In this article you’ll learn how to use a dermaroller to stimulate new hair growth. This method can help with diffuse thinning hair, or the typical M-shaped (widow’s peak style) receding hairline…
But you will need to know how to use this technique properly – or you risk damaging your hair further.
I’ve been experimenting with using dermarollers and dermastamps to help regrow my hair for over two years, and the method I use has changed quite a lot in that time. In this article I’ll share what worked and what didn’t.
There’s also an FAQs section at the end if you have any questions about this.
What is A Dermaroller?
A dermaroller is a simple device that is used to make tiny pin pricks in the skin. The pricks penetrate into the dermal layer, just deep enough to stimulate new cell production and boost circulation, but without causing damage and without causing pain (1). The process is also known as ‘microneedling’.
The dermaroller has been used as a beauty device for decades to renew the youthfulness of skin but stimulating collagen, reducing the appearance of wrinkles.
How Does the Dermaroller Help With Thinning Hair?
In a similar way that the dermaroller is used to stimulate collagen production on the facial skin, it can also be used to increase cell production and increase blood circulation around the scalp, which in turn will help with new hair growth (2).
The Science Behind Its Use
Microneedling has been studied for decades and, as such, there are studies which back its claims. Some of these even prove that the dermaroller and other similar tools — such as the dermastamp and dermapen — can be beneficial for your scalp. Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look!
Microneedles Can Stimulate Skin Cell Proliferation
In 2012, American researchers explored the role that microneedling had on skin cell proliferation (3). This is beneficial in the treatment of wounds, scars, hyperpigmentation, and even in growing hair.
In short, researchers determined that the procedure induces a three-step healing process. These steps are:
- Proliferation; and
- Remodeling (maturation).
These mimic the natural healing process that wounds undergo (4).
Typically, the remodeling phase can lead to scarring. So, why doesn’t microneedling cause the same?
According to a 2007 research study, scarring only occurs when the initial wound reaches a certain depth (5).
When using a designated tool, the needles do not penetrate this depth. They do, however, go just deep enough to initiate the healing process above which then triggers skin cell proliferation.
Are you still not convinced? Let’s look more closely at a 2014 study performed on patients with Alopecia Areata (AA) (6).
This small trial consisted of two patients – one male, and one female – presenting with patchy hair loss on the frontal and vertex of the scalp. The male had experienced this loss of hair for one year, while the female had experienced it for six months.
Each patient had been through various treatments, including injections of triamcinolone acetonide, topical steroid creams, and even minoxidil (5 percent). None of these were effective.
The patients were treated with a 10mg/ml concentration of triamcinolone acetonide twice per microneedling session. It was first applied before the session, and the second was applied after.
The sessions were performed using a dermaroller, and they occurred three times at three-week intervals. At the end of the study (nine weeks), the results were significant in both patients:
While this particular study was small and focused on patients with Alopecia Areata, it can help us to better understand microneedling’s role in hair growth.
There are studies which show microneedling’s effectiveness in treatment Androgenetic Alopecia (AGA).
Microneedles Can Activate the Wnt/β-catenin Pathway
In recent years, scientists have linked the regulation of adult stem cells with hair follicle proliferation and maintenance (7). This is a process that’s largely regulated by the Wnt/β-catenin pathway.
This theory was put to the test in 2016, when researchers from South Korea studied the effects of repeated microneedle stimulation on mice (8).
The mice were split into groups of two, and various needle lengths were tested. These included 0.15mm, 0.25mm, 0.5mm, and 1.0mm. There were also two different cycle periods: 10 cycles (for the 0.15mm, 0.25mm, 0.5mm and 1.0mm groups), or 13 cycles (for an additional 0.5mm group).
The hair was shaved from the backs of all mice in the study, and magnified photographs (50x) were taken at days 7 and 14 after the first microneedling session. Regular photographs were also taken at 13 days and 17 days after the first session:
The researchers hypothesized that the growth was a result of the upregulation of various proteins, including Wnt3a, VEGF, and Wnt10b. This was proven when samples were taken from the mice.
And which groups had the best results?
Wnt3a, β-catenin, Wnt10b, and VEGF mRNA expression were all increased in the 5.0mm/10 cycles group when compared with control.
Microneedles Can Treat Thinning Caused by Androgenetic Alopecia
AGA is the most common type of alopecia in men, though it also effects women. The most common recommended treatments include minoxidil (for men and women) and finasteride (for men), but the desire for natural treatment options is growing.
Fortunately, there have been studies which show microneedling’s effects on patients with AGA.
The first study was performed in 2013, and it consisted of 100 patients with mild-to-moderate AGA (9). The participants were split into two groups. The first group received weekly microneedling treatment with twice daily application of minoxidil (5 percent), while the second group was given only minoxidil (5 percent).
Photographs were taken at baseline, and then all scalps were shaved to ensure equal length of hair shaft.
There were three parameters which researchers used to track efficacy:
- Change from baseline hair count at 12 weeks;
- Patient assessment of hair growth at 12 weeks; and
- Investigator assessment of hair growth at 12 weeks.
The results of this 12-week study were as such:
The mean hair count of patients in both groups improved. However, the improvement was more significant in the minoxidil + dermarolling group.
The investigator and patient self-assessment (which can be a lacking measurement technique) also showed a marked difference over the minoxidil-only group:
And while the above study is promising, this isn’t the only study that was performed on patients with AGA.
In 2015, researchers from Mumbai studied the effects of microneedling on men with AGA who didn’t respond to conventional treatments (such as Rogaine and Propecia) (10). This study was small – only four patients – but it helps to shed further light on this procedure’s use in the treatment of pattern baldness.
All four patients were on finasteride and minoxidil 5 percent for anywhere from two to five years. There was no further loss of hair during this period, but there also wasn’t any growth.
Alongside their ongoing treatment, the patients were also subjected to microneedling sessions for six months.
The results were tracked using a standardized 7-point evaluation scale, along with patient evaluation. While these aren’t the most accurate way to gauge efficacy, they do offer a general look at progress.
At the end of the 6-month period, three of the patients expressed more than 75 percent satisfaction with the results, while the fourth patient expressed more than 50 percent satisfaction. In addition, all patients showed a +2 or +3 response on the 7-point evaluation scale.
While further studies need to be carried out, one thing is for sure – microneedling can play a role in boosting hair growth via various mechanisms.
How To Use The Dermaroller
While the dermaroller can be daunting, it’s actually quite easy to use.
On dry hair (to avoid tangling the device in wet hair strands), place the dermaroller at the edge of where you’d like to target (e.g. the hairline, or the outside of the crown).
Roll the device slowly over the area, first horizontally then vertically and then diagonally. You should apply enough pressure to penetrate the scalp and feel a slight prickling or tingling, but not enough to cause pain.
If there is hair in the area, be sure to move in the direction of the hair strands whenever possible to avoid pulling hairs out from the follicles.
You can continue the above technique on the various areas of thinning, or you can even perform it on your entire head.
Once you’re done, be sure to clean the roller using rubbing alcohol or an antibacterial soap. Then set it aside to let it dry, and place in its protective case or pouch until next time.
This technique can be practiced a minimum of once per week, but more than twice per week is likely too much.
Dermaroller vs. Dermastamp: Which Is Best?
The dermaroller is perhaps the most well-known microneedling tool, but it’s not the only one that exists. So, what other options do you have?
The dermastamp is one option. It’s a rectangular block on the end of a handle, and the block contains needles. Just as with the dermaroller, the stamp can also be used on the scalp and face.
What’s the difference?
Aside from the obvious structural differences, the dermastamp has a few benefits over the roller.
In particular, the stamp is much easier to manipulate when using it yourself. This is especially true for hard-to-reach areas, such as the sides and back of the head.
There is also less risk of damaging the surrounding hair follicles and removing healthy hair strands, which can occur if hair gets stuck in the roller.
Even better, you can purchase adjustable dermastamps (whereas such rollers do not exist). This means you can decrease and increase the needle length as necessary for best results.
Which do I recommend?
I’ve previously used (and recommended) the roller. And while I did have an overall positive experience, I found the dermastamp much easier to navigate and target particular areas of my scalp.
I’ve also found that it’s much easier to control pressure and needle length with the dermastamp, which is essential if you want to avoid permanent damage to the follicles.
Which dermaroller should I choose?
There are lots of different styles, shapes and sizes of dermaroller, but they essentially all do the same thing. Get one with a round roller and high quality metal pins.
Whats is the best size of dermaroller?
The best size dermaroller I’ve found to be around 0.5mm, smaller than 0.25mm will have a reduced affect and larger than 1mm could cause too much damage. 0.5mm is the most common size so I would recommend that.
Can the skin get infected from the dermaroller?
It’s very important to properly wash the dermaroller before you use it again. If the pins aren’t washed properly then you increase the chances of infection.
Pour boiling water over the roller before using it, but make sure it cools before applying to your scalp.
Infection is very rare, but irritation can occur. Use your own judgment about whether the irritation is too bad to continue.
If you have an infection before using the dermaroller then wait until this clears up before continuing.
Will the dermaroller pull any hairs out?
The tiny pins of the dermaroller are not long enough to damage any existing follicles, however you should keep an eye out that it isn’t causing any undue damage to the scalp.
Typically you’ll be using the dermaroller on an area of scalp that is already bald, or along the hairline where there are less hairs.
If you’re using the dermaroller for diffuse hair loss than its important to make sure hair doesn’t get caught in the roller. You may have to do shorter strokes.
How do I clean the dermaroller?
It’s important that you clean the dermaroller each time you use it. If the pins are dirty then you will increase your chances of getting an infection or irritating the skin.
Take an antibacterial wash and mix with water in a mug. Place the dermaroller inside the mug and leave for 1 minute and swish around.
Remove the dermaroller from the mug and rinse with boiling water.
Dry it, and place it back in its case, or a clean container.
How firmly do I press the dermaroller?
You should press it firmly enough so that it penetrates the skin down to the depth of the pin. This equates to a light pressure, similar to applying a roll-on deodorant. it shouldn’t feel uncomfortable but it may sting/tingle slightly.
You shouldn’t draw blood, and it shouldn’t leave any visible sign when looked at from 30cm away in my experience. I would recommend going lightly on the first round and gradually applying more pressure as you get more comfortable with using it.
What motion, direction and how many times should I apply the dermaroller?
You will want to get a good even covering of pin pricks which means using the roller in multiple directions across the scalp.
Can this method be used for Alopecia Areata?
Yes, this method has been successfully used by researchers to improve hair growth in male and female patients with alopecia areata (11).
Microneedling is a proven treatment that could help you improve the overall health of your hair dramatically if you stick with the treatment. Doing it irregularly though probably won’t make much difference.
One or two sessions per week, lasting around 10 minutes each (depending on how much of your scalp you are using it on) is a regimen that many people have found to be successful.
Keep in mind though that microneedling should be used as part of a overall hair care regime. This alone is unlikely to make a true visible difference to your hairline.
Some people complain that this technique is uncomfortable and causes itching. That is true, it is not the most enjoyable thing to do to your scalp, however, the irritation soon subsides. For many people it’s a worthy discomfort for the benefits.
If you have a question you’d like me to answer, feel free to post it in the comment box below.
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