There’s not much I won’t do in the pursuit of bouncy, glowing skin, including allowing a total stranger to prick my face with dozens of tiny needles on repeat. Okay, maybe not a total stranger — she was a trained professional — but my latest venture into the realm of in-office treatments did involve sitting on a surgeon’s reclining chair while a plastic hand piece maneuvered 64 hair-thin needles in and out of my face like the world’s tiniest boxing jab. Not to mention the waves of energy heating up my dermis at the same time. Luckily, the 45 minutes I spent receiving radiofrequency microneedling were well worth the trek to the Upper East Side. And the pain… yeah, there was a little of that, too.
If you’re unfamiliar with the benefits of microneedling, or more specifically the use of micro injuries to enhance skin’s appearance, the process is actually not as daunting as it sounds. As board-certified dermatologist, Dr. Corey L. Hartman, explains, “Whether it’s chemical peels, laser hair removal, laser resurfacing, or microneedling, many of the [results] are actually achieved by creating controlled micro injuries to the skin.” Inflicting microscopic damage to a limited number of skin cells through these various treatments promotes cell turnover and production. “As the injuries heal, the skin produces capillaries, collagen, and elastin that reduce fine lines, wrinkles, acne scars, and irregularity in pigment,” he says.
Of course, many of us are perfectly content using our assorted serums and creams to treat these types of skin concerns, but if you’re looking for longer lasting, professional-level results — or perhaps have hyperpigmentation or sagging that isn’t responding to topical products — microneedling can help push past that plateau and achieve the results you're looking for, faster.
Julia Ruiz, co-founder of skin care brand DĒAWY and an aesthetic registered nurse who has helped treat the skin of burn victims, was the professional performing the microneedling on my skin. She cites our loss of collagen (which begins around the age of 25) as one of the key factors in aging and the main reason for her patients that choose to undergo microneedling. “The idea is that treatments are the ‘surgeries of the skin’ and necessary to get real lasting results,” she says. “Skin care is your ‘post-op care’ and necessary to maintain your results.”
Disappointingly, consuming or applying collagen topically cannot prompt collagen production in the skin. As board-certified plastic surgeon Dr. Melissa Doft explains, “A [double-blind] study [wherein subjects] applied collagen-like proteins topically was shown to decrease the depth of wrinkles. But collagen is a large protein, and a very large molecule, and cannot penetrate the skin’s barrier.” She does note, however, that although topical collagen isn’t adding to your body’s natural collagen production, it is a great humectant and can add moisture to your skin, thereby minimizing the appearance of wrinkles.
So with all of this healing and collagen-producing potential of the needles why is it necessary to add radiofrequency into the mix?
Dr. Hartman explains that the relatively new technology increases temperature down in your dermis to produce tighter, smoother skin. Again, collagen production is the focus here. “The goal is to induce thermal damage to stimulate collagen production in deep layers of the skin and subcutaneous tissue,” he says. Paired together, the one-two punch of microneedling and radiofrequency provides double the anti-aging benefits all in one procedure.
Back in December, I decided that my dull, lackluster skin was finally ready to see what the hype was all about, and it was my lucky face that Ruiz prepped with numbing cream before laying me back to undergo the procedure with Fraxis PRO Refine and Secret RF tip. Thankfully, I’m not very squeamish about needles, because the warm, slow moving hand piece — guided by Ruiz — is puncturing your face on repeat. I felt adequately numbed, but in areas with thinner skin or more bone, like my temples and upper lip, it definitely felt a little spicy. Nothing the average patient couldn’t handle — she even went over my face a second time at 40 percent intensity and 3mm depth. If you’re feeling uncomfortable, your technician will be able to turn this down, and also lower the radiofrequency. Overall, I’d equate it to a teeth cleaning — uncomfortable, but never especially painful.
If baby steps are more your speed, there are at-home roller devices (sans radiofrequency) to choose from, but both Dr. Hartman and Ruiz emphasize that the technique is heavily reliant on how deep the needles can penetrate the skin. “Unfortunately most at home microneedling devices are well under 1mm of depth — most are about 0.6mm,” says Ruiz. “With [this in-office machine] we are able to go as deep as 3mm, which provides greater results.” Professional devices, of which there are many, also allow for more precise puncture of the needles, and therefore less risk of scrapes and microtears (the kinds of injuries that can harm your skin). The type of machine your provider uses and how powerful it is will determine how long your recovery time will be, as well as when you should return for another treatment in order to see the best results.
My skin was definitely red afterwards, almost like an oddly uniform sunburn, but that faded by the time I got back home. If you have a darker skin tone, you might see a slight temporary darkening but nothing major right away. Over the next week, my skin developed a scaly texture, which you luckily couldn’t see over Zoom — only if you got close to my face could you tell that my skin was a little flakey and bumpy. I used only micellar water and a gentle moisturizer for the next few days, laying off any active ingredients like retinol or vitamin C, plus an SPF 50 sunscreen.
After the week was up, my skin really did look more luminous, and dare I say bouncy. It’s the type of subtle effect you’ll get after a good night’s sleep and plenty of water, but with a little extra oomph. Did it take years off my face? Maybe one or two if I’m being generous, but it’s not the sort of instant gratification you’ll get from a great haircut or a really thorough face massage. The reason it’s still worth it, Ruiz explains, is that the best results are often seen three months later, when your skin has had time to rebuild itself from within and those dark spots, fine lines, and scars are significantly faded. But even a month after the procedure, I noticed how juicy my skin looked, despite the dry, frigid weather.
However, the question still remains — is radiofrequency microneedling worth the $1500+ per session price tag? For the average beauty connoisseur, probably not.
The before and after photos of treated stretch marks, in particular, were impressive enough that I could see why it’s a popular addition to the so called “mommy makeover”, but that type of intensive skin rehab is still unattainable for most of the population. However, the ability to target skin repair on a level that no topical product can reach is enough that I’m returning for another session in a few weeks. My ongoing battle with melasma could use a little help to fade the persistent dark spots — that’s why I now consider radiofrequency microneedling as just another powerful tool in my skincare arsenal (albeit a particularly pricey one).
If it still sounds like an insane amount of money to drop on a service with effects that lasts less than a year (which is actually more than most facial fillers, for what it’s worth) then I’d stick to a consistent skin care routine. Couple that with the cute new haircut you’ve been dying to try and you’ll definitely feel like a million bucks — or at least $1,500 richer.