Microneedling – and the dermaroller as a result – is a cosmetic procedure that has quickly been growing in popularity. This is because it has many benefits, including anti-aging effects on the skin and even lessens the appearance of scars.
But did you know that dermarolling can also be used for hair loss?
In this article, you’ll learn more about the dermaroller and its many hair-related benefits.
You’ll then learn the steps you can take to use the dermaroller on your scalp, as well as ways to make it more effective.
What Is a Dermaroller?
A dermaroller is a microneedling tool that contains a rolling pin with equally-spaced needles on handle. The tool is used to roll over areas of the skin that are being targeted and, as it rolls, the needles penetrate the scalp at a predetermined depth.
Microneedling has been used for years as a treatment for scarring and hyperpigmentation. It’s a procedure that’s often performed by dermatologists and that’s backed by science.
The Benefits of Using a Dermaroller for Hair Growth
There are scientific studies to support the use of a dermaroller for a variety of skin ailments, but can it also help with hair growth (1)?
Stimulate Skin Cell Proliferation
As mentioned above, microneedling has been used for years as a cosmetic treatment.
But why, exactly, is microneedling so effective at reducing the appearance of blemishes? The answer lies in its ability to stimulate skin cell proliferation.
When the skin is wounded, a three-step healing process is triggered (2).
The wound and the area immediately surrounding it will first become inflamed. The inflammation will soon reduce, and new skin cells will then proliferate. Finally, the skin will remodel through a process known as maturation.
As this process occurs, the ‘old’ skin is shed in favor of newer skin. This will reduce the appearance of blemishes and lighten areas of the skin with hyperpigmentation.
This theory was upheld by a scientific study published in 2012 (3).
So, what does this have to do with hair loss?
The hair follicle is an organ which contains, at its base, the germinal matrix. This is a collection of epithelial cells that contribute to the growth of new hair.
If the dermaroller can induce skin cell proliferation on the face and other parts of the body, it makes sense that this ability would extend to the scalp.
In fact, a 2014 study on patients with Alopecia Areata (AA) shows this to be a possibility (4).
Alopecia areata is an autoimmune condition in which the immune system attacks the follicles (5). The results is patchy hair loss on the scalp that comes on suddenly.
The two patients in this study had tried various treatments to stimulate hair growth, including injections of triamcinolone acetonide, topical steroid creams, and minoxidil (5 percent). However, none were effective.
In the study, both patients had microneedling performed on their scalp three times (once every three weeks for a total of nine weeks). They were also given a 10mg/ml concentration of triamcinolone acetonide twice per session – once before, and once after.
At the end of the study, the patients experienced extensive regrowth within the bald patches.
Does this undeniably prove that microneedling stimulates cell proliferation in the hair follicle. No, but it does support the theory.
Activate the Wnt/β-catenin Pathway
There are other ways in which microneedling is believed to promote hair growth. One such way? By activating the Wnt/β-catenin pathway.
But before we get into that, let’s have a quick science lesson.
Stem cells are cells that undifferentiated or, in layman’s terms, unassigned. This means they can theoretically be used by any organ to take on specific functions.
As mentioned above, microneedling has been shown to stimulate skin cell proliferation. But as this next study highlights, it may also activate the Wnt/β-catenin pathway which regulates the differentiation of adult stem cells (6).
This can have positive effects on hair growth as this function can lead to hair follicle proliferation and maintenance.
In 2016, researchers from South Korea used microneedles on the shaved backs of mice.
The mice were split into groups of two, and various needle lengths were tested. These included:
In addition, two separate cycle periods were observed. They were:
- 10 cycles (for the 0.15mm, 0.25mm, 0.5mm and 1.0mm groups)
- 13 cycles (for an additional 0.5mm group)
To track progress, magnified photographs were taken at seven and 14 days post-microneedling session, and regular photographs were taken at 13 and 17 days.
The needle sizes that were found to be the most effective at promoting hair growth were 0.25mm and 0.5mm, and samples taken at the completion of the study may explain why.
Β-catenin expression was increased in both the 0.25mm and 0.5mm microneedling groups as compared to the controls.
Reduce Thinning Caused by Pattern Hair Loss
You saw above that microneedling was shown successful in treating patients with alopecia areata. But what about other types of hair loss?
The most common cause of hair loss is Androgenetic Alopecia (AGA), also known as Male-Pattern Baldness (MPB) (7).
AGA is a genetic condition that triggers hairline recession and balding as a result of follicle sensitivity to the androgen hormone Dihydrotestosterone (DHT). It’s most commonly prescribed treatments are Rogaine (minoxidil) and Propecia (finasteride). But what about microneedling?
A study on this very topic was published in 2013 (8). It consisted of 100 patients with AGA who were then split into two groups.
One group received twice weekly microneedling with twice daily applications of Rogaine. The second received just the twice daily applications of Rogaine.
To track results, hair counts were taken at baseline and again at 12 weeks.
The mean hair count in both groups improved. But the true question is, did microneedling make a difference? And the answer is yes.
Twenty-eight of the patients in the minoxidil-only group saw mild improvement in their hair count. However, the microneedling and minoxidil group had 10 patients with mild improvement, 22 with moderate improvement, and 18 with marked improvement.
These results are promising, but let’s look at another study on the same topic.
Researchers in Mumbai studied the effects of microneedling on patients with AGA who failed to respond to conventional treatments including Rogaine and Propecia (9).
The four patients had all been treated with Rogaine for between two and five years with little, if any, results.
To test the effects of microneedling on treatment-resistant patients, the patients received microneedling treatments for six months. The researchers utilized a seven-point evaluation scale to track progress.
By six months, all of the patients saw an increase of two or three on the seven-point scale.
These results are promising, but there’s definitely a need for more in-depth studies on the topic. That’s not to say you shouldn’t give it a try, though.
How to Use the Dermaroller (in 4 Simple Steps)
If you’re ready to begin, here’s a simple step-by-step guide.
Step 1: Sanitize the Tool
Whether you’ve just pulled your dermaroller out of it’s packaging, or you’ve been using it for awhile, it’s important that you sanitize the tool before each and every use.
The most effective way to sanitize the tool to prevent infection is with isopropyl alcohol (more commonly known as rubbing alcohol).
To do so, place your dermaroller roller down into a cup. Then pour enough 70 percent isopropyl alcohol into the cup to cover the entirety of the roller.
Leave this for 30 minutes.
Step 2: Prepare Your Scalp
Just as important as prepping the tool is prepping the area you will be microneedling. In this case, the scalp.
The easiest way to prepare your scalp is to cleanse using shampoo.
You should avoid harsh ingredients and irritants such as acids and exfoliants, and instead use a simple shampoo with the basic ingredients. You want to cleanse the scalp so it’s prepped for microneedling, but you also want to ensure it does not become irritated or sensitive.
Step 3: Perform the Procedure
While making those first few passes over the scalp may seem daunting, it’s actually not that difficult to perform the procedure.
Before beginning, wash your hands thoroughly with warm water and soap. Also be sure to rinse the dermaroller so as to remove any alcohol from the needles.
To start, place the roller in the area you are targeting. Press down with enough pressure to penetrate, but not to cause pain (though, you may feel some discomfort). Proceed to roll over the area in one slow pass, and then roll back to the starting point.
Now place the dermaroller perpendicular to where you first started, and roll over the area again. Then return to your second starting point.
Continue this on all areas of your scalp that you plan to target. You should pay special attention to the temples and hairline, but you can also dermaroller over areas where hair is still present.
Just be careful not to make any sudden movements or to roll too quickly as this can dislodge any surrounding hair strands.
Step 4: Rinse and Cleanse
Now that you’ve completed your dermarolling session, your scalp is likely feeling pretty tender. However, you’re not done just yet.
To ensure that your scalp remains healthy and free of infection, it’s important to rinse the area and gently cleanse it.
You can do so by slowly pouring water over the treated areas. If this is all you’re comfortable with, that’s fine.
However, you can also apply a gentle moisturizer such as hyaluronic acid to present dryness and flaking (10). This is a natural molecule produced by the skin, but you can also buy it over the counter and apply it yourself.
The Dermastamp: A Better Microneedling Tool?
The dermaroller is one of the more popular microneedling tools, but it’s not the only one.
The other options that exist are the dermastamp and the dermapen. However, I’ll focus on the dermastamp as it’s a more affordable and easier-to-come by tool than the pen.
But, what is it?
The dermastamp is a tool that often has a rectangular box connected to a handle. The box houses the needles, and the tool is placed against the skin and used to “stamp” the areas which are being treated.
Which Tool Is Best?
The dermaroller can be an effective way to cover large areas of skin in one session. However, this doesn’t mean it’s the right tool for every case.
This is because the dermaroller is more difficult to control and, therefore, more likely to cause damage to the skin. In the case of scalp microneedling, it may even pull out hairs.
The dermastamp, though, is easier to control and target. You can use it more comfortably in smaller areas (such as at the temples, or above the ears), and it’s easier to track your progress as you work along your hairline.
The dermastamp is also less bulky and easier to use by yourself.
Does this mean the dermastamp is the best tool for all cases? No. However, I do recommend it for anyone who is interested in getting started with microneedling for hair growth.
Microneedling and Minoxidil: An Effective Combination
Minoxidil, more commonly known by its brand name Rogaine, is a topical solution that’s FDA approved for the treatment of pattern hair loss.
The drug was first approved as a vasodilator for use in treating hypertension, but it’s hair growth side effects were soon noticed (11). This led to the completion of numerous studies on the topic which all led to the same conclusion: minoxidil stimulates hair growth in men (and women) with pattern balding (12).
But how does it work?
There are a few theories, though the most commonly accepted has to do with its vasodilating effects.
Vasodilation is the dilation of blood vessels. This helps to ensure proper blood delivery throughout the body.
When minoxidil is applied topically, its vasodilating effects are believed to increase cutaneous blood flow to the area (13). This delivers the necessary oxygen and nutrients to the follicles so they can survive in harsh conditions (i.e. in the presence of DHT).
However, there are other theories as to how minoxidil stimulates hair growth.
One such theory suggests that minoxidil upregulates Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor (VEGF), which helps to maintain dermal papilla structure and support hair growth (14).
And still another theory asserts that it’s minoxidil’s ability to open potassium channels that contributes to its hair growth effects (15).
But however it works, there’s no doubt that it does.
If you plan to use microneedling in combination with Rogaine, you can do so. However, you should never apply the Rogaine immediately following a session.
Instead, you should wait at least eight hours before applying the Rogaine. This will reduce the risk of irritation.
Considerations and Complications
As with any procedure, there is a risk of complications.
The most common side effects are temporary, and they include redness, swelling, discomfort, dryness, and skin flaking.
In some cases, there may also be bruising.
There are more severe complications that may occur in rare circumstances. The most common of these is infection at the microneedling site.
Infection occurs when bacteria or other harmful microbes are able to enter the wounds. This can happen if the microneedling tool you use is not properly cleaned, or if the site is not properly cared for before and after the procedure.
To avoid infection, wash your dermaroller or dermastamp after each use. The most effective way to do so is with rubbing alcohol.
You should also prep the area to be microneedling with an alcohol wipe.
For the treatment to be most effective, you should avoid using anti-inflammatories such as Motrin, Advil, and Ibuprofen three days before your session. You should also avoid applying any harsh chemicals or products, including acids, retinoids, and exfoliants, to the area that is to be treated.
There are many ways to treat hair loss, such as by using minoxidil or finasteride. But they aren’t the only ways to do so.
Techniques such as dermarolling have many benefits for hair loss sufferers. Dermarolling has been shown to stimulate growth, activate the appropriate pathways, and even lead to the proliferation of skin cells in the follicle.
And best of all, when dermarolling is done at home it’s comparatively cheap and easy to do.