This article will outline how to use a dermaroller to stimulate new hair growth. This method can help with diffuse thinning hair, or the typical receding hairline also known as pattern baldness.
You will need to know how to use this technique properly, or you risk damaging your hair further.
What is A Dermaroller?
A dermaroller is a simple device 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 by stimulating collagen.
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. This, in turn, helps stimulate new hair growth (2).
The Science Behind Its Use
Microneedling has been studied for decades and, as such, there are studies that back its claims.
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).
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Typically, the remodeling phase can lead to scarring. 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 deep enough to initiate the healing process above which then triggers skin cell proliferation.
Are you still not convinced? Take a look 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 5% minoxidil. 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 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 on 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.
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 affects women. The most common recommended treatments include minoxidil (for men and women) and finasteride (for men), but the desire for chemical-free treatments is growing.
There are studies that 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 5% minoxidil, while the second group was given only 5% minoxidil.
Photographs were taken at baseline, and then all scalps were shaved to ensure the equal length of the hair shaft.
There were three parameters that 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:
While the above study is promising, it is not the only study performed on patients with AGA.
In 2015, researchers from Mumbai studied the effects of microneedling on men with AGA who did not 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 5% minoxidil for anywhere from two to five years. There was no further loss of hair during this period, but there was also no growth. Alongside their ongoing treatment, the patients were also subjected to microneedling sessions for six months.
The results were tracked using a standardized seven-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 six-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 seven-point evaluation scale.
A 2019 study further encourages the use of dermarolling as it reduces hair loss, and participants could tell their hair was thicker and denser (11).
How To Use The Dermaroller
You may choose to go to a licensed practitioner to try it for the first time, but you can do it yourself at home. While the dermaroller can be daunting, it is actually quite easy to use.
On dry hair (to avoid tangling the device in wet hair strands), place the dermaroller at the edge of your target zone (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 are done, be sure to clean the roller using rubbing alcohol or antibacterial soap. Then set it aside to let it dry, and place it in a 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 is not the only one that exists.
The dermastamp is another option. It is 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.
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.
You can purchase adjustable dermastamps (whereas such rollers do not exist). This means you can decrease and increase the needle length as necessary for the best results.
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 good size dermaroller to start with is 1.0mm. A dermaroller maller than 0.25mm will have a reduced effect, and one larger than 1mm could cause too much damage.
Can the skin get infected from the dermaroller?
It is important to properly wash the dermaroller before and after use. If the pins are not washed properly, you increase the chances of infection.
Pour boiling water over the roller before using it, then allow it to cool before applying it to your scalp.
Infection is very rare, but irritation can occur. Use your own judgment about whether the irritation is too bad to continue. See your doctor if you develop a rash or if the irritation does not heal.
If you have an infection before using the dermaroller, wait until it 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 is not causing any undue damage to the scalp.
Typically, you use the dermaroller on an area of scalp that is already bald, or along the hairline where there are fewer hairs.
If you are using the dermaroller for diffuse hair loss, then it is important to make sure hair does not get caught in the roller. You may have to perform shorter strokes.
How do I clean the dermaroller?
Take an antibacterial wash and mix with water in a mug. Place the dermaroller inside the mug and leave for one 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.
NOTE: Never share a dermaroller. There is a risk of sharing hepatitis, HIV, or other blood-borne diseases.
How firmly do I press the dermaroller?
You should press the dermaroller firmly enough so that it penetrates the skin down to the depth of the pin. This equates to light pressure, similar to applying a roll-on deodorant. it should not feel uncomfortable, but it may sting or tingle slightly.
You should not draw blood.
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 promising treatment that could potentially help you improve the overall health of your hair. Keep in mind, though, that microneedling should be used as part of an overall hair care regimen. This alone is unlikely to make a truly visible difference to your hairline.