What does a Dermapen® treatment feel like?

Home / Aesthetic Medicine / What does a Dermapen® treatment feel like?

I’ve had the Dermapen 3 device for about a year now, and have been happily torturing people with it and then watching their skins improve amazingly almost daily.  I’ve been dishing out advice on how long you will be red for after a treatment and what products may tingle in the first 24 hours and what kind of results to expect with confidence.  I’ve been telling people “it’s uncomfortable, but not PAINFUL”, and saying things like “Okay, I’m going to do your nose now, it might feel a bit ugly!” regularly, but I actually haven’t felt the effects of the Dermapen for myself, and this all started to feel a touch sadistic and a little bit fraudulent.  SO if you want to hear what a Dermapen treatment is like from my first-hand experience, read on!

Firstly I must disclose that I am one of those annoying people who doesn’t think they have skin problems.  Sure, my beautician points out a bit of sun damage here and maybe a spot of melasma above my upper lip there.  I do have a bit of congestion on my nose and chin but for the most part my skin is easy, not prone to breakouts, I’ve never had acne or Rosacea and I don’t wear foundation on a regular basis.  So why am I doing a Dermapen treatment on myself?  Well for starters like I said, I would like to be able to tell my patients what to really expect from this treatment, and secondly prevention is better than cure and I’ll be damned if I wake up one morning looking like an old handbag when I’ve had the Dermapen at my literal fingertips all this time.  That’s why.

So I enlisted the help of my very capable but unqualified sister late one night as my Dermapen practitioner and under my strict supervision and guidance we Dermapenned me.  Now the process involved is not as quick and easy as it sounds.  The Dermapen is a needling device with a disposable needle cartridge on it with 12 sharp little needles springloaded inside it.  The Dermapen practitioner can set the depth and rate of vibration of these little needles with the aim of penetrating the dermis (the layer of your skin where its blood supply lies, along with collagen and elastin and all the things that make you look all glowy and wonderful), but not going so deep as to cause bruising.  Penetrating the layer of your skin where its blood supply lives means pain, and blood, and redness, so before we start I cleanse my face and apply my magic concoction of numbing cream (and this is no ordinary Emla) to my entire face and we wait about 20 minutes.

Once I’m sufficiently numb, we start.  The process involves going over each “cosmetic unit” (we use cosmetic units to divide the face into areas that should be treated as a whole, for example your forehead is a single cosmetic unit, each cheek is a cosmetic unit, your nose is one) a number of times until it is sufficiently red so that we know we have penetrated the dermis enough to simulate an injury (more on this in a minute).  This occasionally means little pinprick spots of blood will appear on the skin, but there is no active bleeding per se.  The pain level is at about 4 out of 10 if you are sufficiently numb.  It’s not chilled enough that I would do it to myself, but my eyes aren’t watering and I’m able to maintain a conversation while it’s happening.

During the process we apply a product to my skin that usually depends on the patient’s specific needs, and since according to my modest self I don’t have any specific skin complaints I opt for Hyaluronic Acid to plump up my skin and make me look more like Nathalie Portman.  The most popular active products I use when treating my patients are:

  • Vitamin C (skin brightening, clears some pigmentation, activates collagen, and is a powerful antioxidant that helps prevent further sun damage)
  • Vitamin A (increases cell turnover meaning pore refinement, improvement in skin texture and prevents breakouts)
  • Hyaluronic Acid (this is the world’s most powerful moisturizer: 1gram can hold 6 litres of water!)
  • Platelet Rich Plasma (Made from your own blood, this miracle formula contains stem cells that will revitalize your skin from the inside out)
  • Botox (to shrink pores and reduce oil secretion)

The reason we want to simulate an injury is that when your body thinks it has been injured under any circumstance it naturally triggers a cascade of events that cause an influx of blood rich in oxygen, nutrients and building blocks to repair said injury.  When skin is injured extra collagen is laid down to strengthen the skin, and extra collagen means a reduction in fine lines, an improvement in skin texture and a healthy strengthening of the skin itself.  In the case of acne the oxygen rich blood helps to clear breakouts and the needles mechanically break down acne scarring while also laying down extra regular collagen meaning a reduction in the appearance of scars and a return of the natural smoothness to your skin.  When you combine these positive effects from the “injury” the Dermapen has caused with the effects of the active ingredients we add (which now have a once in a lifetime opportunity to actually reach your dermis rather than sitting on your epidermis and landing up on your pillow instead of in your face) you can imagine why this treatment is so much better than any other facial you’ve ever dreamed of having.

Cape Town Dermapen
Me, immediately post-Dermapen

After the treatment (which takes about 20 minutes) I am still partially numb and also partially stingy and tingly.  My face feels tight and prickly and a bit itchy and it is RED.  I mean red red.  Like BAD sunburn red.  Like such bad sunburn that you have to sleep over at your friend’s house because you don’t want your dad to see what you did to his daughter red.  It’s also swollen in areas, especially my top lip and under my eyes.  The redness is a good excuse to make your loved ones believe you are unable to do any everyday tasks for yourself, but it’s not pretty.  I put on some Skinceuticals Phyto Corrective which tingles, but is lovely stuff that combats redness and also makes your skin wonderful and then put on my usual bedtime Vitamin A product: Dermastine, and go to bed trying to remind myself to sleep on my back.

The following morning I wake up red.  Maybe a bit more of a patchy red with some normal-ish spots in between, but for the most part I still look sun-burnt.  I also have some small bumps on my forehead that don’t quite look like pimples, but they don’t look like non-pimples either.  I wash my face with a gentle cleanser and warm water even though I’m scared that warm water will sting the way that it does when you’re sunburnt (it doesn’t).  After cleansing I put on my Skinceuticals Pyhto Corrective again (for what it’s worth) and then Skinceuticals CE Ferulic, which is a splendid antioxidant especially for after procedures, but it does sting for a good few seconds.  I then put on a Hyaluronic Acid and B5 hydrating serum and over that put Heliocare SPF50.  I’m looking pretty shiny now, and still pretty red…it’s not attractive.  This is where my miracle medical foundation really has its time to shine (I give all of my female patients some medical foundation to take home after they’ve had a Dermapen treatment…you can’t really do without it).

The reason I use a medical foundation instead of my usual tinted moisturizer is that firstly you need quite intense coverage to cover how red your face is, but more importantly under a microscope the molecules in most foundations are flat in shape, while the medical foundation’s molecules are spherical.  The nature of spheres when packed together is that there will always be gaps in between the molecules, and these gaps allow breathability and most importantly oxygen delivery to the skin.  It is anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and also has SPF30.  This stuff is not for everyday use (unless you suffer from acne or Rosacea, then you really should look into it) and it’s texture is incredibly sticky and thick, but it prevents clogging of the tiny channels made by the Dermapen needles and it covers the redness like nothing on earth.

I put on some red lipstick to draw attention to my mouth instead of my poor injured skin, and buttoned my shirt to the top to prevent people from noticing the obvious colour difference between my face and my neck…smart moves!

Cape Town Dermapen
I woke up like this vs After amateur makeup application

The first day was actually fine.  The makeup isn’t my fave, but it pretty much stays put, and although my skin is itchy and tingly and feels terribly dry it’s not so bad that I feel I need to scratch it and it’s not all that distracting from my work day…in fact no one notices anything and I land up having to tell everyone I see that I’ve Dermapenned so they can feel sorry for me and ask me why I’ve done it when my skin is already flawless.

When I get home I cleanse my face with a gentle cleanser again and then apply more Phytocorrective and decide an HA sheet mask (from Clicks) will add even more moisture and glory to my skin so I put one of those on and relax while my skin gets amazing.  By the time I’m ready for bed my face is still scary red, but it doesn’t feel as dry and tight or itchy as it did earlier in the day.  I put my Dermastine on again and hope for a less sunburnt look the next day.

DAY 2

I wake up and feel my face and notice that it feels very dry but also very smooth.  On inspection most of the redness has cleared except for a few attractive patches…it doesn’t look great.  I also notice that most of my forehead has now come out in little bumps similar to the ones you get if you have a reaction to waxing or threading your eyebrows.  Not ideal.  I persevere and do my cleanse/Phytocorrective/CE Ferulic/HA serum/sunscreen/medical foundation routine and notice that my skin is a lot less sensitive today and doesn’t sting when I apply products.  I’m a little sad that I still have to use the medical foundation because it is super sticky and doesn’t apply very nicely at all, but obviously oxygenating my skin is more important than looking my best, and I do still have a very patchy appearance that the medical foundation covers easily so it’s definitely the best thing to do.

Cape Town Dermapen
No makeup vs Medical foundation

During the day my skin doesn’t really bother me at all, but I do feel like it is very dry.  When I get home I do my cleansing routine and apply Dermastine again and notice that my skin feels almost shark-like…it has a very fine sandpapery texture to it, and no matter how much moisturizer I apply it doesn’t want to get moist.

DAY 3

I wake up with no redness at all, but my face is still ++ dry.  I weigh up the benefit exfoliating might have with the chance that it will hurt and cause injury to my delicate skin, and decide to gently exfoliate; it doesn’t hurt at all so I feel like it was a wise decision.

When I look at my skin closely I have patches of fine peeling that look like I’ve got dried drool on my face, and the more I rub them to try get the white crustiness off the more white flakes my face produces.  Wonderful.  I apply my antioxidant and then HA + Vitamin B5 hydrating serum, and then some moisturizer and finally my tinted moisturizer (I just can’t with the medical foundation at this point and my face isn’t red anymore so I don’t think it’s actually necessary) and when I’m done there’s still pretty obvious flaking around my mouth and chin but now it’s more creepy since it’s skin-colour instead of white.  On the bright side I’m sure they were looking for extras for a zombie movie in Cape Town this week.  This is really not ideal.

Cape Town Dermapen
Flakes errewhere

When I get home from work I notice that things have deteriorated during the day.  My left side appears more affected by the flakiness than the right, and I have a round patch on my left temple and the left side of my upper lip and chin are both flaking away like it’s nobody’s business.  There is no itchiness, but like I said my face is as dry as the Sahara and no amount of moisturizing or exfoliating is making this flake go anywhere.  It’s Friday night so I try my best with makeup and resolve to dazzle my dinner dates with my personality to distract them from the fact that pieces of my face are wafting into their food.

(I am aware that by applying a product that contains Vitamin A every night I am probably causing or exacerbating the flaking too, but I feel that the pro’s of getting Vitamin A to my dermis outweigh the con of putting people off their dinner.)

DAY 4

I wake up and my fiancé asks me how I have managed to drool all over my top lip, so I already know the flakiness isn’t gone yet.  I give my face a little feel and although there are still a few dry patches, the skin on my cheeks feels glorious.  Upon inspection the same patches are still flaky, and I have what looks like a skin moustache.  Fab.

I cleanse and give myself a really good scrub with my Dermafix Dermapolish Enzymatic Exfoliant and feel like I’ve gotten rid of the larger chunks of face sufficiently.  I then do a 12-step moisturizing routine that takes about half an hour and involves anything I can find in the house that looks half moist and at the end I feel like as long as no one looks too closely I might get through the day without being sent to Robben Island or wherever they keep the lepers these days.

I go to work for a few hours and nobody asks me anything about my face and so I decide to go with a “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and stop announcing to everyone who looks at me that I’ve Dermapenned.  When I get home the flakiness looks horrible so I decide to cleanse and exfoliate and reapply my moisturizers and makeup before going to watch the rugby with friends.  It’s the polite thing to do.

DAY 5

I miraculously wake up flake free and glowing!  It’s the most invigorating thing to have a normal face back!  And upon closer inspection it’s not even a normal face, it’s BETTER than normal.  This is kind of remarkable for me, since as we have established I thought my faced was doing pretty well for itself before this experience.  NOW though, I notice how much more hydrated my skin looks…my forehead used to have an unsettling texture when I looked at it in my devil magnifying mirror, with tiny little lines in all directions and this has improved dramatically!  I also had pores that were a touch too large on my nose, and almost always felt like I had a lot of congestion on my nose and chin that made the texture a bit rougher than the rest of my face.  My nose has never felt as smooth as it does now!  I also notice that all my skin is silky and shiny, but not in an oily or gross way, more in a glowy Kendall Jenner way which is a hugely unexpected bonus since she is the best Kardashian.

My thoughts on this procedure are that although I didn’t feel like I had any glaring problems to begin with, I can see a vast improvement in my skin texture and I would definitely do it again.  I totally understand why celebrities are obsessed with needling now and in fact I am wondering how soon too soon is for another treatment.  (You need to wait at least 4 weeks, preferably 6 between treatments)  I’m convinced I am brimming with collagen and that I am going to look impossibly youthful for many years to come because of this procedure.  I uploaded a selfie onto Ruderobot.net and it told me I look 17.  I am now concerned that I may start looking TOO youthful.

Cape Town Dermapen
So much youthfulness.

I have seen amazing results using the Dermapen for anything from scars and stretch marks, to fine lines and wrinkles.  If you have any skin problems, or would just like to refine the texture of your skin call to book your treatment on (021) 6833048 extension 1.  If you would like more information email info@capeaesthetics.co.za

(If you would like to purchase Heliocare, Dermastine or Skinceuticals we do stock all of these brands which is why I have used them after my Dermapen.  We usually give sample sizes to our patients to use during their recovery if they are available.)

3 Comments

  • Rehana

    Is it OK to apply products after a dermapen treatment. My therapist advised me not to apply anything or even use a cleanser for 3 days. Just use water . After reading about your experience I am curious

    • Hi Rehana, thanks for your question!

      Your therapist is being cautious, which is always the best approach! She is most likely not 100% sure what products you are using and has learnt that, even when patient rattle off a list of cosmedic products and swear they are the only things they are using, many of them are bending the truth! It is safe to use many products after a Dermapen treatment, and some active products are even beneficial depending on the result you are trying to achieve, BUT these products need to be as pure as possible and their formulations need to be checked so that you don’t cause harm to the skin in the form of granulomas that can develop over time, execess irritation, and blocking of pores and the channels created by the Dermapen causing breakouts and congestion.

      I give my patients sample sizes of products that I know and trust and caution them to only use those products or none at all for 48hours after a treatment. I also give them all a medical camouflage to cover the redness that will not block their pores or the channels we have created and also acts as an anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial as well as having some SPF in it for protection.

      Of course after my own treatment I have a few more products at my fingertips that I know are safe than a non-medical person would so I throw everything I can at the problem!

      If you have specific products you want to use and aren’t sure if they’re safe you can send me an email on drcara@capeaesthetics.co.za and I’ll do my best to look them up and advise you on whether they’re safe or beneficial!

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