In this article, we’ll examine how using a device called a dermaroller can help stimulate new hair growth for those suffering from diffuse thinning, androgenetic alopecia, and alopecia areata.
It’s important to read carefully — incorrect use of the dermaroller can lead to additional hair loss.
Used correctly, studies show this simple device can be quite effective to increase the overall quality and quantity of hairs.
The Dermaroller — A History of the Device
Originally used for skin rejuvenation, the dermaroller has been around since 1905 when German dermatologist Ernst Kromeyer used dental burrs to abrade and resurface skin to remove scars and hyper pigmentation (1).
By 1995, Canadian plastic surgeons André Camirand and Jocelyne Doucet noticed that patients benefited from the use of needling on surgical scars (2).
In 2006, South African plastic surgeon Dr. Des Fernandes presented a paper regarding his results in collagen stimulation from using a small stamping device fitted with fine needles. Dr. Fernandes would later go on to invent what we commonly call the dermaroller (3).
Since then, various studies on the efficacy of dermarolling, also called microneedling, have shown that this simple technique is quite effective in stimulating cell turnover, collagen production, increase stem cell activity, and deliver topical products into the dermal layer to increase their effectiveness (4).
The Mechanism of Hair Growth Using a Dermaroller
Because the dermaroller works directly on skin cells, it can be used to stimulate hair growth and thickness by applying it to the skin of your scalp.
Let’s explore some of the science-based research that touches on the ways the dermaroller and similar tools like the dermapen and dermastamp, can help you to regrow your hair.
The dermaroller has been found to increase collagen production in the skin through the tiny, subcutaneous wounding that occurs during use (7).
After the skin is pricked by the roller, the body increases circulation to the area to fight inflammation and increase healing (8).
A by-product of this process is collagen production. This is important, since collagen is essential in increasing cell proliferation in the skin (9).
Importantly, the wounds caused by the dermaroller are so subtle that no scarring results from them. They do not penetrate deeply enough to cause the skin to build scar tissue in response (10).
It’s well known that adult stem cell proliferation is firmly linked with hair follicle maintenance and proliferation, a process that’s regulated by something called the Wnt/β-catenin pathway (13).
Activating the Wnt/β-catenin pathway can result in greater cell proliferation and better results for those using dermarolling to increase hair growth.
To prove this, South Korean researchers used mice to study the effects of microneedling stimulation on hair growth and proliferation.
They tested several needle lengths – 0.15mm, 0.25mm, 0.5mm, and 1.0mm – to determine which had maximum effectiveness.
To begin the study, the researchers shaved the hair from the backs of the mice and took magnified photographs at regular intervals after each microneedling session to chart results.
They found that the group of mice that were needled with the 0.5mm needle saw best results in hair growth. After taking blood samples, the researchers were able to confirm their hypothesis that the growth was a result of the upregulation of various proteins, including Wnt3a, VEGF, and Wnt10b.
Dermarolling to Increase Efficacy of Other Topical Products for Hair Growth
Androgenetic alopecia affects mainly men, but also women. For men, it remains the leading cause of hair loss (14).
Besides a hair transplant, the current line of treatment for hair loss in men and women is Minoxidil. Men can also use Finasteride, an oral supplement.
Because of the many potential adverse side effects of both topical Minoxidil and oral Finasteride, more people are seeking safer, more natural ways to get thicker hair.
There are a number of safer, natural products you can purchase that will give you similar results without the side effects.
Microneedling has been proven to assist the penetration of topical products through the skin for enhanced efficacy and increased benefit — at least for skin rejuvenation and anti-aging products (15).
Can microneedling therapy also help increase the effectiveness of topical products for hair loss? The answer is — yes.
Study: A randomized evaluator blinded study of effect of microneedling in androgenetic alopecia
Through ground-breaking research, microneedling has been shown to be effective in increasing hair growth in both men and women using topical formulas for androgenetic alopecia.
One study conducted in 2013 followed two groups of 50 patients with mild-to-moderate hair loss from androgenetic alopecia (16).
The first group used Minoxidil (5%) twice daily alongside received weekly microneedling treatment while the second group used only Minoxidil (5%).
Photographs were taken to serve as a baseline, then all participants had their hair shaved to ensure equal length of hair shaft.
The researchers were most interested in the change from baseline hair count at 12 weeks.
At the conclusion of the study, the results showed that while the mean hair count of patients in both groups improved, the improvement was more significant in the group that included microneedling therapy.
Study: Response to microneedling treatment in men with androgenetic alopecia who failed to respond to conventional therapy
In 2015, researchers studied the effects of microneedling on men with AGA who didn’t respond to conventional treatments (such as Rogaine and Propecia) (17).
While the study was small, it is still indicative of the effects of microneedling on increasing topical product efficacy for hair growth.
The four participants had been using Finasteride and Minoxidil 5% for anywhere from two to five years. While they were able to maintain the hair present, they were not growing new hair.
While continuing their current regimen, the patients added microneedling sessions to their hair growth therapy for six months.
At the end of the six-month period, three of the patients expressed more than 75% satisfaction with the results, while the fourth patient expressed more than 50% satisfaction with his increased hair growth.
While the study is small and the data not rigorous, the results show that microneedling is a promising adjunct therapy to topical hair regrowth formulas.
How to Use a Dermaroller for Best Results
Now that you’ve seen the results that using a dermaroller can bring to your hair regrowth regimen, you’ll want to learn how to properly use this tool.
Improper dermaroller use can result in increased hair loss and damage to the scalp.
Using the Dermaroller
To use a dermaroller, gently roll the device through the thinning areas of your hair, being careful not to pull or break nearby hair or press too aggressively into your scalp.
You may feel discomfort when rolling, but you shouldn’t feel pain.
To ensure that you cover the entire area, roll back and forth, then side-to-side, then diagonally over one area before moving on to the next spot.
Increasing Dermaroller Benefits
After you’ve used the derma roller on the right area of your scalp you can carefully apply any topical solution you are using to promote hair growth.
As mentioned, above, the microneedling effect of the dermaroller will increase the efficacy of any topical treatment in your regimen.
This includes minoxidil, which is the only topical treatment that’s currently approved by the FDA for AGA.
But how does it work?
Minoxidil was initially developed as an oral tablet for the treatment for hypertension, but was soon found to have one undeniable side effect: hair growth (18). The drug was then developed into the topical solution that is used by millions of men and women today (19).
There are three mechanisms by which minoxidil is believed to trigger hair regrowth.
Foremost, minoxidil has been shown to stimulate cutaneous blood flow to the scalp (20). Using laser Doppler velocimetry (LDV), the study showed that circulation in the area increased just 15 minutes after the first application and was sustained until at least hour one. The amount of circulation increased by three-fold on the second day of application, which shows that the drug may also have a cumulative effect.
A healthy blood flow will ensure sufficient oxygen and nutrient delivery, and this is necessary for the hair growth process.
Another study shows that minoxidil also plays a role in the expression of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) in human hair dermal papilla cells (21). VEGF are used to support vascularization which is just another contributor to healthy blood flow.
However, blood flow isn’t the only thing needed for hair to regrow.
The final mechanism of minoxidil is believed to be the opening of potassium channels (22). The exact reason for this contributing to hair growth is unknown, but there have been numerous studies that connect the opening of potassium channels to the hair growth cycle (23).
These mechanisms are likely to work together to give the hair follicles a chance to live in a hostile environment, such as that found in the scalp’s of people with AGA.
And as the study above suggests, microneedling therapy can improve the effects of minoxidil treatment when used on a regular basis.
This is very likely due to the fact that microneedling similarly stimulates blood circulation. In this way, the tool and the drug work together to increase the blood flow to the scalp.
To increase the benefits of whatever topical serum you choose to use, wait six hours after using your dermaroller. Then, apply the mixture, using a finger to gently rub it in until you get an even and generous covering.
It’s best to do this one hour before bedtime to give your topical mixture enough time to dry on your scalp. The serum you use will enter the tiny wounds made by the dermaroller and begin to work on your scalp, stimulating and feeding new hair growth directly.
Dermaroller vs. Dermastamp — Which is Right for You?
While the dermaroller is the most well-known microneedling tool, it’s not the only one that exists.
The dermastamp is another tool for microneedling that offers some benefits over the dermaroller.
Looking much like a traditional rubber stamp, the dermastamp is a rectangular block on the end of a handle. The stamp end of the block contains thin needles, just like the dermaroller.
This device is used for the same reasons as the dermaroller, and like the dermaroller, the stamp can also be used on the scalp and face.
The dermastamp is much easier to use if you’re self-administering a microneedling treatment, especially for hard-to-reach areas, such as the sides and back of the scalp.
Because the stamp is stable and non-rolling, there is less risk of damaging the surrounding hair follicles and removing healthy hair strands, which is a recurring problem with a dermaroller when hair gets tangled in the roller as it glides across your scalp.
Dermastamps are also adjustable, while a dermaroller is not. With a dermastamp, you can decrease and increase the needle length as necessary for best results.
Using a dermastamp gives you more control over pressure as you press it into your scalp, which is essential to avoid permanent damage to your hair follicles.
Is Dermarolling Safe for Everyone?
While dermarolling, when done correctly, is safe and effective for most people, there are some contraindications. Researchers have found that the following conditions preclude its use (24):
Patients with conditions such as vitiligo, lichen planus, and psoriasis should avoid home dermarolling as it may aggravate their disease. However, some researchers have used microneedling with topical latanoprost to treat vitiligo. This should be done under medical supervision only.
In patients with blood clotting disorders or who receive anticoagulant therapy like warfarin and heparin, dermarolling can cause uncontrolled bleeding.
Rosacea can be aggravated.
Check your scalp carefully for skin malignancy, moles, warts, and solar keratosis. Dermaroller needles may disseminate abnormal cells by implantation.
Other chronic skin diseases like eczema are aggravated by dermarolling
Patients who have a history of taken isotretinoin within 6 months
Infected areas such as sores from impetigo or herpes labialis should not be microneedled
Patients with a tendency toward keloid scarring
Patients on chemo or radiotherapy
While this list may seem extensive, most healthy individuals will have no issues associated with correct use of a dermaroller or dermastamp.
Even though this article was relatively extensive regarding the ins-and-outs of dermaroller/dermastamp use and its benefits for hair regrowth, you may still have unanswered questions.
Hopefully, these will be addressed here.
Which dermaroller should I choose?
There are many styles, shapes and sizes of dermaroller, but they essentially all do the same thing. What’s most important is to get a roller with high-quality metal pins.
Look for devices with pins made of surgical steel to ensure you’re getting the best quality.
Read reviews and testimonials online to determine which brands have durable, long-lasting needles.
Whats is the best size of dermaroller?
The best size dermaroller for use on your scalp is 1.0 mm. Needles smaller than 0.50 mm will have a reduced effect and those larger than 1mm could cause too much damage and actually promote hair loss. You may find that trying a few different sizes and finding which size you prefer is actually the best option.
Can the skin get infected from the dermaroller?
Infection is rare, but it is a distinct possiblity if you don’t properly steralise your device.
To avoid contamination, it’s very important to properly wash the dermaroller each time you use it. If the pins aren’t washed properly, you increase the chances of infection.
To cleanse your dermaroller, pour boiling water over the roller before using it, but make sure it cools before applying to your scalp.
You may also use isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol) to cleanse the needles. Be sure to wash the alcohol off the roller before using it.
An antibacterial wash can also be used.
If irritation occurs, use your judgment about whether or not to continue. For extra caution, see a dermatologist to ensure you don’t have a lasting infection.
If you have a scalp infection before using the dermaroller, 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 hair follicles, however you should monitor usage carefully to ensure it isn’t causing 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, then its important to make sure hair doesn’t get caught in the roller.
To make sure no hair tangles in the roller, use short strokes and move slowly and methodically across your scalp.
Remember to take your time for optimal results.
How do I clean the dermaroller?
As noted above, It’s important that you clean the dermaroller each time you use it to prevent infection. If the pins are dirty, you will increase your chances of getting an infection or irritating the skin.
To clean your dermaroller, use an antibacterial wash and mix with water in a mug. Place the dermaroller inside the mug and leave for 1 minute and swish around.
You can also use isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol to wash the roller. After you’ve cleansed with antibacterial wash or alcohol, remove the roller and rinse with boiling water.
Dry it thoroughly and place it back in its case or in a clean container.
How firmly do I press the derma roller into my scalp?
You should press it into your scalp 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 viewed from 30cm away. For best results, use light pressure on the first round and gradually apply more pressure as you get comfortable with the tool.
What motion, direction and how many times should I apply the derma roller to my scalp?
You will want to get a good even covering of pin pricks which means using the roller in multiple directions across the scalp.
Starting with a small area of scalp, roll the dermaroller back and forth, then use a side-to-side motion over the same area, then finally go horizontally until the entire area has been covered.
This will ensure plentiful, even coverage in all your thinning areas.
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 (25).
A dermaroller or dermastamp is a simple, safe, effective tool that will help you regrow more hair.
Used alone or in combination with commercial or naturally-prepared topical products, a dermaroller can boost the effectiveness of your current hair growth regimen.
The technique that makes dermarolling effective, microneedling, has been proven effective in regrowing hair in both men and women. This is a particularly useful technique for women, since it also helps combat diffuse hair loss — the type most commonly experienced by females.
Research further shows that men who did not do well on minoxidil therapy found microneedling an effective way to boost hair growth
These tools are inexpensive, easy to find, and scientifically proven to work — there’s no reason not to add one to your hair care toolkit today.