During my many years as a beauty writer, there are certain words and phrases that come up over and over again when I’m interviewing dermatologists about in-office treatments for skin of color. Words like “risk” and “misunderstood” and “unpredictable” get tossed around pretty frequently, and with good reason. It’s true that darker-skinned patients often need to be more cautious about certain procedures because we’re more prone to bad reactions.
With that in mind, I started wondering about microneedling, as there’s been increasing buzz about it for a while now. That said, it’s not a new treatment. According to Los Angeles-based dermatologist Dr. Naissan Wesley of Skin Care and Laser, the procedure has been around for a while. “Its current popularity is probably not only the result of the mainstream media, social media, and celebrity influence, but also because of its many uses,” she explains. “Microneedling can be used for skin rejuvenation, acne scarring, and numerous other applications with minimal downtime and few side effects.”
What is microneedling?
As the name implies, the procedure involves tiny needles that are typically between one to two millimeters in length. “The needles going through both the epidermis and dermis can cause a release of growth factors in the skin, causing an increase in collagen production,” explains Eliot Battle, a dermatologist based in Washington, D.C. “The puncturing of the skin can help scars, thus improving the texture of the skin.” To perform the procedure, a dermatologist or another practitioner preps the skin with a topical numbing agent, places a sterile cartridge containing around little needles onto a pen, then runs the pen over each area of the face.
Your practitioner can also adjust the depth of the penetration of the needles: the deeper the needles go, the more invasive the treatment will be, and the greater your skin’s response. To ensure your complexion reaps even more rewards from the procedure, serums and other nutrients are often applied beforehand. “In my office, we use hyaluronic acid gel, which gets needled into the skin while we’re doing the procedure,” says New York City-based dermatologist Dr. Lian Mack.
Not only is this treatment efficient in terms of delivering benefits, it’s also time-friendly: the whole procedure only takes ten to twenty minutes, depending on the area treated. It all sounds simple enough, but is it safe for everyone? Here’s what you need to know about microneedling if you have skin of color.
Yes, microneedling can be used on all skin tones
All of the dermatologists I contacted gave this procedure a thumbs-up for those with dark skin. “I have used microneedling many times in patients with skin of color for acne scars and even stretch marks,” says Dr. Wesley. In addition to pitted scars, Dr. Mack notes that microneedling can help decrease the appearance of dark spots, too. “When you create these channels of injury, you’re promoting blood flow to the epidermis and you’re promoting cellular turnover, which helps with pigmentation — although not as well as a resurfacing laser treatment such as the Clear + Brilliant®,” she explains.
Dr. Battle agrees. “Microneedling is best used to improve texture, but many patients also see an improvement in tone and glow. The collagen-making cells in patients with skin of color are proven to be more robust and many patients of color, when treated appropriately, can show a better improvement in texture than the same procedure done in Caucasian skin,” he says. However, just because microneedling can be done on deeper complexions doesn’t mean you should just dive into trying it. There are a few things to keep in mind both before and after treatment.
No matter what your skin tone, it’s worth going to a pro
In-office microneedling usually costs anywhere from $300 to $500 a pop. The hefty price tag can make at-home devices more appealing, but in this case, you get what you pay for. Since at-home microneedling gadgets are designed for the masses, the needles don’t go very deep into the skin; they aren’t hurting the complexion, but they aren’t necessarily doing much, either.
“At-home rollers are usually not as effective as in-office treatments as the penetration depth cannot be controlled and is subject to the pressure the user applies,” says Dr. Wesley. She also warns that DIY microneedling comes with a risk: “There is also a risk of infection as the needles are not sterile and not thrown away after each use.” So, it’s best to just stick with professional procedures that really work.
You’ll feel more relaxed if you ask a few key questions first
Dermatologists say that it’s worth feeling out your skin experts before a microneedling appointment for the peace of mind that comes from knowing that you’re in the right hands. “Prior to booking your appointment, ask your dermatologist what device he or she will be using, what topicals they recommend applying immediately after treatment, as well as if they have experience and/or feel comfortable treating patients with skin of color,” suggests Dr. Wesley.
Make sure you do your homework when deciding where to go, advises Dr. Mack. “The most important question to ask is if there is a doctor on site,” she says. This is important in the event that there are complications. Complications could include everything from bleeding and bruising to infection and scarring, so it’s worth doing your research on your provider before you book.
The sun is not your friend during your recovery period
“Avoid sun exposure” is pretty standard advice after most in-office procedures, but it’s key to follow it if you have deeper skin, especially for the first week after a microneedling procedure. “It is particularly important for skin of color patients to stay out of the sun during the healing process to avoid post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH), which is a higher risk for skin of color patients,” cautions Dr. Wesley.
PIH happens when inflammation or injury — say, from having a bunch of needles pressed into your face — causes the skin to rev up pigment production. Sun exposure can make these dark spots worse. Along with steering clear of sunshine, doctors suggest waiting at least two days after the procedure to wear makeup or even sunscreen. (Pro tip: consider booking your appointment on a Friday after work so you can spend the weekend indoors recovering.) They also advise waiting a full seven days before resuming your usual skincare routine. Until then, stick with gentle cleansers — creamy, non-foaming formulas are ideal — and non-irritating moisturizers only.
Dark-skinned patients can’t get microneedling as often as other skin types
It typically requires four to six sessions of microneedling to get the best results, but the ideal waiting period in between procedures depends on your skin tone. According to Dr. Mack, we all heal the same from the treatment, regardless of our complexions, but those with deeper skin tones are at risk for pigmentation because of the melanin in their skin.
“Those with really fair skin to olive complexions can do the procedures closer together — every two weeks would be fine,” she shares. “For anyone with a darker skin type, such as Southeast Asian person or an African-American, I suggest spacing the treatments out to every four weeks to give the skin more time to heal.” That way, all you’ll see post-recovery is an even, radiant complexion.