Okay, there are a ton of these guides online. A few of them even cite the research. I hope to make this one different in that (a) it is attentive to the different needs of different needle lengths and skin concerns and (b) it starts from how microneedling is done in clinical settings, because that’s how it’s been demonstrated to work, and adapts that for the home setting.
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Getting Ready to Dermaroll
In this guide we’re assuming that you have already purchased the dermaroller that is right for you and your skin needs. If you’re just looking for extra product absorption, buy a .25mm roller. Otherwise, you can consult the list of concern-specific protocols to select the correct needle length and rolling frequency.
45 minutes before you intend to roll, you’ll want to take action on your chosen pain management technique. Do what you’ve got to do then wait a half hour to start setting up your stuff.
If your roller or dermastamp is brand new, you don’t need to do anything else here. Take it out of its sterile packaging.
If this is a roller or stamp you’ve used before, soak in in 70% isopropyl alcohol* for 10 minutes before you use it. That link goes to Amazon, but you can get this inexpensively at any drugstore. (I am assuming you cleaned it properly after you used it last time, but if you were lazy, skip to the end of this post and follow the directions about dish soap before you put that roller to your skin!)
While the roller is soaking, clean the treatment area with a gentle cleanser (not a soap, which can be irritating). CeraVe* and Cetaphil* are popular choices, and most drugstores will have inexpensive store brands of the same. If you have a cleanser already you’re probably good–make sure it doesn’t have any exfoliants in it. If you’re treating an area on your body, use that gentle facial cleaner just for before and after the treatment. You don’t need to use it all the time.
About the research: in a clinical setting they use a new dermaroller or stamp every time, which makes sense–they see a lot of patients and can’t reuse yours on someone else! Since this isn’t financially feasible for most users, we sanitize the rollers to the absolute best of our ability to allow for safe reuse. These steps aren’t based in clinical research on dermarolling, just on sanitization best practices. Typically, the research references managing pain with a topical anesthetic like lidocaine.
Your actual roll
Let’s break this down into a few sections.
If you’re rolling just a section of your skin, like a patch of scarring:
If you can, hold the skin taut.
In each section, start in one corner and roll your dermaroller horizontally across the skin to the other side of the section, nice and slow with medium pressure. Once you reach the side, pick your roller up off your skin and move back to you starting place. You do not want to zigzag the roller back and forth along your face–a, it will scratch you and b, the needles will go in the exact same spot every time instead of creating lots of little punctures like we want!
Roll six times in the same “track”, then move the roller down a centimeter and roll again (so that the roller overlaps by 80% with where you just were). After those six, move down another centimeter. Continue until you’ve rolled horizontally over the whole area.
Once you’ve covered the whole area, start again in a corner and roll the whole area again vertically, so that you’re now going perpendicular to the way you were rolling before. Again, six times on the same track, move over a centimeter, six times there, and on and on.
Some studies describe doing an additional diagonal roll, and some studies don’t; none ever discuss why they include or exclude this step. I have done treatments with it and treatments without it and don’t see much of a difference. If you want to, you can, but know that it isn’t going to double your results or anything like that.
If you’re rolling your whole face:
Divide your face, in your mind, into four sections:
- the forehead, temples and around/between the eyebrows
- left cheek and orbital bone, the left half of your upper lip and the left side of your nose
- right cheek and orbital bone, the right half of your upper lip, and the right side of your nose
- the chin and jaw
It doesn’t matter where you start. The forehead, in my opinion, hurts the most, so you may not want to start there.
Once you’ve got these four sections, follow the directions above for rolling each section. Because of the features of the face, you may need to do small parts of each section separately. The nose in particular can be kind of annoying to roll in anything resembling horizontal and vertical–just do your best.
Regarding the eye area: I roll my undereye circles to reduce the fine lines that are beginning to appear there. If you can feel your orbital bone underneath the skin, it’s okay to use the roller there. If you can’t feel the bone, don’t use the roller there–that’s your eye socket! The wrinkles on the lower eyelid, right under your lash line, cannot be dermarolled. As my mom would say, you only get two eyes, so don’t mess with them.
After your roll:
To clean your face:
First, clean your skin. The research almost unanimously describes using sterile saline solution* to clean the small wounds, like what you would use to clean a piercing. None of the online accounts of DIY dermarolling have described using this, and I have never used it myself, but it’s pretty inexpensive if you want that extra layer of safety. Typically, I just use that same gentle cleanser I used to clean my face before I started.
The serums, masks or products that you use after you roll will vary based on your skin goals. I’ve made specific suggestions in each protocol, so see what’s there. A hyaluronic acid serum or sheet mask is a safe bet for any skin purpose. If it’s daytime, after your products, put on sunscreen!
Once you’ve tended to your face, it’s time to clean your roller. First, fill a large cup or bowl with warm water and dish soap and agitate it to create bubbles. Place the roller gently into the cup (so so so so gently, because if you’re too rough you might bend a needle!) and let it rest for ten minutes. When you’re done, take your dermaroller out and rinse it off with running water. Let it dry on a paper towel or clean cloth. Then, soak it again in 70% rubbing alcohol again (should NOT be the same rubbing alcohol that you used before you rolled) for ten minutes. When your ten minutes are up, take the dermaroller out, put it in its case and let it dry fully before closing the case and putting your roller away.
Again, the research doesn’t give us hygienic practices because they don’t reuse rollers. We’re using general sanitation best practices here. The dish soap breaks down blood and skin that might be left on the roller, and the alcohol sanitizes the roller so that you can safely reuse it.
The next few days:
Continue to treat your skin gently. Avoid exfoliants like facial scrubs or AHA/BHA products. You may want extra moisturizing products, if you have ones that you like. Sunscreen is vital for the first few days after rolling because your skin will be more sensitive to the sun.
All told, this routine takes between 30 minutes and an hour, not counting the painkiller use beforehand. It gets faster as you get the hang of it. 1-2 hours a month for visibly, permanently improved skin texture is an amazing tradeoff!