What Is the Main Idea?

This post looks at microneedling, which is a cosmetic procedure with some applications in dermatology. It has been gaining in popularity because it is cheaper and requires less expertise than laser-based dermatological techniques. Read this blog post to find out how it works and what it can be used for.

What Else Can You Learn?

Inspired by the paper “Efficacy and Safety of Scalp Microneedling in Male Pattern Hair Loss”, published in the journal Skin Appendage Disorders, this post takes a closer look at the recent use of microneedling to address male pattern baldness: Does it work and how?

What Is Microneedling?

Microneedling is a cosmetic procedure that can have some medical applications. The process involves very small needles going into and out of the skin, making tiny wounds, similar in size to those that occur in tattooing. In fact, some practitioners use tattoo cartridges to microneedle the skin. Others use rollers with the needles on the head. There are also devices that are designed specifically for microneedling: They insert and remove various numbers of needles at various speeds.

The concept behind microneedling is that the body reacts to the wounds by producing more collagen (a fiber-like protein that is a major component of connective tissue in the skin, muscles, tendons, and bones) and elastin (a highly elastic protein that is found in connective tissue and helps tissues in the body resume their shape after stretching or contracting). Increasing the levels of these proteins should help skin heal from various issues. Furthermore, maintaining high collagen and elastin levels in the skin means healthier skin: better protection against injury, better moisture levels, less tendency to wrinkle, and greater elasticity.

Because it increases collagen and elastin levels, microneedling is sometimes called collagen or elastin induction therapy.

Does Microneedling Work?

Research has shown that microneedling is safe and can be effective as a therapy for both wrinkles and scars, including acne scars. Papers have also been published on its benefits for other skin conditions and for skin rejuvenation as part of cosmetic surgery. There is evidence that it can help with hyperpigmentation. It takes days to weeks after a session for therapeutic results to be visible. Similarly to laser treatments, it may take multiple sessions to achieve the desired effect. Importantly, most reviews of the literature show that more research is needed to optimize methodologies and/or establish the potential and limits of the microneedling in therapeutic settings.

Note that microneedling is not advised for people who get keloids (large, raised overgrowths of scar tissue) as it can make the formation of this type of scar tissue worse.

Interestingly, some microneedling devices can also deliver therapeutic agents into the skin. This is a relatively new application of the technology, so considerably more research is needed to establish its safety and efficacy.

What Are the Downsides of Microneedling?

Microneedling is not without its disadvantages, although most are minor. It can cause pain, although this is usually minor and manageable. It may also cause flaking, bruising, or minor bleeding. The healing process takes time, during which you should not go swimming, use certain soaps and lotions, and be exposed to dust. There is also a risk of infection in the period after microneedling if proper care is not taken. Home microneedling devices exist, but dermatologists recommend caution.

What Is Male Pattern Baldness?

Male pattern baldness, also called male pattern hair loss, gets its name from the hair loss following a pattern of receding from the hairline, most often starting with an M-shape with the fastest recession above the temples, and thinning at the top of the head. It can continue until the top of the head is fully bald and the remaining hair at the sides and back is thinning. Its onset and pattern are related to genetic and hormonal factors. It does not have any relationship to illness, but it can cause self-esteem issues. Hair loss without this pattern or with other symptoms (e.g., irregular bald patches, hair loss from other parts of the head, sudden or rapid hair loss, or associated with redness or other scalp disorders) should always be investigated medically.

Is Microneedling Effective for Dealing with Male Pattern Baldness?

Microneedling is offered for more than just skin issues. Many practitioners use it along with other therapeutic agents to address male pattern baldness. The theory is that the hair follicles are not dead: They have shrunk and stopped growing new hair, but they are still alive. Could they be stimulated by microneedling into growing new hair?

The paper “Efficacy and Safety of Scalp Microneedling in Male Pattern Hair Loss” is based on one of a few recent studies on microneedling for this cosmetic purpose. The study used a roller on 15 participants with male pattern baldness and a tattoo cartridge on another 15. Microneedling was the only therapeutic intervention used because the study wanted to see if this technique could be used on its own. While new collagen and elastin formed in the treated skin and a very small number of patients showed brief improvement in hair patterns, there was no sustained improvement in hair density or scalp coverage.

The conclusion of this study is that on its own, microneedling is not a suitable technique for restoring hair growth from inert follicles in male pattern baldness. Studies focusing on its efficacy when combined with other therapeutic interventions are needed.

Talk to Your Dermatologist

Is microneedling on its own or in tandem with another technique suitable for your dermatological condition or type of hair loss? That is a question that can only be answered in conversation with your dermatologist. Microneedling can be successful, but requires some study to establish its limits.

Note: This post is based on an article that is not open-access; i.e., only the abstract is freely available.

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