At face value, the idea of continuously poking microscopic holes into your skin with sharp needle tips seems a little counterintuitive for skin-care purposes. But this process, known as microneedling, has undeniable benefits. Tiny punctures made to the surface of your skin, no deeper than three millimetres, trigger a healing response from your body that promotes collagen stimulation in the affected areas. The results? A glowing face with reduced fine lines, acne scars, and roughness.
“Microneedling is really about inducing collagen,” Dr. Frances Jang, a dermatologist at Vancouver’s Dermapure aesthetic medical clinic, tells me ahead of my own procedure. The protein collagen, sold in forms from supplements to pills and lotions, is a significant source for stronger, more elastic skin.
As a complete newcomer to the practice, I underwent a session of radio frequency (RF) microneedling at Dermapure to better understand what this infamous procedure is all about.
What is radio frequency microneedling?
Microneedling, around for more than a century, has evolved, with constant improvements to the safety and efficacy of the procedure. One such improvement is the introduction of radio frequency to the needles: a controlled heat amplifies the ability to target collagen, which promotes greater collagen stimulation.
Microneedling can be done with or without radio frequency, but the general consensus is that radio frequency offers better results without compromising the safety of the procedure.
How safe is it?
For the squeamish, myself included, microneedling can seem daunting. Not many like the idea of being poked with needles in the face. But how bad is microneedling, really?
“It’s really, really safe,” Jang says. While there is a risk of scarring with any procedure like this, the likelihood is quite low, she adds. The process is noninvasive with little downtime: expect a few hours of redness and swelling. (The deeper you allow the needles to prick, the more downtime to expect: needle depth will be discussed with your technician before the procedure and informed by your expectations and skin concerns.)
Who needs it?
“It’s good for anybody who is aging or [if] their skin is thinning. Or it can be used preventatively for somebody in a younger age bracket who maybe wants something a bit more aggressive than using topical tretinoin,” Jang says, noting that RF microneedling is safe for darker skin tones–unlike some other cosmetic procedures.
Overall, microneedling is a good option to both prevent and reduce fine lines and roughness.
It’s also particularly effective for deep-rooted acne scars. However, Jang suggests allowing deeper needle pricks for better results when it comes to diminishing acne scars. “You have to go deeper because the scarring is into the dermis, which is the middle layer of the skin,” she says. The downside is a longer downtime period due to the more aggressive needle approach.
“The results are really commensurate with the depth, the heat, and how many times you do it,” she continues. Letting the needles prick a little deeper, setting the heat a little higher, and returning for several sessions will offer better results.
For my first session, I opt for light needle pricks, allowing space to go slightly deeper for my next session if I want to.
How many sessions do you need?
Younger people will see results from one or two sessions, while older people with larger goals would benefit from three to four (and sometimes more) sessions. Sessions are usually spaced about a month apart.
What does it feel like?
I won’t lie. Microneedling hurts. At least, it did for me.
My procedure begins with the application of a thick numbing cream to the face, which tingles slightly as it sets in. My technician waits about half an hour for the cream to fully absorb then wipes it off and cleans my face with a strong-smelling alcohol wipe. She hands me a winding rubber tube connected to a machine she calls “the zimmer” which blows a strong stream of cool air. I’m to direct the air on my face to help with the stinging when I need it, she tells me.
Holding a pen-like tool fitted with gold-plated needles, she starts at my forehead and slowly progresses across my face, stamping the needles down. The process is methodical and meticulous. I feel the pricks the most on my forehead and chin but barely anything on my cheeks. A stinging feeling follows the pricks, and soon my face feels raw, as I have a particularly rough sunburn. “Spicy, eh?” my technician asks during one of her occasional check-ins to ensure I’m okay.
Once we’re done, she pats a cooling gel on my skin, a brief reprieve from the stinging. She hands me a mirror. My face is red and inflamed, which is the desired result: inflammation means the healing process is working.
The sunburn-like stinging and inflammation subside in a couple of hours, and by nighttime only a slight redness remains as evidence of the procedure.
What’s the aftercare?
“You probably shouldn’t have any hot dates for a couple of days,” Jang says, but she notes that I can still go about my daily life pretty much immediately after. (Full disclosure: I went to a concert the night of my procedure and had no issues with my skin, but ideally, you should plan to lie low afterward.)
Still, the first 24-hour period after the procedure is the most restrictive: no makeup and no sweating—microneedling opens your pores so it’s important to not allow anything to clog them. Wash with a gentle cleanser and apply mineral sunscreen constantly.
“Anything that’s very exfoliating and irritating you should probably minimize for a couple of days [before and after,]” Jang says, listing retinol, glycolic acid, and chemical exfoliants as no-nos during the week before and after a microneedling session.
My skin was still a little red the next day and by the third day had started to peel. I also had a slight outbreak of milia (tiny, white clogged pores) on my chin, but they soon disappeared. It’s vital not to scratch or pick at your skin during this stage as it can lead to permanent scarring.
While my skin already feels smoother, collagen production will still be underway for the next few months, and my skin will continue to improve during that time.
Would I recommend RF microneedling?
In a word, yes.
In more words, yes, if you’re willing to sit through roughly 30 minutes of needle-pricking, a couple of hours of stinging, and a day or two of redness and peeling for months of smoother, glowing skin.