February 20, 2017
On March 31, 2016, Jamie O’Banion, a former Miss Teen Texas with dewy, perfect skin, was barely 12 minutes into her debut on the Home Shopping Network’s beauty hour when a buzzer sounded and the words “Sold Out” were stamped in bright red on the screen. She was less than halfway through her allotted airtime.
At 35, Ms. O’Banion, a founder of Beauty Bioscience in Dallas, was clearly an effective advertisement for her product: the $199 GloPro, a hand-held device for at-home microneedling — that is, using teeny tiny surgical steel needles to prod the skin into increasing production of collagen and elastin, and as a result improving texture and tone and potentially reducing wrinkles and scars.
In those 12 minutes, Ms. O’Banion sold 22,000 units (some $400,000 worth), according to company figures. In the roughly eight months of 2016 the device was available — at HSN, the shopping network, and also at Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman later on — about $30 million worth were sold. HSN does not release sales figures, but Alicia Valencia, the network’s senior vice president for beauty, said that GloPro, which looks like a miniature needle-studded paint roller, was the top performing tool. It is also the top-selling beauty tool at Neiman Marcus.
“Beauty’s New Cult Device,” Women’s Wear Daily declared. (GloPro is not the only at-home microneedling device — there are several, and with varying needle lengths — but it is the one attracting the most attention.)
Customers are as exclamatory as, well, an infomercial. Asked about results, Evelyn Savich, of Salem, Ohio, said: “Heavens, yes! Almost immediate tightening of the pores, the lines around my eyes softened, and the lines around my mouth are almost gone.”
Ms. Savich, who said her closets overflow with useless high-end beauty products, added, “After about 45 years of looking, you know when you’ve found something good.”
Tina Craig, a founder of the popular Bagsnob blog empire, reported that during New York Fashion Week people kept asking her what she was doing to her skin. “It looked amazing and glowy,” said Ms. Craig, who had just begun using the GloPro. (Asked to rank the device on a suffering-for-beauty scale, Ms. Craig, who says she is so sensitive that she has to comb out her own hair at the beauty salon, said the pain was “less than waxing but more than threading.”)
Wounding the skin — by chemical peel, dermabrasion or laser, for example — has traditionally been the only way to jump-start collagen production and rejuvenation, and that sort of injury to the epidermis can be inflicted only very occasionally. But microneedling, sometimes called “the poor man’s laser,” has fewer limitations, said Dr. Terry James, a dermatologist, founder of Beauty Bioscience and Ms. O’Banion’s father.
The process creates tiny microwounds that trigger the body to fill them with collagen, but leave the epidermis intact, said Dr. S. Tyler Hollmig, an assistant professor of dermatologic surgery at Stanford. That gives microneedling two advantages: One, it can be repeated often, without producing the red, irritated, unsightly skin of, say, a peel, Dr. James said.
And two, it has a lower risk of causing hyperpigmentation as compared to many lasers, a real advantage for minority skin types, Dr. Hollmig said.
A study funded by Beauty Bioscience and conducted by an independent company found almost-too-good-to-be-true results: a 30 percent reduction in wrinkles among women ages 41 to 64 with just a minute of use, three times a week, for 30 days. (The tool, which has 540 0.3-millimeter needles, is rolled vertically, horizontally and diagonally across the face, as though the user is aerating a lawn.)
Microneedling done in a doctor’s office has shown some compelling evidence in smaller studies that it works, though there haven’t been a lot of large, randomized control trials, which is the gold standard, Dr. Hollmig said.
But home microneedling devices have shorter needles than those used by doctors and spas, which might suggest that results will not be as good. Dr. Hollmig theorized that collagen production, for example, would be minimal with such a conservative treatment. Dr. James, however, pointed to a study published in the journal Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery showing that collagen formation isn’t dependent on needle length and that best results occur with regular microneedling.
His daughter was quicker with the sales patter. “If you think about exercising,” she said, “is it better to go to the gym twice a year and lift a 20-pound weight for two hours, or is it better to be doing something smaller and going often?”
Dr. Mathew Avram, director of the Dermatology Laser and Cosmetic Center at Massachusetts General Hospital, suggested the results may be real but fleeting.
“When you roll something on your skin that creates little holes, you may get a little bit of swelling, which would give you a bit of plumping and make you think you look better temporarily,” said Dr. Avram, who was skeptical about the tool’s long-term benefits. “There’s a real need for data to justify the excitement.”
GloPro also promotes the fact that 100 percent of its users, when surveyed, thought the tool stimulated their natural collagen production, though collagen formation is visible only under a microscope.
Beauty Bioscience says it took it four years to find the right number of needles, which were tested in 10-needle increments from 100 to 800, seeking the best effect with the leastpain. (Think of microneedling as a circus act where someone walks across a bed of nails without bleeding: It’s all about the even distribution of weight.) A GloPro head designed for use on the body, with 1,680 needles, was introduced in December; it sold out immediately and was back-ordered until mid-January.
There is a small risk of infection with the device, especially if you roll it through an infected hair follicle or what dermatologists call a “scratched acne lesion.” Alcohol, the suggested means of cleaning the tool, doesn’t do the job for many surgical instruments, as certain bacteria (like those causing outbreaks now and again at nail salons) aren’t eliminated without really vigorous sterilization. (Short of buying a personal autoclave, there isn’t much you can do.)
Another potential problem: GloPro speaks of its ability to make your skin absorb more product, but your chances of having an allergic reaction to said product may be higher, though still relatively rare. In microneedling done in spas, for example, there have been reports of what’s called “delayed hypersensitivity reactions” — that is, nasty skin rashes — caused by the creams applied afterward. Normally, the outer layer of skin would prevent the creams from sinking deeply enough to cause a problem, but microneedling enables them to reach deeper, and set off an immune response.
The flip side is that microneedling may be able to assist a user in getting all sorts of potentially helpful stuff into the skin. “This is pretty exciting, “but is a little too close to the Wild West right now for this dermatologist to be feel completely comfortable,” Dr. Hollmig said.