Aesthetic Treatments

I’m Afraid of Needles, But I Still Get Injectable Treatments Thanks to These Tips


I really don’t think it was a stretch for me to think that after a handful of tattoos, a half-dozen more piercings, and a couple of treatments with injectable wrinkle reducers, my longstanding fear of needles would have been effectively cured. (“It’s the best kind of immersion therapy!” I told anyone who would listen.) So, it was a bit of a shock when, during a recent appointment for filler, I found myself reliving an all-too-familiar sensation I hadn’t experienced for several years: The room began swimming, my hands grew clammy, and I had trouble catching my breath.

Editor's Note

Injectable wrinkle reducers are used to temporarily smooth the look of moderate to severe wrinkles in certain areas of the face such as the forehead, frown lines, and crow’s feet. They should not be used more frequently than every three months. Like any medical treatment, they have potential risks and side effects. Be sure to talk to a licensed provider to see if they’re right for you. 

Fortunately for me, I didn’t even have to say anything — my licensed provider didn’t miss a beat. “We’re taking a break,” she said, pressing a wet washcloth to my head. Once I began to feel like myself again, we spent the next 10 minutes talking through my needle phobia, which apparently had only taken a long sabbatical. I still felt a little queasy as we finished up, but with the help of my provider, was able to power through.

After that fateful afternoon, I began to assemble a toolbox of strategies that would help me work through my needle-related stress. I’m still a fan of diminutive ink and ear jewelry; I don’t intend to give up injectable wrinkle reducers or the occasional filler appointment. Avoiding the phobia altogether was clearly not an option, but if I could help it, I wasn’t going to let it catch me unprepared again.

That was a couple of years ago, and while I still don’t relish the experience of getting injectables, I like the results. Now, I always know going in that I can handle my appointment, thanks to a few key strategies. Keep reading to see what I rely on the most — along with a few injector-approved techniques.

Work with a licensed provider you feel personally comfortable with.

It sounds obvious that you should feel good about any provider you’re working with. But that personality fit is also really important, because you’re far more likely to feel relaxed throughout the procedure, says Kafele Hodari, MD, a California-based board-certified dermatologist. “I like to establish a rapport with the patient,” he says, adding that explaining exactly what to expect and encouraging questions are always a given.

Tell your provider what’s up.

On that note, you should absolutely tell your provider that you’re nervous about needles so he or she can better help you through the procedure. Needle phobia is super common, and you should research an injector who will have their own set of strategies and techniques to help you feel as comfortable as possible.

Decide whether or not to look at the needle.

For a lot of needle-phobes, not looking is a no-brainer. Dr. Hodari notes that he usually keeps the syringe out of view for needle-phobic patients, and doesn’t stop there: “I don’t even use the word ‘needle’ or ‘inject,’” he says. “When I’m talking to a patient directly, typically during the consultation, I might say something like ‘the product will be placed along your smile lines’ or ‘added to your cheeks to improve volume.’”

However, that’s also a personal preference. For me, personally, looking at the needle and talking through all the specifics of the procedure actually make me feel better, since I feel like I can better understand and anticipate what’s going on. The bottom line: Pipe up and be really clear with your provider about what will make you the most comfortable.

Pay attention to your breathing.

Breathing exercises are effective because they basically force your body to relax. Experienced providers know to look out for this as well. “I always listen to my patients’ breathing,” says Dr. Hodari. “When it becomes shallow, or when they hold their breath, it’s important to remind them to breathe.”

My preferred technique is to count out equal-length breaths (for example, four seconds each), which I find to be a great distraction. (For what it’s worth, this is also a very useful strategy when you’re having a stressful day at work, or your significant other forgot to empty the dishwasher for the hundredth time.)

Editor's Note

Talk to your doctor about what breathing exercises might be right for you.

Take a break if you need it.

I’m beyond grateful that my provider suggested that we take a breather during my filler experience. It brought me back from the brink of a cold sweat and spinning room, and it was also an important reminder to always speak up when my phobia gets the best of me. 

And that’s kind of the backbone of all these other tips, right? It took me a long time to understand that while phobias are, by definition, not totally rational, they still feel extremely real. Keeping it all to myself ultimately only made the stress worse. As I learned to open up to my providers about these fears, I realized that having them on my side just might be the best strategy of all.

Dr. Kafele Hodari is a paid Allergan® consultant.