an older procedure where healing can take a week or more, medical micro-needling offers a quick recovery. Down time is usually about one day. Learn more in our blog post, Why is a micro-needling pen better than other methods of skin restoration?
Medical grade micro-needling pens, like the SkinPen by Bellus Medical, create hundreds of vertical microscopic channels in the skin. These pens are motorized and allow precise control of the needle depth – from 0.25 to 2.5 mm. A thin layer of hyaluronic acid is applied to your skin, and the practitioner selects the depth needed. The pen is gently moved across your skin until the treatment area has been covered. Topical lidocaine cream makes the procedure virtually painless.
The pens have an ergonomic design that can be used to treat your entire face and those small, hard-to-reach areas. The sides of the nose, above and below the eyes, and the upper and lower lip can all be difficult to treat with other devices.
Medical needling is being used for acne scars, fine lines, skin tightening, and to shrink pores. The face, neck, and chest are the most treated areas, although the pens can be used all over the body.
- 3 - 4 treatments are recommended for mild to moderate acne scarring
- deeper scars and stretch marks require 6 treatments.
- 4 - 6 week intervals between treatments is recommended
- maintenance treatments are recommended every 6 - 12 months
“Microneedling is a safe, chemical-free method that triggers new collagen production,” says Beverly Hills, Nurse and Aesthetic Trainer, Sylvia Silvestri, RN. “Because it can be performed on all skin colors and types, it is sometimes the preferred treatment over laser as there is no risk of burning the patient.”
Washington D.C., Dermatologist, Cheryl Burgess, M.D., is a big proponent of medical micro-needling and has seen positive results with darker skin types. “In my experience, there is minimal postinflammatory hyperpigmentation,” she says. (Post inflammatory hyperpigmentation is skin darkening as a reaction to skin damage. To learn more, read our blog post, What are hypo and hyperpigmentation? Why do some people get color changes with skin treatments?)
Several published studies have shown that medical micro-needling is effective for acne scars. The technique works great for sunken areas on the skin caused by acne, but not for deep, narrow “ice pick” scars, says New York Dermatologist, Doris Day. Dr. Day says she generally sees a 60% to 70% improvement in broad acne scars with four to six treatments.
Medical micro-needling is considered a safe skin treatment when performed by a medical aesthetician, nurse, or physician. It should not be confused with the cosmetic / home needling devices that are available.
Cosmetic Micro-Needling (0.3 mm needle length or shorter)
Cosmetic / home needling dermarollers with short, fine needles 0.2 mm long - in combination with proper training - can be used daily to reduce pore size, oil production, fine lines, and to enhance delivery and effectiveness of skincare products.
Dermarolling at home has potential risks. “The biggest issue we see is that people use topicals immediately after rolling,” says dermatologist Michael Gold, MD, a consultant to EndyMed Medical. “That can cause problems.” While certain products are approved for use with a micro-needling, there are a lot that should not be used. “You’re opening channels to your skin, allowing product to penetrate deeply,” he says. “Any time you do that, you’re open to the risk of irritation and infection on a deeper level.”
And Dr. Adam Friedman, an associate professor of dermatology and director of translational research at George Washington University, agrees. Micro-needling does allow better penetration of vitamins and nutrients. BUT it also lets in potential irritants and allergens. “There’s always the potential to do more harm than good,” Dr. Friedman says. “Aftercare is as important as the treatment itself.”
When misuse of a product causes a reaction below the skin’s surface, it is much harder to treat.
In the January, 2014, issue of JAMA Dermatology, scientists from the University of Utah discuss three allergic reactions following spa treatments. These treatments included micro-needling, a Vitamin C serum, and other skin-care products. The women got itchy, disfiguring rashes that lasted as long as a year, says co-author Douglas Powell, Associate Clinical Professor of Dermatology.
Avoid skin care products that have not been tested and found safe for use with micro-needling.
Another problem: Most people do not know proper cosmetic dermarolling technique. Needle size is important when purchasing a dermaroller. “Once you get longer needles (used in medical micro-needling), there’s a pain aspect to it,” Gold says. “Longer needles also open the skin to infection more than shorter ones, and they can affect the contours of your face.”
Some of the home micro-needling devices have not undergone needed Food and Drug Administration review. Some simple medical devices can be exempt from FDA review if they are equivalent to a device that is already exempt.
Robin Black, the makeup artist at BeautyIs Boring.com, micro-needles at home. Before she started, she got a professional tutorial from her esthetician, Kerry Benjamin:
“I always advise my clients to purchase devices and get training from a professional on the proper technique,” Benjamin says. “Also, it’s important to learn how to care for your device and properly cleanse it, as well as know when to replace it.”
You can get great results with cosmetic/home dermarolling!
At-home models are widely available online for $20 to $125. Dermatologists recommend consulting a medical professional before micro-needling at home and only using needles 0.2 mm long. It is important to thoroughly wash the face first with soap and water, followed by use of a quality needling device. Dull needles, or somewhat skewed needles, can result in skin damage.
Jennifer Aniston, voted People Magazine’s Most Beautiful Woman in the WORLD for 2016, does cosmetic rolling at home. She was interviewed by the Associated Press. Here's an excerpt:
"AP: You’re a beauty pitchwoman. What’s the weirdest beauty regimen you’ve tried?"
"Aniston: I don’t go out too crazy. You mean like did I ever put leeches on my face? …The closest I’ll ever go is a derma-roller. Google it – it’s great. It’s like a little wheel that has little pins, like acupuncture needles in a way, and you roll it and it stimulates your collagen and it also allows for your products to seep into your skin."
According to plasticsurgerypractice.com, micro-needling is poised to explode. We should expect to see more studies that confirm the results that medical professionals are seeing in their practices.
Learn More About Micro-Needling:
Amy Takken, RN
Amy Takken is a registered nurse with 20+ years of experience helping people improve their health. Her in-depth skincare articles have been featured on Nazarian Plastic Surgery and The Palm Beach Center for Facial Plastic & Laser Surgery. She's also been quoted on Dermascope.com.
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If you liked this post, you'll LOVE these:
Setterfield, L. (2013). The Concise Guide to Dermal Needling: Expanded Medical Edition. Canada: Acacia Dermacare.
https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamadermatology/fullarticle/1783057 Facial Allergic Granulomatous Reaction and Systemic Hypersensitivity Associated With Microneedle Therapy for Skin Rejuvenation
The Information provided on our website is not medical advice and should not be viewed as such. By law, only a medical doctor can diagnose or give medical advice. As a registered nurse, my goal is to educate, so I provide information on skin care, skin care products, and skin care treatments. If you have any condition that concerns you, please see a medical doctor. While most skin conditions are benign, some – like melanoma – can be deadly. If there is any doubt, please, please consult your physician. Thank you!