Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 3/11/2021
All you have to do is scroll through your Instagram feed to see the results of microneedling.
This minimally invasive cosmetic procedure has been made popular by celebrities like Kim Kardashian, but the truth is that it is accessible and beneficial for the everyday woman as well.
Though the idea of pricking your skin with hundreds of tiny needles may not be your idea of fun, it could very well be the secret to resolving long-standing skin issues—even stubborn acne scars.
Acne scars can be more than just unsightly; they can destroy your confidence and provoke you to hide from the world under layers of heavy makeup.
If you’re tired of hiding and you want to get rid of your acne scars once and for all, microneedling may be the solution you’ve been looking for. Keep reading to learn more about what causes acne scars and how microneedling can help.
Your skin is stronger than you may realize.
Even though it’s very thin (just a few millimeters thick at max), it still makes up about 1/7th of your body’s total surface, and can weigh anywhere between 7.5 pounds and 22 pounds, depending on the person.
Your skin performs a variety of different functions, but the most important is acting as a barrier to protect you from harmful substances—everything from cold and moisture to germs, UV rays and environmental toxins.
Simply looking at a person’s skin can tell you a lot about their health.
So, what do your acne scars say about you?
The skin is constantly renewing itself, so any time it sustains some kind of damage or injury, new cells move to the surface to start the reparative process.
Unfortunately, this process doesn’t always go smoothly and, depending on the depth and severity of the injury, you could be left with a scar.
Acne scars are a type of atrophic scar—an indented scar that heals below the top layer of skin. These scars form when the skin is unable to regenerate tissue.
Generally speaking, an acne scar is the result of deep trauma to the skin caused by acne. Additional factors like picking at the blemish can traumatize the skin and drive pus and bacteria deeper under the surface, causing a scar to form.
Acne scars usually take the form of areas of raised or pitted skin and, while most common on the face, they can occur anywhere on the body.
Whether you develop a scar or not depends on how much collagen your body produces.
Collagen plays an essential role in the healing process, helping to regenerate skin cells. If the skin produces too much collagen, it results in a raised acne scar.
Underproduction of collagen typically results in a pitted acne scar. Factors like genetics, non-treatment and picking or touching the blemish may increase your risk of developing a scar.
We've answered the question pretty extensively already, but essentially, Microneedling is a minimally invasive procedure that creates microscopic punctures in the skin.
It can be used to boost collagen production, encourage hair growth and reduce the appearance of scars. The major benefit, however, is reducing the signs of aging to leave skin smooth and supple.
The microneedling procedure involves sliding a tool called a roller (or micro-roller) over the skin. The roller is covered with myriad tiny needles ranging from 0.5mm to 2.5mm (1.5mm to 2.0mm in the case of scar removal) in diameter which puncture the skin at a depth controlled by your healthcare provider.
The skin is made up of three layers: the epidermis, dermis and subcutaneous. Microneedling works by creating tiny micro-injuries in the top epidermis layer of skin.
As the needles puncture the skin to create tiny wounds, it triggers the body’s natural healing response. During the healing process, the skin produces more collagen and elastin which plumps and rejuvenates the skin.
Following the microneedling treatment, your healthcare provider will apply some kind of topical product to help boost collagen production and speed healing.
These treatments typically contain ingredients like Vitamin C and hyaluronic acid which penetrate the skin more deeply following the procedure.
Microneedling encourages collagen production which helps restore your skin’s youthful look and feel. Your skin will become smoother and supplier in the weeks following your treatment, especially if you undergo multiple sessions.
But does microneedling work for acne scars?
Also known as collagen induction therapy, microneedling is a technique that initiates a complex series of growth factors resulting in collagen production.
According to a 2020 review of 58 comprehensive studies on the effectiveness of microneedling, the effects can be seen in a few weeks or months of regular treatment. Once the collagen has been deposited, the texture of the skin will continue to improve over the next 12 months.
To give you an example of microneedling in a clinical application, consider the results of a 2015 study involving ten patients with different types of atrophic acne scars.
Over the course of three months, patients received microneedling treatments at two-week intervals for a total of six sessions.
Prior to the first treatment, patients were photographed, and skin biopsies were obtained (Along with baseline information about each patient's collagen levels). At the end of the study, all patients exhibited a noticeable clinical improvement in their acne scars as well as a statistically significant increase in their collagen production.
Though this study only had ten participants, there are others to draw from.
A review published in the International Journal of Women’s Dermatology covers a total of 19 articles and nine studies testing the effects of microneedling alone for acne scarring as well as microneedling in combination with other treatments. Here is a summary of some of the results:
Six studies measured the efficacy of microneedling alone as a treatment for acne scars, and all studies showed improvements in scar severity, and all but one reported statistical significance.
A split-face trial conducted in the United States involved 20 participants randomly selected to receive topical anesthetic with or without skin needling on either side of the face. After six months, there was a statistically significant difference in the skin-needled side.
An Italian group studied the combination of skin needling with the topical application of platelet-rich plasma (PRP) in a split-face trial and found that while all scores were reduced, the PRP group had a greater reduction in acne scar severity.
A total of 18 patients out of 246 (over 10 studies) reported any adverse effects, the most common side effects being minor pain, a burning sensation, edema or bleeding.
So, the science supports microneedling as a treatment for acne scars, but is it safe?
Other studies suggest that microneedling has many advantages over other resurfacing procedures.
For example, that it is safe on all skin types and comes with the lowest risk for post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.
Microneedling doesn’t create a visible line between treated and untreated skin, and the recovery period is much shorter than most at just two to three days.
Just because microneedling is generally recognized as safe, however, doesn’t mean that it is the right choice for everyone. You may not be a good candidate for microneedling if you have the following:
An active acne breakout
Warts, herpes labialis or other local infection
Skin conditions like moderate to severe eczema and psoriasis
Current anticoagulant medications
Patients with weak immune systems, include those undergoing chemotherapy
There is always a risk for infection with any invasive procedure, as minimal as it may be. Microneedling may also contribute to minor adverse effects such as erythema and irritation, post-inflammatory pigmentation, hypersensitivity, allergic contact dermatitis and pain. For the most part, however, side effects are minor and dissipate within a few days.
If you already have acne scars, the chances are good that you’ve had them for a while—maybe since childhood or adolescence.
Should this be the case, you don’t need to give up hope! Microneedling is an excellent option for reducing acne scars, though there are other options available.
Here are some tips for reducing the appearance of acne scars:
Know the difference between the two types of acne scars — atrophic and hypertrophic. Each requires different modes of treatment, and atrophic scars are the most common.
Try using a product made with hyaluronic acid. This ingredient acts as a dermal filler, elevating depressed areas of skin such as acne scars. For long-lasting results, go to a dermatologist for a professional-grade treatment.
Consider laser skin treatments. Laser treatments encourage collagen production which can help fill in acne scars and improve the appearance of your skin overall. These treatments won’t completely eliminate acne scars but can improve their appearance.
Look for skincare products made with retinoids. Topical retinoids like tretinoin cream can speed up cell regeneration and improve the texture of your skin overall. You can find these products over-the-counter or get a higher concentration from your dermatologist.
Try a chemical peel. If you have widespread acne scarring, a chemical peel might help reduce their appearance overall. This process involves a chemical treatment that removes the top damaged layer of skin, causing the skin to produce a new layer underneath. This treatment can take weeks to heal and to show the final result.
Once you’ve taken the time to resolve your acne scars, the last thing you want is for them to come back. If you have acne-prone skin, fighting blemishes (and the potential for scarring) is an everyday battle.
So, what can you do to prevent acne scars in the future? Here are some simple tips:
Treat acne promptly. The sooner you get your acne under control, the better. At the first sign of a breakout, start treating it with an over-the-counter acne medication and make sure to keep your face clean. You can’t develop acne scars if you don’t have acne!
Reduce inflammation. With blemishes comes inflammation and the more inflamed a pimple becomes, the higher the risk for scaring. Avoid harsh skincare products such as scrubs and exfoliants that might increase inflammation during a breakout.
Leave it alone. Resist the temptation to poke, prod or pop your pimples. If you squeeze a pimple, you run the risk of increasing inflammation and driving the bacteria deeper into the skin where it can cause a cyst to develop.
See your healthcare provider. If you tend to experience large or particularly deep acne breakouts you may be at a higher risk for scarring and you should consult your dermatologist. Over-the-counter medications may not be adequate for severe breakouts, so talk to your healthcare provider about the options.
Though microneedling is generally recognized as safe for healthy individuals, it does come with some risk.
As such, you should talk to your healthcare provider or dermatologist before undergoing this form of treatment—especially if you’re going to try microneedling at home.
If you’ve tried everything in the book to reduce your acne scars and nothing has worked, microneedling might just be the solution you’ve been looking for.