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What is dermal rolling? Does it really get rid of acne scars? And most importantly, is it safe and effective to do it to yourself at home? 

Click below to play Episode 45 or click “download” to save the MP3 file to your computer.

Show notes

The Cosmetic Categories Game

Tune in as I try to stump Randy in a new game that features beauty products, beauty brands and beauty ingredients.

Question of the week: Will dermal rollers get rid of acne scars?

Chris asks…Does dermal rolling really work to remove acne scars and can you do it at home?

How does dermal rolling/micro needling work?

A dermal roller is one of the devices used in micro-needling which is the process of pricking tiny holes in the skin to stimulate collagen production. The technical name for this is “Percutaneous Collagen Induction Therapy” which is abbreviated as PCI or CIT). It’s been used by dermatologists for the last decade or so as a way to reduce wrinkles and scar tissue without significant side effects.

Basically, the process involves numbing your face and then poking it with fine needles a few millimeters long. These micro perforations trigger increased collagen synthesis. For some conditions it’s supposedly even better than lasers or dermabrasion because those procedures can cause a loss of skin elasticity.

Here’s how it works: Micro needling takes advantage of the skin’s normal response to any kind of inflammatory wound. If you cut your skin, for example, the platelets and neutrophils in your blood release growth factors which increase the production of components of the intercellular matrix of your skin.  With micro needling, you prick the skin with a specially designed device that creates hundreds of micro wounds down in the dermis. These micro wounds cause this superficial inflammatory response which increases fibronectin production which sets up kind of a scaffolding where collagen is deposited. And over time this collagen goes through a conversion process where it naturally tightens up which reduces wrinkles and helps resurface scars. And because these needle holes are so small, there’s little risk of side effects from things like exposure to air or infection. Better still, there’s no post inflammatory hyper pigmentation like there is with some kind of wound healing.

What are the proven benefits of micro needling?

Chris asked specifically about acne scars and there have been studies which document that it really works. Here’s one example:

One 60 patient study published in the Journal of Dermatological Treatment in April 2014 showed an average 31% reduction in acne scars as measured by silicone replicas of the skin. They concluded “PCI offers a simple and safe modality to improve the appearance of acne scars without risk of dyspigmentation in patients of all skin types.” http://informahealthcare.com/doi/abs/10.3109/09546634.2012.742949


As we already mentioned the procedure boosts collagen so it can reduce wrinkles. And there are even studies which indicate it can help anti-aging ingredients penetrate better. Here’s another study, this one from a 2011 edition of the Journal of Plastic, Reconstructive & Aesthetic Surgery. It’s called “Percutaneous collagen induction–regeneration in place of cicatrisation?” (sick-uh-try-zation.) This particular study involved four groups of rats:

  • Group 1 the control group received no treatment
  • Group 2 received topical vitamin treatment Vitamin A retinyl palmitate 1% and Vitamin C ascorbyl tetra-isopalmitate 10%
  • Group 3 received needling only.
  • Group 4 received needling plus vitamin treatment

After treatment they looked for changes in epidermal thickness, expression of the genes that control collagen production, increase in collagen, fibronectin, glycosaminoglycans (GAGs) and some related growth factors. The results were interesting – across all these parameters they saw a trend that the vitamin treatment alone showed a small improvement, needling showed a bigger improvement, but the combination showed an even BIGGER improvement.

Stretch marks
And finally here’s a study from a 2010 issue of Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery showing PCI even helps reduce stretch marks.

22 women with Striae Distensae were micro needled for a single 30 minute session. They were then assessed after 6 months and the needled area showed “improved skin texture, skin tightening, dermal neovascularization, and no change of pigmentation.” They even took biopsies which showed an increase of collagen I and elastin.

Can you needle yourself? The importance of needle size

Can you micro needle yourself? Actually, it’s not as simple as that. Depending on what benefit you’re trying to achieve, self-micro needling may not be such a good idea. Part of this concern is that not all dermal rollers are the same. The first thing to understand is the importance of needle size.

Short needles (0.1 to 0.3mm)
These are used for cosmetic needling only. They can improve penetration of active ingredients but will NOT stimulate collagen production or affect scars. They require no special skin preparation other than proper cleansing and, as I said, the use of anti-aging creams or lotions.

You can use these at home but they won’t boost collagen or treat scars and if you’re not using this type of roller with a truly functional anti-aging ingredient, you won’t see any improvement at all.

Medium length needles (1.0- 2.0 mm)
These are used for “medical needling.” These needles WILL activate collagen synthesis as long as they puncture enough capillaries. This is what is called a “petechial hemorrhage” and it’s required to trigger the anti-inflammatory response that we talked about earlier. 1.5mm needles will even work on some shallow acne scars. When this kind of needle is used properly you’ll have tiny red-purple blood dots all over your face. And, since you’re wounding the skin to a great extent, these needles require a topical anesthetic. These needles are sold for use at home but if done properly they are painful to use and remember – you need to bleed.

Long needles (3.0mm)
These are used for “surgical needling” and they penetrate deep enough to work on deep scar tissue. They MUST be used by a physician or trained medical personnel and may even require general anesthesia. They produce a LOT of blood. Obviously you can’t do this yourself.

Device quality and the importance of proper application

There are differences between the “at home” versions and the professional versions. The “professional” needles, like the Environ® Medical Roll-CIT, are made from surgical grade stainless steel and they are gamma sterilized so you know they are safe and clean. Products like this have some kind of disclaimer like “This product is highly specialised, for use by medical doctors and trained medical staff only. Professional training at one of Environ’s institutes is therefore required before this product may be used in treatments.”

Now should you decide that you want to try this for yourself, there are 3 dangers of DIY dermal rolling that you should be aware of:

1. Beware of misinformation
Needle size is critical. It looks like some companies who make these rollers are very clear about the difference between the professional models for medical use and the home models for cosmetic use. But other companies blur the difference and imply that the home model will provide all the benefits of the medical treatment model. Here are two examples of dermal rollers you can buy for use at home:

The Scientia Dermal Roller
Dermal Roller Systems (http://www.dermarollersystem.com) This is one the featured on Rachael Ray.

Their websites provide usage instructions but neither say anything about the petechial hemorrhages and the Dermal Roller System doesn’t even tell you to use a topical anesthetic gel!

2. Practice good hygiene
Another important point to consider is hygiene – whether you’re doing it at home or even more so if you’re having it done in a salon. I saw an article “Salon workers often skip the sterilizing process in between sessions and continue using rollers which can become bloodied after one session. This can expose clients to risks such as HIV and hepatitis.” http://www.truthinaging.com/review/beware-of-micro-needling. So this is nothing to screw around with.

3. Watch out for skin damage
Finally, there are those who say that rolling needles can tear the skin and that you should use stamps and pens which are provide “Vertical PCI.” These are supposedly superior because they can apply controlled pressure rather than requiring you to judge how hard to push the roller. They also poke holes perpendicular to the skin to they don’t tear as much. Also, needle cartridges are disposable and so are safer and more sanitary.

The Beauty Brains bottom line

Does micro needling really work? The preponderance of data indicates that when the correct needles are used properly it IS effective for reducing scars, wrinkles and stretch marks and it can help with anti-aging treatments. According to the scientific literature, the procedure has to induce some bleeding to be effective.

On the other hand, you have companies selling the do-it-yourself versions which claim they only cause a little transitory reddening of skin. That sounds suspiciously like “cosmetic needling” which is not intense enough to trigger collagen production and heal scars.

So if you want to give your skin care regimen a boost these at home devices seem like they can help ingredients penetrate but if you have serious scars that you want to remove, you’ll more likely to have the treatment done professionally.

Derma-Roller FAQ’s: http://www.derma-rollers.com/24/derma-roller-faqs

Oral Maxillofacial Surg Clin N Am 17 (2005) 51 – 63 Minimally Invasive Percutaneous Collagen Induction Desmond Fernandes, MB, BCh, FRCS(Edin) The Shirnel Clinic and Department of Plastic Reconstructive Surgery, University of Cape Town, 822 Fountain Medical Centre, Heerengracht, Cape Town 8001, South Africa

American Academy of Dermatology 67th Annual Meeting March 6–10, 2009 P3514 Skin collagen induction and photoaging Gabriella Fabbrocini, Department of Dermatology University Federico II of Naple, Napoli, Italy; Antonella Tosti, Department of Dermatology University of Bologna, Bologna, Italy; Giuseppe Monfrecola, MD, Department of Dermatology University Federico II of Naple, Napoli, Italy; Maria Pia De Padova, MD, Ospedale Privato Nigrisoli, Bologna, Italy

Percutaneous collagen induction–regeneration in place of cicatrisation?, Journal of Plastic, Reconstructive & Aesthetic Surgery
Volume 64, Issue 1 , Pages 97-107, January 2011 http://www.jprasurg.com/article/S1748-6815(10)00179-8/fulltext

Percutaneous Collagen Induction Therapy as a Novel Therapeutic Option for Striae Distensae Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery: October 2010 – Volume 126 – Issue 4 – pp 219e-220ehttp://journals.lww.com/plasreconsurg/Fulltext/2010/10000/Percutaneous_Collagen_Induction_Therapy_as_a_Novel.79.aspx


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Buy your copy of It’s OK to Have Lead in Your Lipstick to learn more about:

  • Clever lies that the beauty companies tell you.
  • The straight scoop of which beauty myths are true and which are just urban legends.
  • Which ingredients are really scary and which ones are just scaremongering by the media to incite an irrational fear of chemicals.
  • How to tell the difference between the products that are really green and the ones that are just trying to get more of your hard earned money by labeling them “natural” or “organic.

Click here for all the The Beauty Brains podcasts.


Why does your skin get so oily?

Violence in the Middle East. Child immigrants crossing into the US from Mexico. Ben Affleck as Batman.

If I asked you to name the day’s most controversial issue you might have guessed one of the above. However, you would have been wrong.  Apparently nothing is as contentious as what controls oil production on your skin.

In a previous post on oily skin I reported on a 1974 study which indicated that the presence of oil on the skin’s surface sends a signal to the sebaceous glands to turn off. One astute reader, Kiera, was quick to point out that the study I cited is “old” and that the most comprehensive view of the literature confirms that skin does NOT have an external mechanism for regulating the level of sebum on the skin. More comments followed:

Lejla: “That study is old and has been falsified.”

Lyn: “Are the authors going to respond? Is the content of this post accurate or not?”

Ahj: “I also am very interested why Beauty Brains quote such a controversial study without further comments.”

Whew! Who knew this was such a touchy topic?

Why sebum production is so confusing

The controversy stems (at least in part) from the opinion of renowned dermatologist Albert Kligman who refuted this so called “Feedback Theory” in 1958. Kligman (and coauthor Shelly) said that “the sebaceous gland functions continuously, without regard to what is on the surface.” Yet, the theory once more gained credence in 1974 based on a paper titled “The regulation of sebum excretion in man.” (No word on how sebum is excreted in women.)

But *gulp* in 1976 the Feedback Theory was refuted again and there it stayed until new data became available in 1979.  In the 1979 study, researchers found, after controlling as many variables as possible, that the excretion process does indeed slow down over time. If you read the paper you can see for yourself that the authors refuted arguments against the Feedback Theory which include:

  • A wiping off effect
  • A “run off” of sebum
  • A resorption of sebum and changes in the physical property of sebum

They conclude by saying that “the Feedback Theory should not be too lightly dismissed.”

In 1981 the Feedback Theory deniers made a good case by reinforcing Kligman’s objections (“Sebum secretion and sebaceous lipids.” Dermatologic Clinics, Vol. 1, No. 3, July 1983.) I couldn’t find any more recent studies so I assume that the controversy rages on. (Of course I may have missed something so I welcome our readers to poke around in the literature for more recent studies which may trump this one.)

So is there an answer or not?

Could the answer to this controversy be a question of language? When Kligman raised his initial objections he used the term “secretion” which can mean either production or excretion. The authors of the 1979 study were careful to point out that they only studied the excretion of sebum (in other words the “arrival of sebum at the surface of skin.”) This is not necessarily exactly the same as sebum production which is the creation of sebum by sebaceous glands. So, could both parties be right? Maybe the sebaceous glands are unregulated (as Kligman says) but the mechanism by which the sebum reaches the skin’s surface IS regulated by some kind of feed back loop.  Without further data, that’s my best guess and I hope it satisfies the hordes of passionate readers.

Is the Excretion of Sebum Regulated ? H. Eberhardt and G. Trieb Arch. Dermatol. Res 266, 127-133 (1979)




A phallic salute to lipstick

Welcome to the 1980s:  L’erin. which is French for “The Erin,” launches a “fiery arsenal of color” with a barrage of erectile lipsticks.

Even stranger than the phallic 21 gun salute is the wardrobe choice for the models. Why are they dressed as flight attendants? (Or did they call them “stewardesses” back in the ’80s?) Regardless, it makes no sense.

The beauty science bit: Did you ever think about how lipsticks get their sleek, glossy finish? The answer is FIRE! Here’s how it works: First, the waxes, oils, and pigments are heated and combined into a molten mixture which is poured into stick shaped molds. After the sticks cool they are inserted into cases. At this point they have a dull, grainy appearance. The final step in the process is to briefly expose the sticks to a flame which flash-melts a micro-coating of the surface, giving its characteristic gloss. Smaller manufacturers actually pass each individual lipstick over a flame by hand. Large scale manufacture uses a device called a “Flame Tunnel” which automates the process.

{ 1 comment }

Does sunscreen make you Vitamin D deficient?

Angela asks…My husband recently read an article (from Australia, but I can’t remember the source now) claiming that we shouldn’t be using sunscreens. I think the basis of the article was that many people are vitamin D deficient, and that applying sunscreen prevents the production of vitamin D. It suggested that the risk of skin cancer was low compared to the vast benefits of vitamin D. In all your experience/ readings, is there any truth to that or can I continue preaching the virtues of sunscreen to my outdoor loving hubbie? And if I were to stop using all sunscreen, wouldn’t I look like an old leather shoe as I age?

The Beauty Brains respond:

Hi Angela. Please tell your husband that you should NOT stop using sunscreens. The idea that sunscreens cause vitamin D deficiency is a myth.

What’s the deal with vitamin D?

There are several “D” vitamins. The two most important are vitamin D2 (cholecalciferol) and Vitamin D3 (ergocalciferol). These control absorption of important minerals (such as iron, magnesium and zinc) in our intestines. Without sufficient Vitamin D our bodies don’t process these minerals properly which decreases the hardness of our bones (a condition called rickets or osteomalacia.) Vitamin D deficiency can also lead to a compromised immune system. Some cancers, such as prostate, colon and breast, have even been linked to a lack of vitamin D.

Vitamin D can be obtained through diet or it can be produced by our bodies, with exposure to adequate sunlight. Since sunscreens prevent sunlight from interacting with our skin, it’s not surprising that this notion that they can impair our ability to product Vitamin D has been raised. Let’s review the key points of this controversy.

Myth: People who live in sunny climates experience fewer deaths from prostate, colon and breast cancers. 

Fact: Two doctors from the Department of Dermatology at Boston University School of Medicine have analyzed the studies which claim to link these cancers with sun exposure. Their analysis shows these studies to be of “variable quality” because they may be confounded by other factors including additional climatic factors variations in population genetics, diet and lifestyle. They concluded that these studies “cannot establish that solar exposure decreases incidence or mortality from these cancers.” Here’s a link if you’d like to read all the details: http://www.skincancer.org/healthy-lifestyle/vitamin-d/the-d-dilemma

Myth: The risk of vitamin D deficiency is greater than the risk of skin cancer

Fact: Over-exposure to UV radiation is strongly linked to skin cancer through a combination of animal and human population studies (as well as DNA research). There are than 1.3 million new annual cases diagnosed in the U.S., most of which can be attributed to sun exposure. In addition, UV radiation is a major cause of photo-aging and contributes to wrinkles, saggy skin, brown spots, and the “old leather shoe” look that Angela is rightfully worried about. The dangers of sun exposure outweigh the concerns about vitamin D deficiency.

Myth: The best way to prevent vitamin D deficiency is to get 5-10 minutes of unprotected sun exposure

Fact: The authors of the above mentioned study point out alternative ways to boost vitamin D levels that do not require sun exposure. For example, you can eat more foods that are naturally rich in vitamin D (like salmon); you can drink beverages that are fortified with vitamin D (like milk or orange juice); or you can take multivitamins which contain 600 units of vitamin D. These alternatives are easy and much safer for your skin.

The Beauty Brains bottom line

The scientific consensus is that it’s important to wear sunscreen to reduce your risk of skin cancer. It’s also important to eat a healthy diet to ensure an adequate supply of vitamin D. Those two health goals are NOT mutually exclusive.  So tell your outdoor-loving hubby to suit up (with sunscreen) before he goes outside.


It’s our fabulous 44th anniversary episode!

You can win a Beauty Brains T-shirt if you’re the first to correctly guess the answer to our “Name that Noise” game. Just click the link to listen to the show and if you know the answer, leave a comment on this post. The first correct answer wins a “Be Brainy About Your Beauty” shirt.

Click below to play Episode 44 or click “download” to save the MP3 file to your computer.

Plus you get SO much more…

  • Learn why 44 is our milestone instead of 50. (You’ll be surprised at Perry’s explanation!)
  • The secret of the “lost” episodes (with Sarah Bellum!)
  • A tribute to YOU, the Beauty Brains community. (Listen for your own voice!)
  • The debut of 10 brand new catch phrases (in case you don’t like “Be brainy about your beauty.”)
  • Beauty Brains trivia! (‘Nuff said)
  •  AND the world premier of the amazingly clever (and totally original) Beauty Brains Theme Song! (Click below if you want to watch Perry perform the song live.)


Would you use a skin gun to get rid of wrinkles?

Here is an amazing new technology that could represent a new way to treat skin wrinkles.  It is being tested for use for treating skin burns but I could see how this could be adapted to creating youthful skin for people who are dissatisfied with their wrinkles.  Maybe in the future rather than getting face lifts, people will just be getting their own skin stem cells sprayed onto their face.

It’s a very cool technology.  The inventor says it’s like paint spraying.  They take the patient’s own stem cells and spray it onto the arm.  The whole procedure takes only 90 minutes.  Amazing.

I wonder how long it will take for this to be tested for cosmetic procedures.


Beauty Science News – August 17

Here are some of our favorite beauty science news stories from the past week…


Split end menders that really work

If you have a problem with split ends, here are a few products that REALLY work.

We continue to get a lot of comments on our post about the split end mending technology known as PEC or PolyElectrolyte Complex. It works from inside the split to pull it back together and, best of all, it works from a rinse out product. It’s not a permanent fix but it does last through several shampoos and it works better than any other product we’ve ever seen.

If you have a problem with splits you might want to try one of these featured products. If you shop using the Beauty Brains link you’ll be helping to support us. Perry and I really appreciate it!



Makeup fit for a prize fight – vintage cosmetic video

In the 1950s it was common for commercials to be part of the program which they sponsored. Here’s an example of Hazel Bishop makeup appearing on a game show.

The most compelling aspect of the ad is the “before and after” demo featuring Dorothy Smith of Chicago IL. Poor Dorothy looks like she just went 3 rounds in the ring with the heavy weight boxing champ of the world. If this concealor can make Dorothy look this good, just think what it’ll do for YOUR black eye.

Here’s the Beauty Science bit…

Ms. Bishop’s makeup was available in oily and dry skin variants and it’s interesting that even back in the mid ’50’s companies were beginning to differentiate by skin type. It would be years before the “oil free” craze caught on. By then products would contain silicones and emollient esters rather than traditional oils like mineral and plant oils.

My only regret is that the clip ended before we learned the secret behind Dad’s “special pair of trousers.”


Anonymous asks…My partner both uses and (attempts to) distribute Nu Skin/Pharmanex/Epoch/LifePak products. I don’t know how he started but he says it was related to his contact dermatitis on his hands and needing better moisturizer. The products are 5x the price of high street products, and they make a lot of outlandish claims. I think he’s effectively wasting his money in a huge way and also possibly harming himself. He buys -every- product of theirs, not just ones for hand moisturizing as he originally started with.  How can I convince him he’s not using miracle products like he thinks he is and that they are not worth 5x the price of other products? 

The Beauty Brains respond:

Perry and I have discussed your problem and it’s not an easy one to solve. If your partner is as set in his ways as you make it sound then there’s probably little you can do to change his opinion. But there is one little test you can do to assess his open mindedness and to establish a possible plan of action. Just ask him the following question:

“What would it take to convince you to change your mind about these products?”

His answer will probably fall into one of four categories and then you can respond accordingly. (I’m paraphrasing his potential responses, of course.)

Answer 1: “Nothing will ever change my mind.”

Your action: Now you know that you’re just wasting your breath. If he’s that closed minded then it’s highly unlikely that anything you say or do will get him to change his opinion.

Answer 2: “I need to see scientific research that has tested these products against others.”

Your action: This answer gives something you can sink your teeth into. To start, you two can agree on one or two products to evaluate. Then, based on a review of the ingredients, you can look at the scientific literature to see what is known about this kind of product. (Once you agree on the specifics from him, we’d be glad to help with this part.)

Answer 3: “I need to see for myself that there’s really no difference between these products and others.”

Your action: If he’s open minded in this regard, we can help you set up an experiment where he blindly evaluates one of his products compared to another brand. (It may not be possible to completely blind him to which product is which but you can make it hard for him to know which is which. If he’s true to his word then he’ll have to change his mind if he can’t tell a difference between the two.

Answer 4: “I need to hear from other people who have used these products and decided that they’re not worth it.”

Your action: You may be able to find product reviews or a forum discussion featuring input from former users of his brands. This one may be more of a long shot but if he hears the truth from other people, instead of just you, maybe he’ll be convinced.

I hope this helps. Like I said, this is going to be tough! But depending on this answer to “The Question” we’d be glad to help you take further steps to convince him. Let us know how it turns out!