How safe is at-home microneedling and what is the right and wrong skincare to combine it with?

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As soon as Trinny Woodall launched a punchy 0.5mm at-home microneedling roller the debate about whether this practice is really safe in our non-professional hands re-ignited. 

The beauty entrepreneur and founder of Trinny London skincare and makeup has for decades been a fan of the technique that, when done as a professional in-clinic treatment, punctures tiny channels into your skin in order to kick-start collagen production. Trinny told us that the collagen-stimulating benefits of professional microneedling are what she particularly looks for. "Anything that I can do to stimulate collagen in my skin is crucial for me," she said.

As a clinical treatment, it's an effective and affordable one that most aesthetic doctors and dermatologists offer and advocate. “It allows us to address concerns such as acne scarring, pigmentation and deeper wrinkles,” says holistic aesthetic physician Dr Rabia Malik. It’s used on the body and to boost thinning hair, too.

What’s the difference between professional and at-home microneedling?

Doing the ‘same’ thing at home doesn’t require expensive machines, just a widely available and affordable microneedling roller (often referred to as a dermaroller, but that’s actually a brand name) that looks identical to the professional version.

However, at-home rollers feature (or should feature) needle lengths of a maximum of 0.5mm, while pro rollers can go up to 2 or even 2.5mm. The latter will cause pinpoint bleeding and can do real damage to your skin, defeating its skin-regenerating purpose, when not in the hands of a pro. But short-needled at-home rollers are considered relatively safe for amateurs as they only create ‘pores’ in the skin, rather than breaking it, the idea being that these ‘micro-channels’ allow your skincare to penetrate deeper.

Trials of the Trinny London roller with the brand's peptide and hyaluronic acid serum did indeed show greater skin-boosting benefits than using either product separately. "Using our roller alongside our peptide serum, which 'feeds' your collagen and elastane, we had a softening of deep lines, which for me was a big one," said Trinny (more on this below).

“At-home rollers are great for enhancing the absorption of your skincare and helping to reduce the appearance of fine lines with regular use,” confirms Malik. So yes, at-home microneedling does actually work. Malik encourages some of her patients to do it, although she wants them to follow strict instructions (see below).

What are the risks of at-home microneedling?

Other skin doctors, such as cosmetic physician Dr Pamela Benito, are not so sure. “I’m concerned about hygiene, technique, and about patients combining rolling with too-active skincare,” she says. “I’m rarely happy for people to do their own microneedling for the same reason that I don’t want them to do lots of potent at-home peels and use high levels of active ingredients like retinoids without any guidance - it just adds to the skincare overload’ that is leading to so much dermatitis and other inflammatory skin conditions.”

Then there’s the fact that you need to scrupulously sterilise the roller before and after every use, which, Dr Benito says, many people simply don’t and can lead to nasty infections (the Plump Up Microneedle comes with its own disinfectant, hopefully reminding users to do the right thing). “Also, the truth is that many people do go a bit ‘rogue’ when it comes to using tools like these at home, thinking ‘more is better’ – and it’s not.” 

It’s been said that any microneedling, even using short at-home needles, might allow cosmetic skincare additives like preservatives, which are not meant to travel past the skin surface, to penetrate the dermis and even the blood. This could potentially be dangerous, but it is not something Dr Benito is concerned about. “Needles shorter than 0.5mm make only very superficial punctures when the roller is used correctly,” she says. “So they shouldn’t damage the skin, nor should they allow for cosmetics (as opposed to professional skin serums) to travel too deep.”

Skin and laser therapist Debbie Thomas is even more doubtful: “0.2 or 0.3mm needles are fine for at-home microneedling – 0.5mm needles are not,” she states. “I’ve seen them cause pinpoint bleeding, and that is expressly not what you want to do at home. You’re just trying to create small channels in the skin. For anything beyond that, you need a pro, and professional products.”

What are the rules of at-home microneedling?

Dr Malik does not disagree, but feels that with strict rules for people to follow, at-home microneedling can be a real boon for anyone’s skin texture. Here are her main guidelines.

  • Prep with an exfoliating mask
    To eliminate any old skin cells getting in the way of your microchannels, try a gentle recommend an exfoliating mask the day before a needling session. [we suggest one below]
  • 0.3mm needle depth is best
    Rollers with needles longer than 0.3mm are a bit much for at-home use. “I recommend the Glo-Pro device which has been designed for at-home use, is painless and has 0.3mm needles.”
  • Sterilise your roller
    Use a sterilising spray (see below) on your roller and let it air dry before use. “Or soak in 70 per cent isopropyl alcohol (from pharmacies) for 30 mins prior to use.”
  • Cleanse your skin properly
    Cleanse and dry skin before microneedling. Avoid using alcohol toners to prevent irritation.
  • Don’t do it for too long
    Section your face into three zones (forehead, cheeks and lower face) and roll your device for 20 seconds (no more) across each area in vertical, horizontal and diagonal directions.
  • Lift and replace
    When changing direction with your roller, ensure that before doing so, you lift it up from your skin and gently replace it in the new direction. Ignore this and you can create micro-tears in the skin.
  • Spot-treat problem areas for an extra few seconds
    You can spot-treat areas of concern such as frown lines, nose-to-mouth lines or pores next to the nose by spending a few extra seconds in those areas.
  • Don’t press the roller into your skin
    Do not apply pressure as this can cause tears. Simply roll the device gently over the skin.
  • Sterilise your roller a second time
    Sterilise your device after using before packing it away
  • Be consistent – once or twice a week
    For best results, roll once or twice a week in the evening, building up to a maximum of three times a week.
  • Replace the treatment head
    Needles should be very sharp or you risk bruising or tearing. Therefore, always replace the treatment head of your device as often as the manufacturer recommends.
  • Follow with skincare
    Skincare serums should be applied to each individual section after rolling, not before.
  • Skip the foundation – roll at night
    Don’t use any foundation for at least 12 hours to prevent infection and spots; best to do your microneedling in the evening, just before bed.

Can you use retinol and at-home microneedling?

No, that’s not a good idea. What you apply right after rolling oughtn’t be very potent or aggressive (and retinoids are). “In some cases, stronger products than just pure hyaluronic acid may be used, but not without first consulting with a skincare professional who has assessed you skin,” says Dr Malik, who also says products should be primarily water-based, not oil-based so as not to clog the pores and micro-channels.

Dr Benito equally advises against very active, regenerative ingredients such as retinoids, exfoliating acids such as glycolic, and potent vitamin C ascorbic acid in conjunction with your roller. “Hyaluronic acid and microneedling is fine, as are other humectants, niacinamide and maybe a not-very-strong vitamin C. But anything beyond that would be asking for trouble,” she says. For our recommendations, see below.

Dr Malik recommends skipping acids and retinoids for 24 hours after your microneedling session to avoid any issues. Equally, “do not use a retinoid the day before and day of needling,” she says.

For professional microneedling, only sterile prescription serums devoid of preservatives and other additives are used as they will penetrate quite deep into the skin, but this is not necessary with at-home needling. However, “If you’re going to wound skin in any way, cosmetic skincare becomes a problem – so only perform at-home needling with the greatest care,” says Dr Benito.

Who should not do microneedling at home?

If you’re on acne medication (Roaccutane), have active acne or cold sores, suffer from perioral dermatitis, rosacea or eczema or have a history of keloid scarring, Dr Malik advises you to steer clear.

The best at-home microneedling tools

Best LED dermaroller: Beautybio GloPro Microneedling Regeneration Tool, £179 (0.3mm)

Gentle but effective, this doctor-recommended roller vibrates to boost results, emits healing red LED light while you needle, and comes with a sanitiser spray bottle (to fill with disinfectant yourself – for suggestions see below) to remind you to sterilise, sterilise, sterilise. Replace the head (Face Microtip Attachment Head, £39) every three months.

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Best new at-home microneedling roller: Trinny London Plump Up Microneedle, £44 (0.5mm). Replacement heads £25

A stainless steel roller that comes with an alcohol-free cleanser and a sturdy hygienic ‘cap’ to keep the head protected. There’s plenty of video instruction on the Trinny London website as to how to use this punchy roller safely (don't press, you should feel hardly anything) including advice on sanitising and replacing the heads after two months (based on using them three times a week). It is imperative that you follow these instructions as this is a 0.5mm roller - the longest needles allowed for at-home microneedling, and ones that can be damaging if you don't proceed with care.

They recommend using Trinny London Plump Up, £69, a peptide and hyaluronic acid serum, afterwards. The brand's own trials of this combo showed visible results for treating deep wrinkles after eight weeks. GTG's Victoria found it very easy to use, pretty good value and it was clear on skincare guidance. 

"I am 20 years into this and so I do use a PHA [mild acid] before rolling and I mix it with a bit of HA," says Trinny, who has extremely resilient skin. "But I would never ask anyone starting their journey to do that because you have to really listen to and know your skin." She uses a  'chequerboard' technique: rolling forward and back on one area (don't roll repeatedly) before moving on to the next.

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Best at-home microneedling pen: FaceGym Faceshot Electric Microneedling Device + Liquid Vitamin Ampoules, £215 (2.5mm)

Microneedling pens, which quickly ‘stamp’ skin with needles as opposed to being rolled over it, are often preferred by pros as they pose less risk of making micro-tears in the skin. This is a rare at-home version, specifically meant as an exfoliating tool – which is why it comes with its own ampoules a of glycolic acid. The combo of glycolic and needles is not recommended by pros, but the company feel the short needles are gentle enough to work safely alongside the liquid exfoliant. Treatment heads are single-use and there’s only three of them, while four additional ones will set you back £70 – cheap it ain’t.

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The affordable microneedling roller: Kitsch Micro Derma Roller, £14.50 (2.5mm)

Studded with stainless steel needles of a safe 2.5mm length, this will reliably help your skincare penetrate. You can’t replace the head, though, so you’ll need to buy a new one after three months.

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Best skincare for microneedling 

Best peptide serum for at-home microneedling; Trinny London Plump Up Peptide + HA Serum, £69. Refills £55.

This water-based hydrating and collagen-boosting peptide serum was used in Trinny London's microneedling trial and as. a combo showed not just a visible reduction in fine lines in 28 days, but also a reduction in pore size in eight weeks when used three times a week. Apply at night after needling, with nothing else on top.

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Best hyaluronic acid for at-home microneedling: Vichy Mineral 89 Hyaluronic Acid Hydration Serum, £27.50

A minimalist formula of glycerin, HA, soothing mineral water and not much else, this can be safely applied after needling to really soak the skin with lasting moisture for visible plumpness.

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Best vitamin C for at-home microneedling: The Ordinary Ascorbyl Glucoside Solution 12%, £12.70

Twelve per cent sounds like a strong vitamin C, but this specific vitamin C compound ascorbyl glucoside needs to convert inside skin to release its brightening powers, making it a fact quite a mild strength that’s perfect for microneedling. It is weightless and hydrating, with few additives.

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Best collagen-boosting serum for microneedling: Skin W1 Collagen Stimulating Serum, £125

Despite being really effective at revving up collagen production, this light serum doesn’t feature potential irritants like retinoids or ascorbic acid, but potent yet gentle niacinamide plus a copper amino acid blend instead. This means it can be safely used alongside at-home microneedling, and Dr Malik doesn’t just say that because she created the serum!

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Best microneedling device sanitiser: The Light Salon Boost Cleanse & Recovery Spray, £18

Hypochlorous acid sounds terrifying but is super-gentle on skin (unlike alcohol) while murdering all bugs, bacteria and viruses in its path. So it’s perfect for disinfecting your microneedler (and your skin), and The Light Salon have put it in a handy spray bottle.

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Best microneedling skin prep: Oskia Liquid Mask Lactic Acid Micro-Peel, £68

An exfoliating mask the day before a needling session comes recommended by Dr Malik, and this is a good one, with a potent amount of lactic acid balanced by calming and fortifying niacinamide, panthenol and MSM. You will glow like a beacon.

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