What Is Microneedling? 2 Dermatologists Explain

They say beauty is pain, but how far are you willing to go in the name of good skin? Microneedling, a trendy skin-care treatment where — yup — tiny needles are applied to the face, might make you ponder that question a little harder. It's one thing to consider yourself an expert in at-home skin care; building out a multistep routine that actually works is an accomplishment worth celebrating. But once you step inside a dermatologist's office, it's a whole different ball game. Professional treatments are typically more potent and invasive, leading to steeper costs and more "extreme" application methods. On those fronts, microneedling is one worth talking about.

But what does microneedling do, you ask? Like any skin-care treatment, it has its nuances, pros, and cons. It also has a long list of potential benefits (i.e., reducing acne scars and signs of aging) that make it a celebrity go-to. But before taking the plunge, you might be looking to gather as much information as possible. What is microneedling, and is it really worth the hype (and the price)? Are the at-home tools just as good? And, is microneedling worth it, really?

We reached out to dermatologists Joshua Zeichner, MD, and Dhaval Bhanusali, MD, to answer our burning questions. Keep reading for the ultimate guide to microneedling.

What Is Microneedling?

In the most basic terms, microneedling procedures involve applying tiny needles to the skin. "The needles penetrate into the skin, creating a controlled wound and taking advantage of the skin's ability to heal itself afterward," Dr. Zeichner tells POPSUGAR. In other words, these small wounds — known as "microinjuries" — trigger the body to create new collagen. This is why microneedling is also called Collagen Induction Therapy.

How Does Microneedling Work?

When it comes to the application method (and who's behind the device), you've got options. Both Dr. Zeichner and Dr. Bhanusali note that aestheticians can perform microneedling treatments, but they're limited to the superficial improvements you might also achieve with at-home tools. Board-certified dermatologists, on the other hand, are able to perform treatments that penetrate deeper into the skin — and use it to maximum efficiency. "In our clinics, we [can] combine microneedling with a laser treatment as a combo, getting both deep and superficial improvement for patients," Dr. Bhanusali says.

The Benefits of Microneedling

Collagen is key when it comes to microneedling. The amount that's produced can minimize the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and acne scars, making it a popular choice for a variety of people. It can also address hyperpigmentation and improve the skin's overall tone and texture. But that's not all. Dr. Bhanusali looks to microneedling to treat scars on darker skin types, too. "Many lasers aren't appropriate due to risk of complication," he says.

How Much Does Microneedling Cost?

If you're planning on visiting a dermatologist for your microneedling treatment, it'll most likely be performed with a pen-like device that punctures the outer layer of the skin in a stamping motion. Some options even include adding energy-based radiofrequency to tighten the skin. The cost can vary based on a number of factors — location and intensity, for example — but typically runs between $500 and $1000 per treatment.

Does Microneedling Hurt and Is Microneedling Safe?

This depends on your pain tolerance level. Technically, you can get microneedling done on your lunch break, but downtime and healing depends on the intensity of your treatment. The skin will be inflamed and resemble a sunburn afterward. It can take up to a week to fully heal. "While the risks are minimal, any procedure creating open or raw skin may put you at risk for infection or scarring," Dr. Zeichner says.

Do at-Home Microneedling Treatments Work?

With all of this in mind, you might be wondering how at-home treatments — i.e., dermarollers and patches — compare, and whether or not they're safe. Both dermatologists agree that the improvements are modest and superficial, but they do work. "They are great in a pinch, but in the office, we are able to achieve better results with more aggressive and deeper treatments." Dr. Bhanusali says.

As for safety, Dr. Zeichner recommends being mindful of your skin's condition first: "Make sure you are applying [those treatments] to healthy, noninfected skin. Use roller devices cautiously as you do not want to put any tugging or tension on the skin."

Are Microneedling and Vampire Facials the Same?

It might sound like microneedling will leave your skin covered in blood (à la Kim Kardashian), but that's actually not the case. "Vampire" or Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP) facials are responsible for those photos, where blood is drawn from the arm, the platelets are separated, and then are reinjected into the skin. Although this can be performed without microneedling, the treatments are often done together, taking advantage of the open channels created by puncturing the skin with needles.

Microneedling Before-and-After Photos

Microneedling Results

Results are typically seen within a few weeks (or four to six weeks for scar treatments), and even just one treatment can be effective. "Many experts agree that a single treatment will give about a 25 percent improvement of skin tone and texture," Dr. Zeichner says. For optimal results, rejuvenation purposes, or scars, more treatments can be necessary.