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Microneedling promises youthful skin but should not be attempted at home

Charlotte Hilton Andersen is the author of the book The Great Fitness Experiment: One Year of Trying Everything and runs the popular health and fitness website of the same name, where she tries out a new workout every month, specializing...

Microneedling might actually be a good idea as long as you don't try to DIY it

Using tiny needles in any beauty treatment sounds more like torture than beauty but then don't a lot of cosmetic treatments fit that description?

The ancient practice of microneedling — using a phalanx of thin, short needles to pierce the skin — is seeing a major resurgence right now. But while it may seem seriously scary at first, it may have real benefits, says Delphine Lee, M.D., Ph.D., a dermatologist at the John Wayne Cancer Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California.

"I call it the 'poor man's laser treatment' as it's really just an alternate method of skin rejuvenation," Lee says. All it is, she explains, is using teeny-tiny needles to deliver different types of medicine under the skin. "When you poke holes in skin, you've created a place for topicals to penetrate more deeply," she says.

This method increases the effectiveness of anti-aging topical solutions including bleach creams, vitamin C, hyaluronic acid (a plumping agent) and acne medications. But perhaps the most extreme example is the "vampire facial", where the person's own platelet-rich plasma is extracted from their blood then micro-injected back into their skin. Doing it this way allows for growth factors in the blood plasma to stimulate collagen production under the skin, where they're most powerful, to produce younger-looking skin, according to Lee.

But... dozens of needle pricks? You're probably wondering two things right about now: Does it hurt and does it really work?

No and yes, Lee says. "You're not piercing very deeply so it isn't painful," she explains. "And recent research shows that microneedling compares favorably with other methods of skin rejuvenation." She points to two new studies showing its effectiveness in treating acne scarring and skin pigmentation problems. Using microneedling, according to the studies, gets results similar to those you'd get from a laser but with lower costs, a quicker healing time and lower risks of additional scarring. It also appears to help reduce fine lines, sun damage and dark spots, she says, but to expect relatively subtle results for these.

More: 7 steps to the ultimate facial for glowing skin

If you want to try it, stick with a board-certified dermatologist, Lee cautions. There has been an explosion in at-home microneedling kits recently — you either use a strip of plastic that looks like a cross between Velcro and a spiky Band-Aid or a spiked roller to press serums into your skin, which she sees as dangerous.

"I'm not fond of people puncturing their skin at home as it could easily introduce infectious agents, a complication that can be especially devastating on the face," she explains. "You could get viruses, bacteria and slow-growing microbes stuck under your skin and you might not even know the extent of the problem until years later."

More: Easy DIY beauty and skin tips

She adds that metal needles are more effective than plastic and that needling strips should not be reused without being thoroughly sterilized. In addition, microneedling should only be used with certain topical solutions. For instance, you don't want to inject moisturizers under your skin (a popular suggestion on blogs) as they could be irritating and only the top layer of your skin really needs to be moisturized as it's the only part exposed to the elements. It also wouldn't work for things like wrinkle fillers or Botox as they need targeted localized injections.

Bottom line: There's a reason microneedling has been around for centuries. If you have the money and don't have a phobia of needles, it can help achieve small anti-aging benefits for your skin and may be quite helpful in reducing scarring and discoloration. But always seek the advice of a dermatologist and don't try to DIY this.

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