Are Derma Rollers Worth It?

A derma roller is device that is outfitted with dozens of what is often labeled “surgical-grade needles.” It actually looks like it would be painful, kind of like torture devices from the Dark Ages! Rolling this device over your face as directed (usually three times per week) with a light pressure literally creates small holes in skin. Why do this? Well, the needling is supposed to allow ingredients to penetrate better and improve the look and feel of skin over time.

The other frequent claim is that the wounding of skin by derma roller (and the subsequent healing process) is akin to dermatologic treatments (think laser treatments) that have a similar concept, that being creating a controlled wound to stimulate collagen and healing. However, lasers and light-emitting devices can be (and are) professionally calibrated and the procedure is monitored to ensure benefits with minimal side effects. In contrast, derma rollers are devices meant to be used at home, whenever you want, and you need to determine how much pressure is too much. Basically, you’re taking a risk that you won’t damage skin and make matters worse. From almost any perspective that’s not a wise move.

OK, But Do They Really Work?

Would a derma roller replace or create results similar to laser treatments or boost your product’s benefits by allowing ingredients to penetrate deeper? Those are the questions that have many of our readers on pins and needles (sorry, we couldn’t resist) so to the big reveal….

No, derma rollers aren’t a must-have item and there is no research proving that at home derma roller devices produce results better than laser therapy can, or even equal what’s possible from using a well-formulated skin care routine. In fact, the whole notion of skin-care ingredients needing to penetrate better via derma rollers is one of the most overblown claims we’ve seen lately.

Gaining the benefit of toners, moisturizers or serums with anti-aging ingredients is not about maximum penetration. Most ingredients like antioxidants, cell-communicating and skin-identical ingredients need to stay on the skin’s surface and within its uppermost layers to provide any benefit (including defense against free-radical damage.) Then there's the potential risk of getting unwanted ingredients (like preservatives or problematic plant extracts) deeper into the skin, where their negative effects may be worse. Even beneficial ingredients like vitamin C or retinol can be more sensitizing if they penetrate deeper (i.e. when applied over broken skin), rather than being regulated to do their work in the uppermost layers of skin.

A significant concern with the use of at-home derma rollers is the risk of overdoing it, which is far too easy to do given that there is no requirement for professional experience when buying and using one. Getting even a little too aggressive with a derma roller can create pathways in skin that allow ingredients (like sunscreen actives, fragrance, and preservatives) to penetrate further than intended, potentially leading to reactions and inflammation.

There is also the risk of infections and other skin issues no one wants to struggle with, including the problems that occur when skin is kept in a fairly constant state of inflammation. The needling action causes inflammation in skin that prompts a healing response, but over the long haul, this cycle can lead to increased sensitivity to all types of products. Chronic inflammation floods the skin with stress hormones, stimulates pain receptors, destroys healthy collagen, limits cell renewal, and slows the healing process.

Bottom Line

Derma rollers are mostly about creating the next skin-care industry gimmick, and they really hurt when used as directed! In fact, we think the pinprick pain these devices can cause is worse than how laser or light-emitting treatments feel (and believe us, we know!). With the allure of “more = better” in terms of anti-aging, it’s too easy to overdo these types of tools and create real problems for your skin. Derma rollers are one anti-aging skin care fad you can skip!

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About the Experts

Paula Begoun is the best-selling author of 20 books on skin care and makeup. She is known worldwide as the Cosmetics Cop and creator of Paula's Choice. Paula's expertise has led to hundreds of appearances on national and international television including:

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The Paula's Choice Research Team is dedicated to helping you find the absolute best products for your skin, using research-based criteria to review beauty products from an honest, balanced perspective. Each member of the team was personally trained by Paula herself.

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