They say it’s the little things that matter, and that’s certainly true when it comes to evaluating the differences between skin treatments – especially when those treatments use needles. In this case, we’re talking about the increasingly popular routines featuring derma roller devices, as well as in-office derma-stamping treatments.
If you’re uncertain about the difference between these two trendy treatments, we don’t blame you. They’re very similar: Both fall under the umbrella of microneedling, and both are what’s called “collagen induction therapy,” says Dr. Anne Chapas, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Union Square Laser DermatologyTM. Simply put, the needles and the holes they poke create a small trauma to the skin. This helps prompt more collagen production and, in some cases, allows for better penetration of topical products.
[Editor’s note: As always, talk to your doctor before starting or stopping any new treatment, medication, or supplement.]
What Exactly is Dermarolling?
When you hear about dermarollers, chances are it’s about the little devices you can buy for at-home use that have tiny needles around a wheel. (Honestly, they almost look like a lawn aerator!) Some add red LED light for extra firming benefits. Our favorite is the Sdara Derma Roller, which retails on Amazon for just $16.00.
More: Our guide to the best derma rollers
With each stroke, the needles – which are typically quite short on-at-home devices – prick the skin, creating just enough irritation. This prompts the skin to create new collagen, explains Dr. Estee Williams, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. The result: smoother, more radiant skin overall, with minimal downtime.
While you can find plenty of gushing reviews online for these rollers, most dermatologists are dubious about how efficacious they truly are – especially given the lack of hard data and the risks involved with DIY micro-needling.
What are the Risks of At-home Dermarolling?
To be clear, using them is generally safe: it’s overuse that doctors fret over, be it too many times in one week or just too many passes of the roller over the same patch of skin. (A good rule of thumb is to start treating your skin once a month, working your way up to no more than two or three times a week.) This can damage the skin and cause broken capillaries, notes Dr. Chapas, so it’s vital to understand your own skin and how it reacts to the micro-trauma of the rolling. Not only that but when you use a roller, the needle is entering the skin at a slight angle. This means it may be more likely to damage the skin.
Of course, this is an essential part of the process, but there’s a fine line between “good” damage and over-damage. Again, those with sensitive skin should DIY with caution. If you have acne, eczema, psoriasis, or other inflammatory skin conditions, steer clear of the rollers, since they can actually make things worse.
Another big issue: cleanliness. In a licensed provider’s office, the device would be sterile, but what’s the status of your sanitation system at home? You must clean the roller well after every single use so it doesn’t spread bacteria and cause infection. “There was a report of a woman who spread the chickenpox virus to her face from her chest through the use of a roller device,” warns Dr. Chapas. Simple rubbing alcohol gets the job done to disinfect your device.
How Effective is DIY Dermarolling?
Like many at-home skincare treatments, dermarolling is not a one-and-done solution. People typically see results over time, and to see noticeable results, you will need multiple treatments over several months. “These results will vary, depending on your skin elasticity and the amount of skin damage you are trying to correct,” says Dr. Chapas.
It’s also important to consider that the longer the needles on your device, the more efficacious the treatment will be, as longer needles induce more trauma to the skin. The more trauma, the more of a response your body will provide to stimulate more collagen production. Most DIY tools will have short needles because they’re safer for at-home use. If a dramatic result is what you’re after, you may want to look into dermastamping.
What is Dermastamping?
Whereas rollers can be used at home, on yourself, and by yourself, dermastamping is something that only your doctor (or, in some states, a nurse or aesthetician) can do. It involves a special handheld tool with miniature needles on a spring-loaded or motor-operated head, which pushes the needles straight down into the skin.
The needles move extremely quickly in and out of the skin, says Dr. Williams, and because they enter straight up and down, there is less risk of unwanted damage. The devices usually have an adjustable depth, something your provider can tweak based on your needs and skin type. In some states, aestheticians and other non-physician skincare professionals are limited to devices with shorter needle lengths.
How does Dermastamping Work?
When pressed into the skin, the device creates tiny punctures that work to stimulate your body’s natural production of collagen and elastin, and some providers also use it to “push-in” substances, such as antioxidants or growth factors. Doctors recommend them for people seeking to improve mild textural issues, acne scarring, and some pigmentation problems, says Dr. Williams. However, “There’s some debate about whether the results are long-lasting or just inducing some mild swelling that temporarily improves the skin’s appearance,” says Dr. Chapas.
Dermastamping can also be taken to the next level by combining it with other therapies. Some providers may also offer dermastamping paired with radiofrequency, says Dr. Williams. For this treatment, the needles not only wound the skin, they also heat it up. The procedure is called “RF microneedling” and a few models exist, such as IntensifTM, InfiniTM, SecretRFTM, and FractoraTM. The combination of the two treatments can deliver more powerful results.
What Can I Expect When Getting Dermastamped?
Depending on what you’re treating, most providers recommend multiple treatments spaced about three to eight weeks apart each time. According to Dr. Williams, the level of discomfort is quite mild. In fact, many providers treat their patients without applying any numbing cream ahead of time.
Like many medical aesthetics treatments, the cost of in-office dermastamping can vary dramatically, depending on the area(s) being treated, as well as the training level and expertise of your practitioner. Interested in learning more about types of microneedling treatments? Once you’ve read this primer on microneedling and skin of color, consult with our trained aesthetic specialists, who can answer questions you may have about the procedure.
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