Skin needling as a treatment for acne scarring: An up-to-date review of
Adam G. Harris, MBChB, Catherine Naidoo, MBBS, Dedee F. Murrell, MA, BMBCh, MD, FACD, FRCP ⁎
Department of Dermatology, St George Hospital, Sydney, Australia
University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia
Received 28 January 2015
Received in revised form 9 March 2015
Accepted 18 March 2015
Percutaneous collagen induction
Background: Skin needling is a technique used to improve the appearance of acne scarring.
Objective: To comprehensively review the medical literature regarding skin needling as a treatment for acne scarring.
Methods: A literature search was performed using the PubMed, Medline, and Embase databases, in addition to
reviewing the bibliographies of relevant articles.
Results: Ten studies presented patients treated with skin needling alone, while eight studies discussed skin needling in
combination with other treatments for acne scarring. All studies showed improvements in scarring after needling,
with 12 reporting statistical signiﬁcance. The median number of treatments when needling was used alone was
three, the median duration between treatments was 4 weeks, and the median needle length used was 1.5 mm.
Reported adverse events were infrequent and included post-inﬂammatory hyperpigmentation, “tram track”scarring,
acne, and milia. There were no reports of bacterial infections.
Limitations: The studies reviewed were heterogeneous in design and of variable validity, with some not reporting
Conclusion: There is moderate evidence to suggest that skin needling is beneﬁcial and safe for the treatment of
acne scarring. However, double-blinded, randomized controlled trials are required to make more deﬁnitive
© 2015 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Inc. on behalf of Women's Dermatologic Society. This is an open access
article under the CC BY license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).
Skin needling is a technique predominantly used to improve the ap-
pearance of cutaneous scarring and photodamage (Fig. 1). Fine needles
puncture the skin, resulting in increased dermal elastin and collagen,
collagen remodeling, and thickening of the epidermis and dermis
(Aust et al., 2008a, 2010a, 2010b, 2011; Fabbrocini et al., 2011a;
Fernandes, 2005; Fernandes and Signorini, 2008; Kim et al., 2011; Park
et al., 2012; Schwarz and Laaff, 2011). Additionally, skin needling cre-
ates small channels, which increase the absorption of topically applied
preparations (Badran et al., 2009; Kalluri et al., 2011), a property
which has been used in various dermatological treatments (Bencini
et al., 2012; Budamakuntla et al., 2013; Clementoni et al., 2010;
Fabbrocini et al., 2011b, 2014a; Kang et al., 2008; Torezan et al., 2013;
Yoon et al., 2008, 2010).
Skin needling for cutaneous scarring was introduced into the medi-
cal literature in 1997, when tattooing without pigment was used to
abrade facial scars, improving their quality and color (Camirand and
Doucet, 1997). In 1998, Desmond Fernandes, a plastic surgeon from
South Africa, designed a hand-held device composed of a rolling barrel
with multiple protruding needles and used it for a technique he termed
“percutaneous collagen induction.”He later published his experience
using this technique for various dermatological conditions, including
acne scarring (Fernandes, 2005; Fernandes and Signorini, 2008).
Both manual and electronic hand-held skin needling devices are
now widely available as low-cost therapies for the treatment of acne
scarring (Doddaballapur, 2009; Dogra et al., 2014), yet, to our knowl-
edge, there has been no dedicated review of the medical literature re-
garding this topic.
The objective of this study was to comprehensively review the med-
ical literature regarding skin needling as a treatment for acne scarring.
Material and methods
A literature search was performed using the PubMed, Medline 1946-
to-present, and Embase classic plus Embase 1947-to-present databases.
Search terms included ‘skin needling’,‘microneedling’,‘needle derma-
brasion’,‘tattooing without pigment’,‘dry tattooing’,‘percutaneous col-
lagen induction therapy’, and ‘dermaroller’. All terms are used in the
medical literature to describe skin needling and were combined with
the term acne. The search was performed without limitations or
International Journal of Women's Dermatology 1 (2015) 77–81
☆Conﬂicts of interest: The authors state no conﬂicts of interest.
E-mail address: email@example.com (D.F. Murrell).
2352-6475/© 2015 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Inc. on behalf of Women's Dermatologic Society. This is an open access article under the CC BY license (http://creativecommons.org/
Contents lists available at ScienceDirect
International Journal of Women's Dermatology
language restrictions. All bibliographies within the relevant articles
were reviewed for their relevance.
Nineteen articles included patients with acne scarring treated with
skin needling. Included were nine prospective observational studies
(Beretta et al., 2008; Dogra et al., 2014; Fabbrocini et al., 2009, 2014b;
Garg and Baveja, 2014; Kang et al., 2009; Kim, 2008; Majid, 2009;
Schwarz and Laaff, 2011), nine prospective controlled studies
(Alam et al., 2014; Fabbrocini et al., 2011c; Gadkari and Nayak, 2014;
Nofal et al., 2014; Leheta et al., 2011, 2014a, 2014b; Mohammed,
2013; Sharad, 2011), and one case report (Pahwa et al., 2012). Additionally,
one prospective observational study likely contained patients with acne
scarring (Aust et al., 2008a), but the method was unclear. Eighteen
articles were in English and one was in Italian, which was translated.
All studies were critically evaluated and are summarized in tables that
can be found in the Supplementary Material.
The majority of the studies reviewed included an objective scar scoring
system to measure efﬁcacy, most commonly the grading systems
designedbyGoodmanandBaron(Goodman and Baron, 2006a, 2006b).
Others used subjective scar scoring scales, subjective improvement scales,
and patient satisfaction scales. For the purpose of this review, if an objec-
tive scar scoring scale was not used, the results of a subjective scale were
used to evaluate efﬁcacy.
Studies evaluating the efﬁcacy of skin needling alone as a treatment for
Six studies measured the efﬁcacy of skin needling alone as a treat-
ment for acne scarring (Alam et al., 2014; Beretta et al., 2008; Camirand
and Doucet, 1997; Fabbrocini et al., 2009, 2014b; Majid, 2009). All studies
showed improvements in scar severity scores compared to baseline, with
statistical signiﬁcance reported in all except one. One study was a
randomized placebo controlled trial (Alam et al., 2014); the remaining
ﬁve were prospective observational trials, which are subject to a high
risk of selection bias and inherently lower validity.
The ﬁrst study published included 20 patients assessed before and
after treatment by two physicians, blinded to pretreatment scores
using the Goodman and Baron grading systems (Beretta et al., 2008).
After treatment, there was a statistically signiﬁcant improvement in
scores, but it was unclear how this was calculated.
A similar study included 37 patients with facial scarring, 32 of whom
had acne scarring (Majid, 2009). A single dermatologist consecutively
graded patients using the qualitative Goodman and Baron grading
system. Twenty-seven of the 31 patients with acne scarring who com-
pleted the study had improved scar grades, but there was no statistical
analysis of the results.
An Italian group published two further observational studies
(Fabbrocini et al., 2009, 2014b). The ﬁrst (2009) included 32 patients
consecutively graded by the same dermatologist using the qualitative
Goodman andBaron grading system. After treatment, there was a statis-
tically signiﬁcant reduction in the mean severity grading. A second, lar-
ger study (2014b) included 60 patients whose scar severity was
evaluated from photographs using the Global Aesthetic Improvement
Scale. After treatment, there was also a statistically signiﬁcant reduction
in severity grading.
A recent uncontrolled study form India (Dogra et al., 2014) included
36 patients assessed with the acne scar assessment tool described by
Peterson et al. (2011). After treatment, there was a statistically signiﬁ-
cant improvement in the mean scar grading from 11.73 to 6.5, although
six patients did not complete the study, ﬁve because of treatment-
related complications including severe post-inﬂammatory hyperpig-
mentation and tram-trek scarring.
The most rigorous study was a placebo-controlled, split-face trial
from the United States, which included 20 participants randomized to
receive either skin needling with topical anesthetic or topical anesthetic
Fig. 1. An improvement in acne scarring and photodamage in a patient treated with one session of skin needling.
Fig. 2. Development of erythema, crusting,and pustules in a patient one day after skin needling.
78 A.G. Harris et al. / International Journal of Women's Dermatology 1 (2015) 77–81
alone to either side of the face (Alam et al., 2014). Two dermatologists
blinded to the intervention graded standardized photographs with the
quantitative Goodman and Baron grading system. At 6 months post-
treatment, there was a statistically signiﬁcant decrease in the mean
grade of the skin-needled side compared to the placebo side, with a
mean difference in scores of 3.4 compared to 0.4. Five patients dropped
out before the study protocol was initiated. There was no blinding of
An additional study included a prospective sub-analysis of 15 pa-
tients with “scars and stretch marks,”but it was not clear if the group
contained patients with acne scarring (Aust et al., 2008a). Patients
were a part of a larger group included in a retrospective analysis of
skin needling used for a variety of conditions including acne scarring.
The subgroup demonstrated a statistically signiﬁcant improvement
based on the Vancouver Scar Scale (Baryza, 1995) and Observer Scar
Assessment Scale as assessed by two independent observers.
Studies evaluating the efﬁcacy of skin needling compared to other methods
of treatment for acne scarring
A total of three studies compared skin needling to other methods of
treatment for acne scarring.
An Egyptian group (Leheta et al., 2011) randomized 30 participants
to receive either skin needlingor the focal application of 100% trichloro-
acetic acid (TCA) using the CROSS (chemical reconstruction of skin
scars) method (Lee et al., 2002). A blinded dermatologist scored a 68%
mean improvement in the needling group and a 75% improvement in
the TCA group, with no statistically signiﬁcant difference between
groups. Participants were not blinded and three participants in the
TCA group dropped out and were not included in the analysis on an
An Italian group compared skin needling to skin needling combined
with the topical application of platelet-rich plasma (PRP) in a split-face
trial of 12 patients (Fabbrocini et al., 2011c). After treatment, all scores
were reduced but the PRP group had an overall mean lower severity
score. The statistical signiﬁcance of this result was not reported. There
was also no mention of blinding,either of the investigator or the patient,
or randomization to which side received each treatment.
A study from India sequentially enrolled 30 patients and compared
skin needling to the combination of skin needling alternating with 35%
glycolic acid (GA) peels (Sharad, 2011). Scars were graded by the treating
dermatologist using the Echelle d’Evaluation clinique des Cicatrices
d’acne classiﬁcation (Dreno et al., 2007). The combination treatment re-
sulted in a statistically signiﬁcant greater mean improvement of 63%
Studies evaluating the efﬁcacy of skin needling in conjunction with other
treatments for acne scarring
Skin needling was used in eight studies to increase the penetration
of topically applied preparations and alongside other treatments to
synergistically improve efﬁcacy.
An Egyptian group randomly assigned 24 patients to receive skin
needling and 20% TCA or deep skin peeling using 60% phenol (Leheta
et al., 2014a). Live assessment by a dermatologist blinded to the inter-
vention gave statistically signiﬁcant mean improvements in scores of
70% in the combination group and 75% in the deep phenol peel group
with no statistically signiﬁcant difference between two. A second
study by the group randomly assigned 39 patients to skin needling
and 20% TCA (group I), fractional thermolysis (group II), or a combina-
tion of both treatments (group III) (Leheta et al., 2014b). The same
blinded dermatologist scored patients and gave an improvement in
mean severity scores of 60%, 62%, and 78%, respectively. There was no
statistically signiﬁcant difference between groups I and II, but there
was between groups I and II versus group III. One patient from group I
was lost to follow-up and was included in the analysis on an
intention-to-treat basis. Two patients from each group in the ﬁrst
study dropped out and were not included in the analysis. In both studies
the patients were not blinded.
Another study combined skin needling, subcision, and 15% TCA in 50
patients (Garg and Baveja, 2014). Photographs were graded by the same
nontreating physician using the qualitative Goodman and Baron gra-
ding system. Scar grades improved in all patients and although the
process of statistical analysis was mentioned, it did not appear to be
performed and presented.
A Korean study (Kang et al., 2009) assessed the combination of the
focal application of 100% TCA, skin needling using a 29-gauge needle,
subcision (Orentreich and Orentreich, 1995), and fractional thermolysis
in 35 patients. An independent physician scoredpatients using the acne
severity scale described by Lipper and Perez (2006). Ten patients
completed the study, with scores improving in all patients. Statistical
signiﬁcance of the results was not reported and there was a large loss
An Indian study compared skin needling combined with subcision to
subcision combined with cryorolling (Gadkari and Nayak, 2014).
Cryorolling consisted of dipping the needling device into liquid nitrogen
immediately before the procedure. Thirty-seven patients were randomized
to have both procedures to either side of their face and a blinded observer
scored standardized photographs using the qualitative and quantitative
Goodman and Baron grading systems. Both treatments resulted in statisti-
cally signiﬁcant improvements in mean quantitative gradings of 57% in the
cryoroller group and 40% in the needling group. The difference between
the two was statistically signiﬁcant. Seven patients dropped out of the
study and it was unclear which group they were from and whether they
were included with intention to treat.
Another Egyptian study compared 45 patients equally randomized
into three groups to receive either skinneedling combinedwith the top-
ical application of PRP, the focal application of 100% TCA, or intralesional
dermal injections of PRP (Nofal et al., 2014). Photographs were assessed
by two blinded dermatologists using the qualitative Goodman and
Baron grading system. All three treatments resulted in statistically sig-
niﬁcant improvements in scar grades with nodifference between them.
Finally, two separate studies looked at the combination CO
skin needling using a 26-gauge needle. The ﬁrst included 35 patients
who all had improvements in a 4-point improvement scale. There was
no statistical analysis of the results (Kim, 2008). The second randomized
60 patients to compare laser and skin needling to laser alone
(Mohammed, 2013). Patients were assessed by three independent
observers blinded to the treatment using the quantitative Goodman
and Baron grading system. After treatment there was a statistically
signiﬁcant improvement in scores in both groups with no statistically
signiﬁcant difference between them.
One study published histological sections before and after skin nee-
dling treatment of 10 patients with posttraumatic and acne scarring
(Schwarz and Laaff, 2011). A blinded dermatologist and pathologist
concluded that, in seven patients, there was a noticeable increase in
elastin correlating with the depth of needle penetration. Increases in
collagen and dermal thickness, but no change in epidermal thickness,
were also noted. These results are similar to studies treating patients
for other scarring conditions. An increase in collagen and elastin was
seen in two studies treating patients with striae distensae (Aust et al.,
2010b; Park et al., 2012), with one additionally showing an increase in
epidermal thickness (Park et al., 2012). A study treating burn scars
showed an increase in collagen (Aust et al., 2010a). Increases in colla-
gen, elastin, and epidermal and dermal thickness have also been seen
with skin needling in nonscarring conditions such as photodamage
and skin laxity (Aust et al., 2008a, 2011; Fabbrocini et al., 2011a;
Fernandes, 2005; Fernandes and Signorini, 2008; Kim et al., 2011).
79A.G. Harris et al. / International Journal of Women's Dermatology 1 (2015) 77–81
Optimal number of treatments, duration between treatments, and
There have been no studies directly evaluating the optimal number
of treatments, time between treatments, or needle length. The median
number of treatments in studies using skin needling alone was three
(Alam et al., 2014; Beretta et al., 2008; Dogra et al., 2014; Fabbrocini
et al., 2009, 2011c, 2014b; Leheta et al., 2011; Majid, 2009; Schwarz
and Laaff, 2011; Sharad, 2011), with a range of one to ﬁve treatments.
The median duration between treatments was 4 weeks, with a range
of 2 to 8 weeks. The median needle length used was 1.5 mm, ranging
from 1 mm to 3 mm. No studies compared needle thickness or degree
of pressure applied.
Eighteen patients out of 246, over 10 studies (Alam et al., 2014;
Beretta et al., 2008; Dogra et al., 2014; Fabbrocini et al., 2009, 2011c,
2014b; Leheta et al., 2011; Majid, 2009; Schwarz & Laaff, 2011; Sharad,
2011) treating patients with skin needling alone, had adverse events re-
ported. Skin needling is expected to cause temporary erythema, pain, a
burning sensation, edema, bleeding, or a serous ooze resolving with
crusting or scabbing (Alam et al., 2014; Beretta et al., 2008; Dogra
et al., 2014; Fabbrocini et al., 2009, 2011c, 2014b; Leheta et al., 2011;
Majid, 2009; Sharad, 2011). Bruising and hematomas are also expected,
particularly over bonyprominences (Dogra et al., 2014; Fabbrocini et al.,
2014b; Schwarz and Laaff, 2011), The development of “tram trek”scar-
ring was reported with 2-mm needles in one case report (Pahwa et al.,
2012). This phenomenon also occurred in a study using 1.5-mmneedles
(Dogra et al., 2014), but not in a study using 2.5-mm needles (Gadkari
and Nayak, 2014). It is therefore unclear if this phenomenon is related
to needle length. There were no other reports of scarring. Other adverse
events included the development of acne and the formation of milia
(Beretta et al., 2008; Leheta et al., 2011; Sharad, 2011) (see Fig. 2).
Serious adverse events worth noting when skin needling was used for
other dermatological conditions included facial allergic granuloma and
systemic hypersensitivity reactions, possibly related to topical products
put on the skin before needling or to the needles themselves (Patsou,
2013; Soltani-Arabshahi et al., 2014).
Infection as an adverse event
No studies reported bacterial infections after treatment, although
some opted for topical or oral antibiotic prophylaxis (Alam et al.,
2014; Gadkari and Nayak, 2014; Majid, 2009; Sharad, 2011). One
study reported infections with herpes simplex virus (HSV), but it was
unclear if these patients had acne scarring (Aust et al., 2008a). Reports
of HSV infections have been noted in other articles (Fernandes, 2005;
Torezan et al., 2013) and oral acyclovir was given to patients with a his-
tory of HSV in at least one study including patients with acne scarring
(Alam et al., 2014).
Post-inﬂammatory hyperpigmentation as an adverse event
In an early study using rats, post-inﬂammatory hyperpigmentation
after skin needling was found to be unlikely (Aust et al., 2008b). Of
the patients treated with skin needling alone, nine developed
postinﬂammatory hyperpigmentation (Dogra et al., 2014; Majid,
2009; Sharad, 2011); all had skin phototypes of three or greater except
one, where the skin phototype was not mentioned. Not all studies re-
ported skin types, but in at least four studies (Alam et al., 2014; Dogra
et al., 2014; Fabbrocini et al., 2014b; Sharad, 2011), there were a total
of 105 patients with skin phototypes of three or greater.
Skin needling is a relatively simple, cost-effective technique used for
the treatment of acne scarring. A review of the current literature sug-
gests that it has moderate efﬁcacy. However, the evidence for this is
limited as it is based on predominantly observational studies, which
are heterogeneous in design with some lacking statistical analysis and
internal validity.Skin needlingwas shown to work well in combination
with other treatments for acne scarring, but the results of each study
were speciﬁc for each treatment and lacked external validity. Skin
needling appeared to be safe with a low frequency of side effects. No
consensus has been reached on the use of antibiotic prophylaxis.
Double-blinded randomized controlled trials are needed to further
evaluate efﬁcacy, and speciﬁc studies are needed to deﬁne the optimal
number of treatments, duration between each treatment, and needle
depth, and to further characterize adverse reactions.
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