When you first hear about Microneedling, it sounds like some ancient, secret skin rejuvenating technique, used for centuries to smooth the skin of the rich and powerful royalty in ancient Rome, Egypt or China. Somewhat of a legend, like bathing in milk – intriguing, simple, and actually effective – only to lose its momentum in popularity through the ages as modern medicine brought us more sophisticated, complicated and expensive cosmetic procedures. However, although Microneedling is a simply fantastic skin rejuvenator, it has really only been brewing into the current “miracle” skin treatment it is today for the past 25 years or so!
Microneedling is one of the hottest and most effective office based skin rejuvenation procedures in plastic surgery today. This non-destructive, naturopathic-like treatment actually harnesses the skin’s very own power to naturally rejuvenate, smooth and tone up itself!
Way back in the 1950’s, Dr. Michael Pistor recognized the possibilities for “percutaneous collagen induction”, discovering that the skin could be “stimulated” with needles to increase its collagen content. Still, it took another 30 – 40 years for this discovery to be recognized for its potentially tremendous practical relevance and the powerful utility it could have for cosmetic purposes.
In the 1980’s, Dr. Phillip Simonin successfully used an “electroidopuncture” technique to trick scar tissue into smoothing and thinning itself without having to resort to any potentially harmful lasers, destructive chemicals, injections or surgery.
In the 1990’s, Montreal plastic surgeon Dr. Andre Camirand came up with a fascinating idea for treating troublesome facial scars – he camouflaged the scars by tattooing them with flesh-colored pigment! Imagine his surprise when he discovered that the scars gained significant improvement in smoothness, flatness, and invisibility whether he used pigment in the tattoo needles or not! Around this same time at an international plastic surgery symposium South African dermatologist Dr. Des Fernandez unveiled a special needling “roller” he had developed for his patients. He showed plastic surgeons that for the first time ever they could reliably and effectively smooth out the fine lines and wrinkles around the lips (so-called “smoker’s lines”) with this needle roller alone – and with some very good long-term results! No lasers, no chemicals, no injections, no surgery. Just this intriguing “needling” process coaxing the skin to tighten and smooth on its own!
But it remained for medical research and technology to catch up with all this and develop the actual equipment that would allow for the performing of professional level medical Microneedling in a highly efficient, effective, reproducible and consistent manner. That technology has arrived!
Pen-like devices, completely automatic and adjustable for proper depth and speed, are now used by certified aestheticians around the world to perform professional medical Microneedling in the offices of plastic surgeons today. Supertiny needles, much smaller than those used for Botox® or fillers, are used to create acupuncture -like microscopic channels into the skin. These microperforations are designed to penetrate through the outer, superficial layer of the skin (the epidermis) into a slightly deeper layer (the dermis) just underneath. Nothing is actually injected; the procedure is simply the needle action itself which in turn immediately stimulates the dermis to release certain special active biomolecules into the surrounding skin. Early on, collagen production is jumpstarted into high gear in reaction. Collagen is the main structural component of the skin providing firmness, body, shape, fullness, and overall smoothness. It is not hard to understand how boosting collagen production, especially in an area where it has been noticeably lacking, would result in significant improvements! Millions of dollars have been spent trying to get collagen into the skin when evidently all we had to do was convince the skin to make more on its own! There is also a burst release of several important skin growth factors. The increased circulating amounts of these growth factors contributes to skin smoothing and makes the skin softer as well. These growth factors are also responsible for improving firmness and tone by increasing the elastin content, which helps to tighten up and snug up laxity in the skin. Doctors and patients alike love the idea of getting these nice changes for the skin without the risks of harsh chemicals (e.g. chemical peels), thermal damage/injury (e.g. lasers) or invasive surgery(and scars!). Quick, safe, and effective, there is really not much of a recovery or “downtime” to speak of with Microneedling – perhaps 24-48 hours of some redness. Visible improvements in lines and wrinkles with better skin tone can be seen in just 1- 2 weeks! Results and improvements will become even more obvious in 3-4 weeks. In fact, after a series of Microneedling treatments the visible remodeling improvements in the skin actually continue for some 6 – 12 months!
This procedure is taking off in popularity because it so easy to have done and offers such pleasing results at minimal risk. Considering that it works in a very natural sort of way (with the body, not against it) and that Microneedling is relatively inexpensive compared to other options only adds to its allure. But there’s more: Microneedling can be performed with safety on almost any area of the body in addition to the face (e.g. back of the hands, or loose lower abdominal, inner thigh or upper arm skin) and any skin type (e.g. darkly pigmented or very thin skin). This is not true for almost every other option. A consult with a board certified plastic surgeon and a certified aesthetician is the most important first step and best way of exploring what Microneedling could accomplish for any given individual.
Treatment Capabilities of Professional Microneedling:
- Crêpe-like skin; overly thin, wrinkly skin
- Décolletage (lower neck / upper chest) area wrinkling, lines or grooves
- Lower abdomen skin laxity
- Inner upper arm skin laxity
- Inner thigh skin laxity
- Lax, loose skin almost anywhere
- Burn scars, surgery scars, traumatic scars, acne scars, “ice pick” scars
- Hyperpigmentation (dark pigmentations) areas
- Splotchy pigments
- Dyschromia (irregular, uneven pigmentations)
- Fine lines, deeper lines, wrinkles, folds almost anywhere
- Large pores can be diminished
- Rough, weathered skin can be smoothed
- Improved elasticity, with firmer, tighter and better toned skin
- Healthier glow; improved radiance to the skin
- “Smoker’s lines” and other lines, grooves around the mouth and lips
- Stretch marks can be reduced, diminished
- Hair production for the scalp with male pattern baldness (androgenic alopecia)
- Possible decrease oil production for greasy or oily prone skin
Microneedling Skin Rejuvenation (MNSR) vs. Laser Comparison
|Downtime||24 – 48 hours||1 -2 weeks|
|Potential side effects/complications||Minimal||Look at the consent form!|
|Discomfort||Minimal||Definitely not minimal!|
|Safety||Very high, few variable factors||Moderate; many variable factors|
|Stimulation of dermis||Comparable||Comparable|
|Skin/tissue contraction, improved tone||Comparable||Comparable|
|Skin heals from “inside out”||Comparable||Comparable|
|Better smoothness, texture||Comparable||Comparable|
|Trauma/damage to skin cells/tissue||Minimal||Considerable|
|Risk for burns||None||Significant|
|Risk for eye injury||None||Significant|
|Repeat as desired||Every 1 – 2 weeks or even sooner is OK||Wait of 3 – 6 months or longer highly recommended|
|Regional (partial) facial area use||Excellent, often recommended||Risky for demarcation; not recommended|
|Use anywhere on the body||Yes – face, neck, chest, hands, arms, legs, abdomen, etc.||Face only; possibly neck – that’s it|
|Inflammation, redness, etc.||Minimal||Significant|
|Safe for dark skin types||Yes||No|
|Safe for thin skin||Yes||No|
|Risk for pigment changes||Minimal||Moderate to significant risk for both increasing a/o decreasing pigment color|
|Average treatment time (one session)||1 hour or less||1 – 2 hours|
|Repair/recovery||100% natural form of skin renewal||Traumatic repair/recovery from a significant injury|
|Skin shedding/peeling after treatment||None||Often significant|
|Can see early results||At 1 – 2 weeks||At 3 – 4 weeks|
|See more definitive results||At 3 – 4 months||Comparable at 3 – 4 months|
|Long term benefits/results||At 6 – 12 months||Comparable at 6 – 12 months|
|Number of treatments recommended||4 – 6||1 – 2|
|Use of topical skin care product “boosts” for special effects||Yes||unknown|
Dr. Lyle Back is originally from New York City, receiving his medical and surgical training at Rutgers Medical School, Cooper Hospital – University Medical Center, and Ohio State. He is Board Certified in General Surgery (ABS) and Plastic Surgery (ABPS). He is a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons (ACS), the American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery (AACS), and a longstanding member of the premier American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS). He served as a Professor of Plastic Surgery at Temple University and St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children and performed reconstructive surgery with “Operation Smile” in Vietnam. He specializes in the full range of the most modern and state of the art facial cosmetic surgery procedures and non-surgical cosmetic enhancement techniques available today.