Ever heard the word “microneedling” and wondered what it means? Or came across a scary-looking device called the “derma roller” and wondered what it is? What it’s used for? Or, how it works?
Don’t worry, this post is a detailed layman’s explanation of all you need to know about how microneedling with the derma roller works.
Before going straight into the core of things, let’s do some clarification.
The name derma roller is used to refer to a small handheld device used for performing a procedure called Microneedling. Derma roller is also called by different names, some of which are: micro-needle, skin-roller and skin-needle.
Microneedling is the procedure for using the derma roller on the skin. It is professionally known as Collagen Induction Therapy (CIT) or Percutaneous Collagen Induction (PCI). It’s also often called Dermarolling, Microneedling Therapy and Medical Skin Needling.
So, throughout this post, I will stick with derma roller as the name of the device and microneedling as the name of the procedure.
Now, let’s get into the core of this post.
What is a Derma Roller?
A derma-roller may be described as a small roller device studded with carefully arranged tiny needles of the same length and attached to a handle meant to be rolled on the skin for beneficial effects.
Sounds IRONIC, right?! I thought so too as a novice.
But you see – this scary-looking thing can do lots of good stuffs to your skin than you could ever imagined.
It’s normal for many intending users to wonder how this sort of device with plenty needles be beneficial to their skin when rolled on it. Many even consider it a torture device for obvious reason and find it hard to understand how in the world would anyone want to use such on their skin for whatever reason.
From experience, since being in position where I talk people into using the derma roller to fix a range of skin issues, I have realized that the fear, hesitation and skepticism associated with derma roller use for many intending users were due to lack of the understanding of the science behind the working of the device and how immensely their skin can benefit from it.
Shedding light on this seemingly dark side to microneedling is the basis for this post. So, sit back and relax while l explain, with an analogy, all you need to know about how microneedling works and how your skin can benefit from it.
The Science Behind Microneedling
As said in the opening paragraph of this article, derma roller is used for a procedure professionally known as Microneedling, CIT, PCI, etc. At this point, it’s apt to explain what Microneedling means.
NOTE: It’s important to state here that derma roller is not the only device used for PCIT. Derma pen and stamps are also used. While derma rollers are mechanical, derma pen and stamps are automated.
Microneedling is a minimally-invasive cosmetic procedure. It’s done by repeatedly puncturing the skin in a controlled manner so as to trigger the body’s natural wound healing process which then triggers the release of body growth factors that lead to the production and remodeling of collagen and elastin at the affected area.
Lost!? Don’t be. All the explanation you need to understand this better has been done below. Just read on.
Now that we know or at least, have an idea of what microneedling is and that dermaroller is used to perform it, let’s go straight into details on how everything comes together to make sense.
Recall a derma roller is a roller device studded with many tiny needles. When these needles are rolled on the skin, they penetrate the skin and create micro punctures (channels) on the skin, (scared? Don’t be). These punctures are so small that they are difficult to see with bare eyes but are considered enough trauma to trigger a reaction from the body. This reaction is the activation of the body’s natural wound healing mechanism.
The next question that naturally comes to mind is:
What Is The Body’s Natural Wound Healing Mechanism/Process?
Wound healing mechanism/process here is the natural process the skin goes through to heal itself when a wound occurs. It’s a natural bodily reaction to derma (tissue) wound and it involves a complex interplay among several cells types such as cytokines, fibroblasts, keratinocytes, macrophages, neutrophils, platelets, endothelial cells, myofibroblast, etc. 1, 2, 3, 4.
Ever wondered how those small cuts you get on your skin get healed without you paying attention to them or applying anything on them? That’s the work of the body’s natural wound healing mechanism/process.
For those who don’t know, the human skin is not just a mere covering for our body flesh but a vital part of our well-being and a protector for our internal tissues and entire body. Apart from being the largest organ of the human body, with a surface area of about 20 square feet in adults, the skin is our shield from adverse environmental conditions and factors such as pathogens, chemical pollutions, Sun UV-ray, etc. 1, 2.
As the body’s first point of protection from adverse environmental factors, our skin was designed to be without any cut or opening (wound) where pathogens or external elements could penetrate into our body. And to effectively play this protective role, our skin was also designed with an action plan to always heal itself whenever a wound occurs. 1, 2, 3. 123
This action plan is what is referred to as the wound healing mechanism/process and it’s a three-phase self-healing process that is triggered when a wound occurs especially when the wound reaches the second layer (the dermis) and below. 1, 2.
Wound Healing and The Human Skin
The human skin has three (3) layers:
The Epidermis (the outer layer that we can see and touch and contains the primary protective structure called the stratum corneum).
The Dermis (a fibrous layer that supports and strengthens the epidermis that is just above it), and
The Subcutis, Hypodermis or Subcutaneous layer (a layer of fat just beneath the dermis that supplies nutrients to the other two layers and that cushions and insulates the body). 1.
Now, when a wound affects only the outer layer (the epidermis), this is considered a surface wound or a minor scratch and does not trigger the body’s full natural wound healing process. Such scratches usually result in dead skin cells that flake off with time.
But when a wound goes deeper than the epidermis and reaches the dermis and below (tissue wound), then our body is forced to react immediately by activating the three-phase natural wound healing processes which are: 1. The Inflammatory, 2. The Proliferative, and 3. The Maturation phase.
The Three Phases of Wound Healing In Summary
The Inflammation Phase: This phase takes place from the 1st to the 3rd day of wounding. It is characterized by edema (swollenness), erythema (superficial reddening), pain, and heat. It involves the presence of different types of white blood cells reaching the wound site to destroy bacteria, clear off debris and attract immune cells to facilitate tissue repair. This stage essentially prepares the wound bed for the growth of new tissue.
If you have had a wound before, I am sure you would remember this phase because I do.
The Proliferative Phase: This phase begins from the 3rd day of wounding and last for more than two weeks. It consists mainly of the activities of fibroblasts and involves the growth of new blood vessel as loops filling up the wound with healthy and newly formed connective tissue in the form of granules hence they are called granulation tissue. The newly formed tissue temporary consists of (type iii) collagen and elastin and constitutes part of the extracellular matrix. Re-epithelialization (covering of the wound bed) is a key event that also happens during this phase.
The Maturation Phase: This phase can last anywhere from 21 days to upward of 2 years depending on various factors and can vary from individual to individual. During this phase, the wound has been replaced with new dermal tissues and blood vessels. The type iii collagen formed at the proliferation phase is replaced by a stronger and flexible type 1 collagen which can contract to create a tightening on the skin. Collagen fibres are remodeled, realigned along the line of tension and become mature with an overall increase in tensile strength. 1, 2.
It’s easy for me to assume that everyone who reads the above summary of the three (3) phases of the wound healing process would understand what those activities translate to, but chances are most people would just read them but would never truly understand what happens during these phases.
So, below, I will attempt a lay man’s explanation that would help you truly understands the activities of the three (3) phases of wound healing above as well as help you see how the affected area of the skin benefits from the whole process. Just read on…
Wound Healing Process Re-Explained With An Analogy
Using the summary of the 3 phases of wound healing above, let me re-explain the wound healing process with the use of an analogy. This analogy likens wound healing to re-erecting/mending or renovating a broken part of, say, a 25-year old concrete fence built to secure a house.
Think about this as the fence of the building where you currently live.
For many people, the fence of a house is literally supposed to keep the house safe from unauthorized entry or invasion. If this is the purpose for erecting a fence round a house, then the fence must stand upright and solid with no part of it broken at any time so as to be able to perform its function effectively.
However, as days, months and years pass by, exposure to changing and unfavorable environmental conditions coupled with other factors such as use, contact with different human and non human objects, aging, etc. would cause the materials used in erecting the fence to start deteriorating in quality and strength. Its firmness would therefore inevitably begins to weaken from wear (this is what happens to our skin as we grow old too).
25 years down the line, even if the fence is still standing, it would be characterized by both visible and invisible signs of deterioration such as cracks, defacement, holes, splits, weakness, etc.
On the human skin, these signs of deterioration are scars, stretch marks, pimples, acne , black spots, wrinkles, aging, enlarged pores, rough skin texture, blemishes, sun damaged, hyper-pigmentation, discoloration, melasma, etc.
Now, if one day an accident occurs or let’s say a vehicle accidentally ran into the fence and broke a portion of the fence (wound), then the owner(s) of the house must respond immediately to mobilize human and materials resources needed to mend/repair the broken portion (wound healing response) otherwise the security of the house would be in jeopardy and the purpose of erecting the fence in the first place would have been defeated.
The Inflammatory Phase
To mend the broken portion of the fence, the following would likely need to be done; Builders would be mobilized to the site of the accident with necessary tools and would, among other things likely do the followings: carefully look at how the damage occurred, break out the weak parts that are still hanging around the affected portion, make sure the broken pieces (debris) are packed away from the site, and maybe re-dig the foundation. They would also ensure that the two upright edges to the right and left of the broken portion are trimmed so the mending to be done would fit well.
This preparation is similar to the activities of white blood cells at the site of a new wound. They prepare the wound bed for the repair that is to follow (The Inflammatory Phase).
The Proliferative Phase
During this phase, new building materials as well as working materials to be used for the reconstruction are brought to the site of the accident (blocks/bricks, iron, cements, gravel, water, sand, etc.). Then the services of different skilled workers such as ironworkers, carpenter, mason/bricklayers, and so on are employed to lay the foundation, replace all broken and worn out materials with new ones, arrange/align the blocks and hold them in their proper places with concrete, etc. In summary; the wall is mended by these skilled workers using new building materials.
This is much the same way the activities of fibroblasts and the growth of new blood vessel lead to the formation and reconstruction/remodeling of new tissue, collagen, elastin and keratin on a wound site (The Proliferative Phase).
The Maturation Phase
The wall is then plastered with cement and dressed. Finishing touches are put and it then get dry and become solid. Then, the mended portion of the fence alone is re-painted in the same color as the rest part. At this phase, things have been fitted well in their proper positions, they get solid and become beautiful much the same way the type iii collagen are replaced by better and stronger type i collagen and become mature (The Maturation Phase).
Laughs… Ok, maybe not the best of analogies but my hope is that the picture I tried painting is clearly seen and the message is well passed. So, let’s move forward.
In the above analogy, the fence is the human skin while the house (with the owner) is the human body. The accident on the fence is a wound while the response by the house owner to mend the broken portion of the fence is the body’s wound healing response, then the activities of the three (3) phases of wound healing together constitute the wound healing process.
Now, at the completion of the mending process, I am sure you would agree with me that the mended portion of the fence, other things being equal, would stand out both in appearance and strength from the whole. It would be more resilient to adverse environmental conditions because it has only recently been reconstructed with new building materials compared to the other parts of the fence that was erected 25 years ago and in a state of deterioration.
I also don’t need to mention the obvious fact that the mended portion would be fresh, smooth and beautiful with all previous signs of deterioration such as cracks, defacement, holes, splits, and weakness, etc. all gone.
This is similar to what the body’s natural wound healing process does to your skin when it healed from a tissue wound. Your skin goes through a total reconstruction/renovation process every time it heals from a tissue wound.
The same way new building materials are used to reconstruct the broken part of the fence in our analogy above, so are new tissue, blood vessel, collagen, elastin, keratin, etc. used to replace the old and torn ones in the reconstruction of the skin during wound-healing.
And this skin reconstruction/renovation that happens during wound healing is an effectively way to eliminate/fix/repair most beauty worries such as stretch marks, scars, sun damaged, aging, age spots, wrinkles, uneven skin tone, fine lines, skin discolorations, rough skin texture, burn scar, acne scars, black spot, blemishes, hyper/hypo-pigmentation, cellulite, hair loss, etc.
Now that we have seen that the wound healing process can do a great deal of repair to the skin, how nice would it be if we could make this wound healing process happen without “WOUNDING” our skin.
Wait! How about finding a way to activate this wound healing process that leads to skin Repair/renovation/reconstruction/regeneration without wounding the skin?
This is where microneedling with the derma roller comes into the picture.
Now, the most interesting part of this post.
How Microneedling Actually Works
Even with the skin repair, reconstruction and rejuvenation that come with the wound healing process hardly would anyone in her right mind want to cut her skin open (wound) just to activate the wound healing process to eliminate certain skin issues. But, microneedling let you have it both ways – the repair, reconstruction and rejuvenation that come with wound-healing without even wounding your skin.
Here is the thing…
When the derma roller is rolled repeatedly on an area of the skin, the needles penetrate the epidermis (outer layer), without damaging it, and prick the dermis (second/tissue layer) to create hundreds of micro punctures.
These pinpoint punctures on the dermis trick our body into believing that a tissue wound has occurred in that area. This then force our body to respond immediately by activating the body’s natural wound healing process in order to repair the area.
Once the body’s wound healing mechanism is activated, it sends out signals (like it does during real wounding) that leads to the release of various growth factors such as platelet derived growth factor (PGF), transforming growth factor alpha and beta (TGF-α and TGF-β), fibroblast growth factor (FGF), and many others.
These growth factors stimulate the migration and proliferation of fibroblasts that promote the formation of new natural collagen (neocollagenesis) and elastin (neoelastinogenesis) in the papillary dermis. Also, new capillaries or blood vessels are formed (neovascularisation).
These neocollagenesis, neoelastinogenesis and neovascularisation caused by microneedling leads to a total repair, remodeling, reconstruction and rejuvenation of the affected area by producing new natural collagen, elastin, blood vessels to replace the old and damaged ones and to regenerate smooth and flawless skin. 1, 2.
Apart from activating the body’s natural wound healing mechanism, the micro punctures (tiny holes/wounds) created by the derma roller also serve as channels for transporting skincare products into the dermis to boost their efficacy especially to support the process of new skin regeneration and rejuvenation.
When you derma-roll an area of the skin, the micro punctures (tiny holes) created by the derma roller on the skin serve as passage for skincare products into the dermis to boost their absorption and increase their efficacy by more than 10 times.
For this reason, whatever skincare product you apply after dermarolling would penetrate the skin, through the micro channels created by the roller needles, more than 10 times as it would otherwise do without dermarolling.
This is because as we grow old, our skin pores get clogged. This makes it difficult for skincare products to penetrate our skin’s outer layer (epidermis) to a depth where they can find expression and be effective or very effective. This explains why most topical skincare products are not very effective on most adults.
Therefore, applying a good, purposefully and well-formulated product after microneedling would really help to quicken the process of collagen and elastin formation as well as skin repair and regeneration. This is exactly what Re-FiXu oils were formulated to do.
Re-FiXu oils also help in speeding up the healing process as well as hydrates and keep the treated area moist for better and faster results.
But there’s a red flag:
Just the same way good skincare products would penetrate to a depth where they would be very efficacious, so would harmful and irritating products penetrate to a depth where their harmful effect become phenomenal if applied after microneedling.
So, you have to be careful with everything and anything that comes in contact with the treated area for up to at least 48 hours post rolling when the micro punctures start closing. That’s why you CAN’T use your normal cream or make-up for at least 2 days after rolling because they may contain irritating and or active ingredients.
For your own good, steer clear all forms of skincare products with irritating and or active agents (whether good or bad) until the micro channels have closed up totally which normally should take up to 72 hours (3 days) post treatment.
To be doubly assured that you’re on the safe side, just use Re-FiXu oil(s) that comes with our dermaroller alone. It is formulated to help the microneedling process and contains everything to help your skin after treatment.
The idea behind microneedling is to repair, regenerate, reconstruct, and rejuvenate the skin to eliminate skin issues such as stretch marks, scars, sun burn, signs of aging, age spot, wrinkles, black spot, discolorations, uneven tone, cellulite, etc. through the activation of the body’s natural wound healing mechanism.