2022 is undeniably the year of the scalp. Just look at the influx of ingredients and treatments typically reserved for the face slowly making their way up towards the hairline: There’s hyaluronic acid in hair care, scalp facials, and scalp microneedling as just a few examples. “We have noticed that more and more people are looking to improve the health of their scalp to provide a healthy environment for their hair follicles,” says Abe Ayesh, CEO of Eternal Hair & Esthetics, who points to a boom in hair loss prevention treatments like microneedling in particular.
Yes, you read that right — microneedling isn’t just for the skin on your face. “Scalp microneedling has increased in popularity in recent years, in part due to the ‘skinification’ of scalp and hair,” says Dr. Michele Green, M.D., a board-certified cosmetic dermatologist, who believes your scalp should be treated as an extension of your face (which it is). Her take? Scalp microneedling falls into this category — a treatment that uses teeny tiny needles to stimulate collagen and circulation for a boost in your overall hair health.
Intrigued? Read on for everything to know about scalp microneedling — including how you can try it at home.
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Scalp Microneedling Benefits
If you’re not familiar, microneedling is exactly what its name entails — but the needle part of it isn’t as scary as it might sound. “Microneedling is the application of a mechanical device that contains multiple needles, usually between 12 and 36, that penetrate the skin to create small — or ‘micro’— holes,” Dr. Jaimie DeRosa, M.D., a double board-certified facial plastic surgeon and founder of DeRosa Center Plastic Surgery & Med Spa, tells Bustle. “This controlled injury to the skin then stimulates the production of collagen, improving the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and scars.”
With scalp microneedling, the benefits are identical in theory, but the results are unique to the area where the treatment is administered. “With regards to hair, stimulation of the scalp and hair follicles can increase growth factors and circulation of nutrients to the hair, leading to increased hair growth,” says Dr. Rachel Nazarian, M.D., board-certified dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group. This helps promote thicker, stronger, and longer hair, which Ayesh says is especially advantageous for clients with alopecia conditions, aka a form of hair loss.
What’s more, Green adds, is that the freshly developed elastin from the treatment will help keep the newly grown hair anchored to the hair follicle. Translation? Consistent scalp microneedling can encourage hair growth, promote stronger and thicker strands, and help reverse the effects of hair loss.
Who Should Try Scalp Microneedling?
While scalp microneedling at the clinical level can help anyone looking to promote hair growth, Green believes that individuals actively experiencing hair loss and/or thinning — who have also tried alternative options such as hair growth supplements or scalp serums — are the best candidates for in-office treatments. “Scalp microneedling is a cosmetic procedure that must be done by a medical professional and can be much pricier than alternative options,” she points out. Typically, scalp microneedling ranges from $100 to $800 per treatment depending on where you’re located and the size of the area you’re treating, and can take at least three to four treatments to see results, says Green. “Each session sees continued improvement, but at least three sessions are suggested,” she explains. DeRosa adds that it can take up to 12 weeks (aka the normal hair growth cycle) to truly notice a difference.
DeRosa and Ayesh also note that the procedure will only work if there are still hair follicles in the treatment area, as this is what’s being stimulated to promote hair growth. “This means the only ‘bad’ candidates for this treatment are those who are totally bald in the area of desired treatment,” DeRosa explains. “For them, hair transplant is the better option.”
Microneedling is also not recommended for people who are pregnant, according to Ayesh. “For all others, the risks and recovery time are minimal, because this is a minimally invasive procedure,” he says. As for side effects? It can cause redness, inflammation, pain, and slight bruising, but nothing that should last for more than a few days. That said, Ayesh reiterates one must always consult a medical hair restoration professional, as they can examine your scalp and develop a personalized treatment plan.
Different Types Of In-Office Scalp Microneedling Treatments
As is the case in the facial skin care realm, there are two types of scalp microneedling: in-office or at-home (more on that below). If your main concern is addressing hair loss, Ayesh notes that incorporating supplementary treatments can improve your results — these include the daily topical application of minoxidil (Rogaine), taking hair-growth supplements like Nutrafol, and getting simultaneous clinical treatments, he tells Bustle. “Combination therapy is generally advisable to achieve optimal hair restoration results,” he says. “For those with alopecia areata or androgenic alopecia, we use the Dermapen device for hair growth, HydraFacial for the scalp to remove excess buildup, and for growth stimulation at the follicle, we highly recommend exosomes, keralase [a laser], and PRP (platelet-rich plasma) injections.” In the latter, platelet-rich plasma (PRP) is isolated from your blood, then re-applied during the microneedling session, Green says — so not unlike a “vampire facial” done on your scalp.
“The PRP is rich in a variety of growth factors like the transforming growth factor (TGF), which promotes the growth of new blood vessels, and the keratinocyte growth factor (KGF) speeds up skin regeneration,” Green explains, and so many patients opt to include PRP with their microneedling sessions to further boost their results. Note that PCP adds an additional cost to scalp microneedling, however: One combined session costs about $1500.
At-Home Scalp Microneedling
At-home microneedling, also known as dermarolling, is a popular alternative to in-office treatments, though it won’t be as effective. According to DeRosa, the main difference between at-home and in-office devices is how deep the needles penetrate the skin. Pro-level microneedling devices puncture beyond the .3 millimeter depth into the skin, which means they go beyond the top, non-living layer of the outermost layer of skin (aka the epidermis). Thus, they are only suitable for use by medical professionals or high-level estheticians. At-home rollers typically use needles that are around .25 millimeters long, which only treat the skin on a superficial level.
That’s not to say at-home devices aren’t worth it, though: Green asserts that DIY dermarolling can still help stimulate blood flow to the scalp and boost absorption of topical hair care serums. Both Green and Nazarian specifically recommend the BEAUTYBIO GloPRO Facial Microneedling Tool, which uses LED red light therapy and microcurrent stimulation, and has a specific attachment designed for the scalp. But don’t use just any dermaroller meant for the face on your scalp: “It can be difficult to use a [face] dermaroller on the scalp, as hair can tangle easily in the tools,” Nazarian says. Look for attachments meant to treat the scalp, which are curved and glide without breaking or damaging the hair.
Otherwise, microneedling your scalp at home is easy: Simply start with clean hair and roll the device back and forth for about 5 seconds on each area. Then, repeat a few times a week. Just never roll on your scalp if it’s at all irritated, as it can exacerbate any existing inflammation. “The process of at-home dermarolling requires consistent use, and should be continued long-term to maintain results,” Nazarian says. In terms of side effects, your scalp might be somewhat sensitive and tender after treatment, but this tends to be minimal. Plus, for many, the payoff is well worth it.
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Stevens, J. (2019). Platelet-rich plasma for androgenetic alopecia: A review of the literature and proposed treatment protocol. Int J Womens Dermatol. doi: 10.1016/j.ijwd.2018.08.004
Dr. Michele Green, M.D., board-certified cosmetic dermatologist
Dr. Jaimie DeRosa, M.D., double board-certified facial plastic surgeon
Dr. Rachel Nazarian, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist
Abe Ayesh, CEO of Eternal Hair & Esthetics