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Red-light therapy, dermaplaning and microneedling — are they safe?

January 29, 2018 | UCI Health
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Would you blast your face with red light, prick it with hundreds of tiny needles or scrape your skin with a scalpel-sharp blade?

How about smearing your face with serum from your own blood?

These may sound like the latest in torture techniques, but millions of people across the nation are increasingly making use of these tools to improve their complexions and rejuvenate their skin.

“Why not?” asks UCI Health dermatologist Natasha A. Mesinkovska, MD, PhD.

All are cost-effective alternatives to professional laser resurfacing used to smooth out the skin, and boast short post-procedure recovery time and minimal side effects. None of these tools has resulted in serious side effects to date, says Mesinkovska, director of the UC Irvine School of Medicine’s Dermatology Clinical Research Center.

Although some of these procedures are performed by dermatologists, many are done by trained aestheticians or people in their own homes.

Let’s take a look at three of the most popular treatments.

Red-light therapy

Photomodulation therapy, also known as low-level light therapy (LLLT), has been used for decades to treat skin inflammation and aging caused by exposure to harmful ultraviolet radiation. LLLT works by activating dermal fibroblasts — cells that generate connective tissue and allow the skin to recover from injury — to produce collagen.

Over the last two decades, dermatologists have used LLLT in conjunction with a topical medication for skin cancer, but they no longer do so because of increased risk of skin damage. Mesinkovska says she hasn’t prescribed LLLT for any of her patients, though some are very happy with the monthly treatments they receive from their aestheticians.

Manufacturers of the LLLT devices made for use in salons and at home make claims that their devices are effective at reducing wrinkles and evening out skin pigment to rejuvenate skin. The problem, Mesinkova says, is that little research has been done.

One German study reports diminished fine wrinkles and stimulation of collagen in volunteers using red-light therapy two times a week. Another study demonstrates a reduction of acne with daily use of a red-light mask.

“For acne, fine wrinkles and complexion rejuvenation, it’s worth a try,” Mesinkovska says. “But the data isn’t there yet about the full benefits or long-term effects, so stay tuned.”


Dermaplaning involves the use of a sharp blade to shave off peach fuzz — fine hairs on the face — and the outermost layer of dead skin cells on your face. It’s basically an exfoliation on steroids that can be done safely by an aesthetician or at home using a variety of tools you can buy.

The painless procedure results in smoother skin and helps with the absorption of topical medicines.

Dermaplaning is typically done every three or four weeks. However, less aggressive dermaplaning that shaves only the peach fuzz can be done more often without side effects.


Microneedling involves the use of stamps or rollers containing as few as a dozen to hundreds of sterilized needles to prick the skin. The needles cause micro-injuries to the skin, initiating a wound-healing process and causing the production of collagen and elastin, two proteins that are vitally important in the skin’s architecture. Microneedling can be a painful procedure, and it is usually performed with a topical anesthetic.

“I’m all for it,” Mesinkovska says of microneedling. “It works well for scars and wrinkling, depending on the depth, and for skin rejuvenation. It really makes people pretty.”

Microneedling tools are available for home use. However, Mesinkovska warns of the potential for scarring and infection in inexperienced hands. She says microneedling is best left to doctors or aestheticians trained in the procedure.

Microneedling is typically done every four to six weeks, and can be repeated a variable number of times depending on results.

More powerful results can be achieved when microneedling is combined with another therapy, such as radio frequency (RF). RF delivers heat directly to the collagen bundles, thus creating tighter skin with fewer wrinkles. However, this combination technique requires a visit to a dermatologist or plastic surgeon.

A doctor’s hand is also required to perform the so-called “vampire facials” favored by Kim Kardashian. Using Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP), a technique that involves separating platelets and growth factors from a patient’s blood and injecting them into the skin, using either small syringes or microneedles. PRP therapy to rejuvenate the skin is costly and requires a few days of downtime for recovery, but the effects are dramatic and lasting.

Safety tips for at-home skin treatments

The market is flooded with a variety of home-use skin care tools accompanied by manufacturers’ claims of benefits that are unproven. Mesinkovska won’t recommend any products. She does offer, however, some general precautions:

  • Avoid these types of treatments close to menstruation cycles because a woman’s skin may be more sensitive right before and during their periods.
  • Dermaplaning or microneedling should be avoided when a person has active skin infections, such as cold sores or acne.
  • Dermaplaning on people who have coarse black facial hair can result in ingrown hairs.
  • Be cautious about what you buy — cheap is not always better. For example, an inferior microneedle roller might cause skin discoloration or infection if inexpensive materials were used for the needles or the needles, themselves, were not properly sterilized.

“You always end up getting what you pay for,” Mesinkovska says. “When it comes to treatments for your face — how you appear to the world — that may not be the time to save money.”

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