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Derma Roller – How it Works

To repair any kind of skin damage, the skin needs to regenerate by creating new skin cells. Most skin rejuvenating therapies (for example microdermabrasion, acid peels or lasers) work by damaging or removing the top layer of skin – this causes a wound-healing response and encourages the skin to regenerate itself.

The derma roller is different – it regenerates the skin without damaging it.

In order to see exactly how the derma roller works, we need to look at the skin in a bit more detail…

Layers of the skin

The skin consists of three primary layers.

The outer layer of skin is the epidermis. The thickness of the epidermis ranges from about 0.05mm to 0.3mm (on the face) or 1.5mm (on the soles of the feet).

Below the epidermis lies the dermis, which varies in thickness from about 0.3mm on the eyelids to 3.0mm on the back. The dermis is where the skin’s collagen and elastin are found. Most skin damage occurs in the dermis.

The hypodermis is the bottom layer of skin, made up of fat and connective tissue.

skin layers

Collagen and elastin

Collagen and elastin are two proteins that help make up the structural component of skin. Collagen is a very strong, stiff protein that accounts for around 70% of skin by weight. Elastin is present in very small amounts compared to collagen, but is still critical for skin function.

Collagen and elastin work together to give the skin its shape and firmness. Collagen provides strength and rigidity, while elastin accounts for the skin’s flexibility.

When we are young, our bodies have plenty of collagen and elastin to keep our skin smooth and taut, and our skin can easily replace any that is damaged by UV rays and other environmental toxins. However as we get older, the amount of collagen and elastin in the skin starts to decrease as our bodies struggle to replace that which has worn out or become damaged. The gradual loss of these two essential proteins eventually results in thin, sagging skin and wrinkles. 

A lack of collagen is also responsible for other skin problems, including scars and stretch marks.

So by creating new collagen/elastin, ageing and damaged skin can be improved, or even reversed.

How the derma roller creates new collagen and elastin

The middle layer of skin (the dermis) is where the skin’s collagen (and elastin) is found. So in order to to trigger collagen production, it is necessary to reach the dermis.

Most skin resurfacing techniques do this by partly or completely removing the epidermis, causing a wound-healing response and subsequent collagen production in the dermis.

Derma roller needles can to penetrate through the epidermis without removing it (the epidermis is only punctured, so the skin heals quickly). Because of this, the derma roller can penetrate up to 3mm into the skin without causing damage.

A standard derma roller has about 200 needles, which are rolled back and forth over the skin several times and in different directions, creating thousands of tiny skin pricks. Although this process causes very little actual damage (the holes close up by themselves within a couple of hours), the body perceives a ‘mini-trauma’ and the skin’s natural regeneration process is activated.

Growth factors are released, stimulating the production of new skin cells. This accelerated cell turnover results in new layers of tissue being formed from collagen and elastin, and is why derma roller therapy is sometimes called ‘collagen induction therapy’.

The new collagen forms from the base upwards and is known as type III collagen or healthy collagen (as opposed to type I collagen or scar collagen).

Over time this new, healthy collagen moves up towards the skin’s surface, until it is evenly spread in the skin, giving the skin a smoother texture.

derma roller how it works

How the derma roller repairs scars 

The derma roller is also commonly used to reduce scars (you can read our article ‘Can a Derma Roller Help Acne Scars?’ here). Raised scars are caused by excess collagen (in the form of scar tissue) deep within the skin, creating a visible scar on the skin’s surface.

The derma roller works by penetrating through the epidermis to release old scar tissue within the dermis. At the same time new skin cells are created, which forms normal collagen and elastin, replacing the abnormal scar tissue.

before + after derma roller

How the derma roller increases the power of skin care products

In addition to creating new collagen, the derma roller needles create channels in the skin, allowing any applied skincare products to penetrate to deeper skin layers than they would normally (and therefore work much more effectively).

Research has shown that normally, only 0.3% of the active ingredients in cosmetics can penetrate the skin; the remaining 97.7% simply sits on skin and is effectively wasted.

The derma roller is proven to increase absorption by up to 3000%, meaning that 75-85% of active ingredients penetrate through the epidermis to the dermis. So combining derma roller treatment with the right products can dramatically speed up the repair process.

Derma roller results

When the dermarolling process is repeated, the new collagen gradually thickens the skin, improving its texture and increasing suppleness and firmness. Wrinkles and depressed scars are filled in, raised scars are smoothed out, pores appear smaller and stretch marks and hyperpigmentation fade.

Dermarolling also create new capillaries, resulting in increased blood supply to the skin – delivering oxygen and vital nutrients to skin cells and removing waste products.

The derma roller produces comparable results to lasers, fractional lasers and chemicals peels, but at the fraction of the cost and with very little or no downtime.

Visible signs of skin improvement can usually be seen after a few weeks, but significant skin regeneration can take three months or more to become apparent. Because accelerated collagen growth continues for a long time after a derma roller treatment, skin improvement continues for up to 12 months after the last treatment.

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