You know those girls who glide around in sky-high heels, smiling as the blisters form? With every stride they take, they seem to be saying: Suck it up, mortals; beauty is pain. Well, these are the kinds of women whom I suspect sign up for micro-needling, a facial treatment that uses a cluster of nine to 12 needles to jab tiny holes all over the face at rapid fire.
Like most other painful beauty pursuits, the endgame pays off: Creation of those micro-holes kicks the skin into healing mode, where it rushes to make more collagen. This helps fade scars and smooth pockmarks caused by acne, prevents fine lines from deepening, and gives skin a level of radiance often reserved for only the most deep-pocketed of beauty slaves.
I didn’t think I was tough enough to take multiple needles to the face, but as I found when visiting the office of Beverly Hills cosmetic surgeon Dr. Norman Leaf, the treatment that sounds like a medieval torture session is an experience on par more with wearing cushiony Easy Spirit pumps than wearing six-inch Louboutins.
After a consultation to determine whether micro-needling might be right for me—a spattering of scars left from picked-at blemishes, oversized pores, and no active battles with acne made me qualified—para-medical aesthetician Maya Zeineddine cleansed my skin, then loaded it with numbing cream. She didn’t touch my face again until the cream had activated to the point where I could barely feel my lips.
Next, Zeineddine liberally applied a hyaluronic acid and growth factor serum in order to help the needle-filled device better glide across my skin. She set the wand’s needle length—for me, 0.8 mm, a setting long enough to generate a pinky inflammation without overwhelming the skin or drawing blood—and fired up the sucker for a patch test. Did it hurt? Not in the slightest (shout out to that numbing cream).
As she continued to work the pen over my face, inch-by-inch in concentric motions, I had zero awareness that nine little needles were mechanically oscillating, poking my skin as they moved. Instead of feeling the intense sting I anticipated, the sensation was akin to a round-tip fingernail lightly scratching against my face. In fact, had it not been for the loud sound of the machine, which buzzes like a barber shop shaver, I would have been relaxed enough to get my nap on.
As Zeineddine moved the wand to different sections of my face during the next 20 minutes, she stopped occasionally to reduce the length of the needles to better accommodate the thinner (and more sensitive) skin around the eyes, on the forehead and above the lips. When gliding the wand across some particularly large pores on either side of my nose, Zeineddine noted that the treatment would help them look smaller by stimulating collagen in and around each pore, causing them to plump and appear “closed.” Win!
The roughly $400-per-session treatment works similarly to Fraxel, which costs $1,500 a pop, stimulating the same pathways via a mechanical means rather than by using heat. Though Fraxel provides more intense results, micro-needling provides a fraction-of-the-price alternative for those working toward baby-smooth skin and is thought to be safe for all skin colors. “I see it as similar to Fraxel in the way that it resurfaces with minimal downtime—one to three days, max—and stimulates new collagen over a six-week period,” confirms Dr. Jeannette Graf, a New York-based dermatologist and author of Stop Aging, Start Living
Keep in mind that experts stress the treatment isn’t for everyone: The needles may spread bacteria for active acne sufferers, and they don’t go deep enough into the skin to help reverse sun damage. Skin can tolerate and benefit from deeper needling with subsequent sessions, so best results occur after four or five consecutive treatments. Still, Zeineddine tells me that I should see smoother, more glowing skin in the next 24 to 48 hours after my treatment—and I do.
Though my skin was pink and dry immediately after leaving the office, I followed the aesthetician’s Rx by applying nutrient-rich serums to my face that evening and into the following day. The result was the kind of glowy skin that the beauty-before-pain types sport. But here’s their secret: Unlike with teetering heels, constricting Spanx, or other needle-driven treatments, this kind of gorgeous doesn’t have to hurt.