NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Needling devices that prick the skin with 1mm or 2mm needles on a roller improved acne scars in a recent trial, according to patients and doctors.
The patients said the devices improved their acne scars by 41%. And dermatologists who were blinded to treatment procedures also reported a statistically significant improvement in scars treated with these devices, researchers said.
The treatment costs less than lasers and patients reported little or no pain, they reported online June 11 in JAMA Dermatology.
The trial did not include other treatments, so it is not clear how needling fares in comparison, but the study did appear to show a benefit, researchers say.
"Needling is so easy to undergo, and potentially so inexpensive, that even a modest benefit may be sufficient to make this a worthwhile treatment for some patients with limited budgets," Dr. Murad Alam of Northwestern University in Chicago, who led the study, told Reuters Health by email.
In each of the 15 patients in the trial, half the face was randomly assigned to needling; the other half of the face received no treatment. Patients underwent three treatments, each spaced two weeks apart. Three and six months later, two dermatologists rated the scars of both the treated and untreated sides of the patients' faces.
Compared to the scars at the start of the study, those treated with needling had improved significantly at six months (p=0.03) and not quite significantly at three months, as assessed by the global scarring grading system developed by Dr. Greg Goodman at the Skin and Cancer Foundation of Victoria, in Victoria, Australia.
When asked to rate the difference between the treated and untreated sides of their faces, patients perceived a 41% improvement.
Some needling devices have been cleared for use as general surgical instruments in the U.S. but clinicians should check on the regulatory status of the devices that they use, Dr. Alam says.
Comparing microneedlers to lasers is tricky now without much data, but at least one trial is underway to compare the two. In the meantime, Dr. Alam guesses that a fractional non-ablative laser is probably more effective.
"On the other hand, needling is easy and cheap," Dr. Alam says.
Or maybe the two could be used together, he said. "Acne scars are resistant to treatment, and commonly physicians have to come at them from various angles, and treat them with several different techniques, in order to get significant overall improvement," he noted. "Needling may be just another tool in the acne scar treatment toolkit."