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Written by: Alice Hart-Davis

Updated by: Becki Murray

Last Updated: 19 April 2024

What is microneedling?

Microneedling – also called ‘medical needling’ – is the process of applying a roller or pen tipped with rows of tiny needles to the skin in order to create thousands of micro punctures – tiny holes in the outer layer – home devices – epidermis, or the deeper layer – professional devices – the dermis. This isn’t just some dermatologist’s weird idea of fun, there’s actually a number of good reasons to try it, all backed by scientific research. There are a range of needle lengths, and what microneedling can do for you (and where on the face or body it is best used) depends on the length you use and the products used during the procedure.

Broadly speaking, there are two reasons to use microneedling: to increase the efficacy of skincare products and to stimulate growth factors to induce collagen production within the skin. Throughout this page, I’ll differentiate between what you might call shallow microneedling (up to 1mm) and its big brother, deep microneedling (1mm to 3mm). Scroll down for all the FAQs.


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How does microneedling work?

The needles range in length from 0.1mm all the way up to a slightly scary 3mm. At the lower end of the scale, the process is great for lightly perforating the outer layer of the skin. This allows any skincare products applied afterwards to sink into those holes and further into the skin, thereby increasing their efficacy. To do this, you only need to penetrate the stratum corneum, which is only 0.02mm thick, so a 0.1mm needle is plenty for that.

Once you work your way up to 3mm, the needles drive down to the dermal-epidermal junction (also called the dermal-epidermal junction, and often abbreviated to ‘DEJ’) and causes pinprick bleeding that stimulates the wound-healing response. This triggers the production of a growth factor called TGFb3 (transforming growth factor beta 3, if you want its full name) which in turn encourages the production of collagen I — and collagen I is the sort of lattice-frameworked collagen that you find in really young skin, as opposed to collagen II or collagen III, which is laid down in parallel lines and which is more akin to scar tissue.

So there really is method to the madness.

microneedling alternative

Microneedling 100

What is microneedling good for?

Since the outer layer of skin is specifically designed to keep stuff out (stuff like water, dirt, bacteria…), any skincare product applied directly to the outer layer of skin will inevitably have trouble penetrating to the lower layers where the active ingredients need to get to in order to make a difference. Microneedling allows the active ingredients to penetrate deeper without needing to first fight their way through the outer layer of skin, so they can get to work. Because shallow microneedling can increase the efficacy of the skincare products applied afterwards, you will often find microneedling forms part of a dermatology-grade facial or targeted body treatments. (The same thinking applies to skin peels, which also allow you to get in under that tough, protective outer layer.)

Deep microneedling is used to stimulate the skin’s wound-healing response, which can help with wrinkles, scarring, stretch marks, sun damage, and ageing skin. From medical needling alone, you can gain a 205% increase in the thickness of the dermis, which is extremely helpful with fighting the signs of ageing; and when you add Vitamin A to the mix, you increase collagen production by a whopping 658%.



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What is it like to have microneedling?

If you’re having microneedling with short needles – less than 1mm – then the worst you can expect is a prickling sensation as the roller or pen moves over your skin. Even though the device is poking holes in your skin, it’s surprisingly ok.

However, I’ve experienced 3mm microneedling on my face and that was a different story. I was given numbing cream 20 minutes beforehand and that helped immensely, especially around the better-padded parts of my cheeks where it felt fine. Over the bonier bits of the forehead and the jawline however, I really did feel the spikes and it all became pretty challenging. It’s not unbearable, but I was glad when it’s over.

microneedling 2

How much does microneedling cost?

Microneedling used on its own is more often the deep microneedling that’s used for stimulating collagen production. Expect to pay upwards of £425 per session of 3mm microneedling with an experienced practitioner.

How long does microneedling take?

Consultations are generally pretty quick as there aren’t as many variables to take into account as with, for example, dermal fillers. The actual treatment, however, can take quite a bit longer. It takes about 30 minutes for your practitioner to carefully cover the entirety of your face and, if you’re going for deep microneedling, then you’ll want to factor in an additional 20 minutes for the anaesthetic cream to work. As for your body, smaller areas such as your hands may take around the same amount of time, but you’ll need to set aside more time for larger areas. Even with shallow microneedling, this is usually a precursor to something else, like the application of skincare products, so you need to set aside some additional time for that. All in, you can expect to be in there for about an hour.

FAQ ABOUT Microneedling

Does microneedling hurt?

I’m not going to lie to you – stabbing your skin with lots of sharp needles is not the world’s most pleasurable experience. Unsurprisingly, the level of discomfort depends on the length of the needles used. At the shallow end, the sensation is prickly but not painful. However, when you’re in at the deep end those needles are going down into your nerves and it would be foolhardy to go in without some numbing anaesthetic cream beforehand. In my experience, even with the cream and at the hands of a highly skilled practitioner, the 3mm needles are a challenge.

Is microneedling safe?

Yes – as long as your practitioner uses the device with respect for the skin, and is scrupulous about hygiene. All those sharp needles making holes in the skin open up the potential for infection, so the skin has to be prepared properly before treatment, and the tips of the needles to be sterile. Actually, with automated needling devices, you need more reassurance than a clean sterile needle-tip can offer, because of the potential for cross-contamination. If blood from one patient gets into the body of the device, well, it, and any blood-borne diseases it was carrying, could be transferred to the next patient, despite the new sterile needle-tip. Does this happen in practice? In the interests of research, the meticulous Dr Stefanie Williams conducted some extreme needling tests on a number of automated needling devices and found that blood found its way into the mechanism of some of the devices, which is worrying.  Her research findings identified that just one device (SkinPen Precision) didn’t leak. So if you are considering treatment with an automated device, check that it is one where cross-contamination cannot happen.

What are microneedling results like?

Impressive. I had a course of 3mm microneedling done (with anaesthetic, obviously!) and after 3 sessions, six weeks apart, my skin was definitely firmer, clearer and smoother – so a really good result all round.

Would it work for you? In short, yes. Brutal as it may sound, needling has been proven time and again to stimulate the growth of new collagen in the skin. It’s a natural response that occurs in everyone’s skin, so you can be confident that your pain will not be without gain.

How long do microneedling results last?

I’ll only talk about the deep microneedling here as results from shallow microneedling depend on the products used afterwards and are more of an on-going process. When you have microneedling that gives you pinprick bleeding, this means you’ve hit the sweet spot for collagen production. The effects from this level of treatment last for several months, the exact duration depending on how quickly your skin cells renew, and the age and original condition of your skin.

Does microneedling at home work?

Due to the relative simplicity of the concept – i.e. lots of little needles on a roller, or in a mechanical pen-type device – there has been a spate of home-use devices coming onto the market. These can range in price from around £15 off Amazon up into the hundreds for more sophisticated, multi-functional devices. They go up to 3mm, just like the clinical ones, and since the procedure isn’t particularly technical to perform, these devices have rapidly gained popularity.

I say you should approach home needling with caution and stick to rollers with very short needles – remember that skincare products only need to get through the first 0.02mm of skin –  and disinfect them scrupulously. I have a GloPro home use microneedling device which I like but I use it lightly, no more than once a week and am careful about which products I apply afterwards.

I go into this in more depth in my downloadable microneedling factsheet.

At first, I was a big fan of microneedling at home. It seemed like a quick win and a way to get more out of your – often very expensive – skincare products. However, having spoken to a number of dermatologists about this issue, I’m less convinced than at first. The problem is that, with a home-use device, you are liable to cause unnecessary and regular trauma to the skin. Moreover, the majority of readily available skincare products on the market are made up of many ingredients, some of which absolutely are meant to penetrate deep into the skin, but many of which are designed to sit on the surface. Using a product with fragrance, for example, after microneedling will invariably lead to irritation in the skin.

When writing my book, The Tweakments Guide: Fresher Face, I spoke about this with Dr Eric Shulte, whose expertise is as a trauma and cosmetic surgeon with a special interest in wound-healing. His is one of the beauty industry voices who feels that home microneedling is ‘going in the wrong direction’ for our skin. He is happy for needling to be done by an expert under clinical conditions, but feels that ‘aggressive procedures like this don’t belong in the hands of laymen at home.’  I tend to agree with Dr Eric.

What does microneedling look like afterwards?

The holes are tiny, so your skin won’t look like a colander when you’re done. That being said, I’d put aside a good three days after the treatment during which you should expect to have tight, red, slightly sore skin. It feels very much like sunburn and needs very gentle treatment for the first four days. I certainly wouldn’t do this a couple of days before a date, a party, or any other kind of social occasion where you don’t want to look like a walking tomato.


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