Is microneedling the key to nudging dormant hair follicles back into growth mode? We break down the topic and determine if microneedling for hair loss is an effective treatment to try. Read on to learn more.
What Is Microneedling for Hair Loss?
Microneedling is an increasingly common cosmetic treatment for a variety of conditions, including scars, uneven skin texture, skin aging, and hair loss.
Sometimes referred to as “skin needling” or “dermarolling,” microneedling involves either rolling a cylinder with attached sterile microneedles over the treatment area or repeated penetration of tiny needles into the skin using a machine similar to a tattoo gun.
The act of penetrating the skin with tiny channels opened up with the needles is supposed to minorly injure and “agitate” the skin enough to encourage skin and follicle repair on a cellular level.
Essentially, microneedling sends your body the message that your skin has been wounded and reinforcements are needed to heal the “wounded” (treated) area.
The body’s response to microneedling can increase collagen production in the skin, regenerate dormant or shrinking hair follicles, and diminish the appearance of scars.
Microneedling has been around for more than 60 years, but only recently have studies begun to show us how effective it may be. The first microneedling treatments were done by professional tattoo artists who called the process “dry needling” as they used the tattoo gun without ink.
The practice was done to boost skin health and improve texture. Today, microneedling is typically done with a dermaroller but a professional tattoo machine may be used in some clinical settings.
Handheld dermarollers are the most common way to microneedle. These handheld tools feature a small cylinder covered in micro-sized needles that aren’t long or thick enough to permanently injure or scar the skin.
When the roller is moved across the surface of the skin, it creates tiny holes that vary according to the size of needles used. Microneedling can be done with needles as small as 0.5mm up to 1.5mm in length.
For reference, a credit card is about 1mm thick. Longer microneedles can be used in medical settings, but are not recommended for home use due to the possibility of injury and scarring.
When microneedling is used for hair loss specifically, it can be used either as a standalone treatment or in combination with a known hair loss treatment drug to increase the drug’s effectiveness.
Studies indicate microneedling can be helpful especially for two types of hair loss: Alopecia areata (patchy hair loss) and androgenic alopecia (male pattern baldness). But does microneedling really work as a hair loss treatment, and if it does, what’s the “fine print?”
Does Microneedling for Hair Loss Work?
Current scientific research and clinical studies have shown that microneedling can be effective as a treatment for hair loss. It’s minimally invasive, which makes it an attractive option over other treatments like hair transplants.
It also begins to work relatively fast compared to other hair loss treatments, with many seeing measurable results within 3 months or so. But when we say microneedling can be an effective treatment for hair loss, what exactly does that mean?
Will it actually produce thicker, fuller hair? Does it make dormant follicles “wake up” and start growing hair again?
Can it work on areas that are already bald, or just those that are in the beginning stages of thinning? Let’s take a look at some of the scientific evidence to find out.
How Microneedling for Hair Loss Works
Microneedling minorly injures the skin and stimulates the body to activate stem cells and hair growth-related genes. Specifically, it activates stem cells in the bulge or root area of hair follicles, leading to hair growth in the treated area.
Microneedling may be done by a professional or in the comfort of your own home with the right supplies. If you visit a professional for this hair loss treatment, the clinician will apply a topical anesthetic to your scalp about 45 minutes before to reduce pain sensation during treatment.
Then, they’ll roll a dermaroller containing the microneedles needed for treatment across the areas of concern. This may be all over your scalp or targeted in smaller treatment zones.
Typically, the dermarolling process takes less than 10 minutes to complete. Afterward, they may apply a topical cream or hair loss treatment drug to increase the results and benefits you get from the treatment.
Microneedling for Hair Loss: Clinical Study Results
There aren’t many studies that look at how effective microneedling is on its own. Most test the effectiveness of microneedling in combination with another drug or vitamin cocktail to see how much microneedling may improve the results of common hair loss treatments.
A study found that when the authors treated 20 patients with male pattern baldness using microneedling and a vitamin cocktail (containing biotin and vitamin B-5), 8 of the patients had a 75% increase in hair growth in the treated areas.
But when the treatment was done on another group with microneedling and minoxidil instead of the vitamin cocktail, results improved and this time 15 of the 20 patients had a 75% increase in hair growth.
This indicates that when microneedling is used in combination with an approved hair loss treatment drug like minoxidil (the main ingredient in Rogaine), it’s even more effective.
As one scientist put it, “Microneedling shows some promise in improving hair growth, especially in combination with existing techniques.”
In another study, male participants in various stages of male pattern baldness were split into 2 groups for treatment: Microneedling plus minoxidil and minoxidil only.
Subjects treated with microneedling plus minoxidil had significantly better results than those treated with minoxidil alone. The total hair count increase for the microneedling group increased by a whopping 311% over the minoxidil-only group.
This is because the mechanism of action is doubled.
You get the benefits of microneedling, which stimulates the hair growth process and wakes up dormant follicles, plus increased benefits of the drug due to better absorption through the microneedle channels opened up in the skin.
The result is gradual filling in of bald and thinning areas, increased thickness and density of hair in the treated areas, and an improved, regulated hair growth process.
Overall, clinical study results show that while microneedling can be effective in stopping and reversing hair loss and enhancing hair growth, there haven’t been enough studies looking at microneedling alone as a hair loss treatment.
Most studies combine microneedling with an FDA-approved hair loss medication like minoxidil or finasteride, so it’s hard to say just how effective microneedling is as a standalone hair loss treatment.
The few studies that have looked at the effectiveness of microneedling alone as a hair loss treatment have been limited to mice. One of these studies found that microneedling shaved female mice resulted in significantly more hair growth than the control group (not treated with microneedling).
The results are promising, but we need more studies on humans to be sure of how effective this is as a standalone hair loss treatment.
Benefits of Microneedling as a Hair Loss Treatment
Microneedling has plenty of benefits to offer as a hair loss treatment. Here are the positive things you may experience if you choose to try microneedling to stop or reverse hair loss.
Activates Hair Growth Phase
Microneedling has been shown to activate hair follicle stem cells. When these stem cells are activated during microneedling, it forces the treated follicles into the anagen, or growth, phase of the body’s normal hair growth process.
When in the growth phase, hairs in the treated area stay strongly rooted in the follicles and grow longer each day.
Since hair loss involves many hairs entering the shedding phase at once, treating with microneedling can keep your follicles in the growth phase to reduce shedding and hair loss while promoting stronger, longer hair.
Enhances Hair Loss Medication Results
Microneedling can also act as an enhancer for topical treatments and drug administration.
When microneedling is used along with a medication, like minoxidil (the main ingredient in Rogaine) or finasteride (the main ingredient in Propecia), it increases the delivery of the drug through the skin and improves the hair growth results significantly.
Scientists aren’t sure if the improved results with microneedling result from the activation of stem cells in the follicles, the increased delivery of topical medication through micro-channels created by the needles, or a combination of both.
In any case, when you pair a proven-effective hair loss treatment with microneedling, you’ll get even better results.
Increases Hair Thickness, Density, and Strength
When microneedling is used as a hair loss treatment, it can help increase the thickness and density of hair. Since dermarollers with microneedles force follicles into the growth phase, it also results in stronger hair that is actively growing and less likely to shed.
A number of studies have shown that participants subjected to microneedling see a clear and measurable increase in both the number of hairs in the treated area (density) and the thickness and width of each newly-grown hair (thickness).
The result is overall fuller-looking hair with fewer bald or thinning spots and more scalp coverage.
Minimal Pain During Treatment
Microneedling sounds a lot scarier than it is, thankfully. While the idea of poking your scalp with lots of needles, however tiny, is not appealing to most, the needles used in dermarollers and microneedling machines are small and short enough to cause minimal pain and discomfort during treatment.
Users have described microneedling as feeling almost like a warm, burning or tingling sensation similar to a sunburn.
You may feel increased discomfort on bony areas like the scalp, but the needles used are small enough to avoid making contact with bone and causing serious pain. If you’ve ever gotten a tattoo, microneedling is much lower on the pain and discomfort scale.
In many cases, you won’t even feel that there’s penetration – it may feel like a light scratching sensation on the surface of your skin.
Quick, Easy Treatments
Microneedling also has the benefit of being a quick and easy treatment to undergo or perform on yourself.
Since the needles are perfectly arranged on a dermaroller, all you or your clinician need to do is roll the device across the treatment area (your scalp) in a slow and grid-like motion. You don’t have to press hard or worry about driving the needles too deep because of their extremely tiny size.
In most cases, microneedling treatments can be done in less than 10 minutes. And since you’ll only need about one treatment a week up to once every 3 weeks, you’ll appreciate that microneedling doesn’t take much time to do.
Safe for At-Home Treatment
If visiting a medical professional for microneedling sounds too expensive or inconvenient to regularly check off your to-do list, you’ll love that microneedling can safely be done in the comfort and privacy of your own home.
Most consumer-grade dermarollers are offered with even smaller, shorter needles (typically 0.25mm to 0.50mm) than professional tools use, so you can be sure you won’t drive the needles too deeply or cause additional pain and discomfort.
Cost Effective Hair Loss Treatment
Doing your microneedling treatments at home is the most cost-effective way to get this treatment. You can purchase a consumer-grade dermaroller for around $15 to $30 online, and many kits come with additional microneedle head attachments with varying needle lengths for customized treatment.
If you choose to have microneedling treatments done by a professional, it’s much more costly.
Single sessions can run from $200 to as much as $700, depending on where you are and who’s doing the treatment. Since you’ll need multiple treatments to see ideal results, it can get costly fast if you’re visiting a professional.
Potential Microneedling Side Effects
There are several points to consider for human application of microneedle. Length of microneedle is needed to be long enough to penetrate through the skin barrier for enhanced drug delivery, and also short enough to cause minimal skin injury and pain19.
- Bleeding: Pinpoint bleeding is a common side effect of microneedling and should not be a cause for concern in most cases. The act of performing a controlled injury to the scalp skin during treatment can result in pinpoint bleeding in the treated areas, but this light bleeding should stop within a day or two of treatment.
- Bruising: You may notice light or mild bruising in the treated areas after microneedling, though this doesn’t always occur. Bruising is the result of injury or trauma to an area of the body, and since microneedling for hair loss targets the scalp, you may feel or see bruised areas after treatment. These bruises will fade and will not affect your results.
- Pain and discomfort: Microneedling should be mildly uncomfortable with minimal pain when done properly, but it’s possible that using this treatment over a bony area like the scalp may lead to increased pain and discomfort. A numbing cream or spray can be used before treatment to avoid this side effect.
- Perifollicular fibrosis: Microneedling leads to increased collagen and elastin in the skin. When it’s done on the scalp, that can cause perifollicular fibrosis (increased growth of fibrous tissue around hair follicles) that actually hinders hair growth. Using properly-sized needles that are small enough to prevent pain and injury can keep the risk of PF minimal.
- Potential overdose of hair loss treatment drugs: If microneedling is used as a way to enhance the delivery of hair loss treatment drugs like minoxidil, it can lead to an overdose and issues like cardiovascular side effects. This is because microneedling creates openings in the skin to deliver more of the topical medication, and while it’s rare, that can sometimes lead to an overdose.
- Swelling after treatment: Swelling after microneedling treatments is quite common due to the minor injury this treatment creates in the skin. Swelling should subside within about 5 days after treatment, but if yours isn’t going away in that time frame, call your doctor.
These are some, but not all of the possible side effects you may experience if you try microneedling for hair loss. You should speak with your doctor or healthcare provider before beginning this type of treatment.
Do not begin microneedling without consulting your doctor if you have any of the following conditions or medical history:
- A history of acne
- A history of eczema
- A medical condition that inhibits wound healing, like diabetes
- Take blood thinners or any prescribed medication
- Use topical medications or treatments on your scalp
- Have an immune deficiency
- Are pregnant or expecting
How to Try Microneedling For Hair Loss at Home
You can get great results, save money, and ensure you never miss a treatment by doing your own microneedling treatments for hair loss at home.
You need to buy a quality dermaroller to use, invest in a good numbing cream or spray, and be strict about disinfecting and sanitizing your tools after use to effectively do this treatment at home.
The process takes less than 10 minutes, so you can do your treatments anytime that is convenient for you.
Grab Your Supplies
You’ll need the following to get started once you have medical clearance from your healthcare provider:
- Dermaroller with microneedles 1.5mm or smaller*
- Numbing/analgesic cream or spray
- Rubbing alcohol (90% isopropyl alcohol)
*The 1.5mm needle length is the preferred needle length for male pattern baldness specifically, but it can be hard to find consumer dermarollers with needles this length. You may use shorter needles instead.
Numb and Treat the Hair Loss Area
Once you’ve gathered your supplies, it’s time to numb the area you plan to treat. This may be your entire scalp or limited to balding/thinning areas that need the most attention.
Regardless, apply the numbing cream or spray to the treatment area and wait until the area is numbed sufficiently to begin. Read the instructions for your specific dermaroller for the most accurate usage directions.
In general, you’ll need to attach a head containing a cylindrical roller packed with tiny microneedles onto the body of the roller. Once it’s clicked into place, you’ll roll the tool over the treatment area in a straight horizontal line.
Then, go over the area again with the roller in a vertical line, then diagonal lines. Continue rolling the treatment area until you see a little redness in the area.
You may see pinpoints of blood springing up from the area you’ve treated – this is normal, but take it as your sign to stop for now.
Sanitize Your Tools
Once you’ve completed your treatment, remove the roller head from your device and pour enough rubbing alcohol (90% is best for disinfecting) into a cup to cover the roller head. Submerge the roller head for at least 5 minutes, but preferably 10 minutes.
Things to Consider
From the scientific evidence that has been published so far, it looks like microneedling is an effective way to treat hair loss. Microneedling, especially when used in combination with hair loss treatment drugs, leads to thicker, denser hair with more scalp coverage.
It also reduces shedding, is safe and easy to do at home, and causes less pain and discomfort than you’d think.
While microneedling by a professional is the best way to get results and ensure safety, doing these treatments at home with a consumer-grade dermaroller is more cost effective and should get you similar results.
Here’s what you need to consider before you try microneedling for hair loss:
- Consult your healthcare provider first: Even if you plan to do your own microneedling with a dermaroller at home, you still need to talk to your doctor or healthcare provider before you try it. If you have any medical conditions or are on certain medications, it can lead to serious problems. Your doctor can help you determine if this hair loss treatment is a good idea for you.
- Microneedle up to once a week: Don’t microneedle too often in an effort to get results faster. It will only hinder your results and cause unnecessary pain and injury to the treatment area. One treatment every 1-3 weeks seems to be the sweet spot for getting the most benefits and results from microneedling, according to the clinical studies that have been done.
- Take before and after photos: It’s a good idea to take before, during, and after treatment photos to compare once you’re finished with your microneedling treatment plan. It’s hard to see clear results when you look at yourself each day, but photos can make any increase in hair thickness and density more obvious. Take clear, close-up photos of the areas of your scalp you plan to treat (draw a permanent marker dot for better comparison), snap a few more after each treatment, and compare your results to see how far you’ve come.
- Get better results with a one-two punch: Using microneedling in combination with other hair loss treatments and supplements like Folexin (available without a prescription) or prescription-only minoxidil will improve your results and help you see results faster. Why limit yourself to one treatment when there are others you can try at the same time to get the best results?
- Listen to your body: Know how to read the signs that your body’s had enough microneedling for the day – redness, pinpoint bleeding, increasing pain with each pass of the roller, and any sign of infection or bruising mean you should stop treating and wait at least a week before trying again. Talk to your doctor if you experience any side effects that concern you.
Microneedling may become the first line of treatment for hair loss as we learn more about how and why it works. For now, we know that microneedling seems to stop hair loss from occurring by forcing follicles into the growth phase.
If you’re experiencing hair loss and want to restore your mane to its former glory, talk to your healthcare provider and see if microneedling is a possibility for you.
You may be able to wake up dormant hair follicles to begin producing hair in bald areas, thicken hair density and improve scalp coverage in thinning areas, and grow your hair longer than before when you use this minimally invasive, mildly uncomfortable treatment.
If you can handle the light poking sensation of microneedling, you’ll benefit by getting thicker, fuller, longer hair that doesn’t easily shed and keeps you looking youthful and healthy. We’re excited to see how microneedling can work for you!