Long time readers of the blog know that I have a regular feature called “Is this really a thing?” In these posts, I take a hot beauty trend and go to the medical literature to see if the trend’s claims have any validity. Previously we’ve examined topics like Edible sunscreen (definitely not a thing), collagen beauty shots (eat a steak instead), and vampire facelifts (maybe a thing, but it’s too early to tell for sure). My wife has been asking me to look at facial rollers for the last few weeks after one of her favorite bloggers and instagrammers, Sherry Petersik of Young House Love, talked about how much she liked hers.
If you don’t already know, Sherry and her husband John write a popular home renovation blog right here in Richmond!
Anyway, here are the rules for this kind of post:
If you didn’t know, the National Institutes of Health keeps a national online library of medicine that links to summaries of all of the medical studies ever published. Well, not ever, but certainly the last 100 years.
I got this one at Sephora. You know, for research purposes.
Facial rollers have been popular in the West for several years. Here’s a nice summary of their use by lifestyle blogger Marianna Hewitt:
Facial rollers come in several materials including rose quartz and plastic, but the most popular ones seem to be made of jade. My purpose in writing this is not to examine the relative benefits of crystals, but more to examine facial rolling, so we’re going to focus on that. I went to Amazon, searched for jade facial rollers, and picked one of the more popular ones to examine. A lot of them have similar descriptions, which I have screenshotted for you:
Unfortunately, the medical literature is silent on the concept of facial rolling as presented here. More on that later. However, let’s look at the concepts of decreasing puffiness by increasing lymphatic drainage and massaging the face to get rid of wrinkles.
Working my lymphatics…
What is lymphatic drainage? Stay with me as we do a brief review of the circulatory system which moves fluid around your body. Blood exits the heart through arteries. The arteries get smaller and smaller until the blood gets out into the capillaries in your tissue where oxygen and carbon dioxide are exchanged and nutrients are off loaded. The blood then filters back into veins (which get larger and larger) and returns to your heart. Well, not all of it returns that way. About 10% of it drains through lymph channels which are microscopic vessels that link up with lymph nodes (part of your immune system).
Lymph is a very low pressure system, so massaging or rolling your tissues can help to promote drainage, especially if your face is puffy on a given day. However, to make a meaningful difference, you’d likely have to press pretty hard and for more than a minute or two. It will also not lift your facial tissues because it is pushing fluid OUT of your face and DOWN your neck. It MIGHT temporarily decrease the appearance of puffiness along your jaw line.
This device also claims that it “smoothes fine lines and eliminates wrinkles.” There are many ways that I will smooth lines and eliminate wrinkles, but they all involve using chemicals or lasers to remove the top layers of the skin and promote new collagen formation beneath. A roller like this will not do that.
There are a large number of facial rollers that incorporate micro needling. What’s micro needling? Here’s a quick quote from our page on aesthetician services:
“A microneedling tip is used to create micro wounds to the skin, much like aerating your lawn. This triggers your body’s response to create new collagen.”
Microneedling is a well established procedure for improving skin texture including treating scars and removing fine lines and wrinkles. Typically in a doctor’s office we use a medical grade device that is powered and has lots and lots of tiny needles. But they’re also commercially available for home use including from Amazon of all places.
There are 22 studies in the recent medical literature that examine micro needling with a roller. So this is DEFINITELY A THING! However, there can be unintended consequences including a case report where a lady accidentally moved a shingles outbreak from her chest to her face. So if you have a weird rash, DON’T MICRONEEDLE IT AT HOME.
If you love your facial roller, by all means keep using it. It certainly isn’t going to hurt you and I’m sure it feels nice (ok, I KNOW it feels nice because I have one now). If you don’t have one yet, you might try a lemon or a clementine but not a raw avocado (shout out to YHL followers including my wife). But if you really want to use a roller to improve your skin, look into one of the ones that adds micro needling. But be warned… I’m told it stings…
Leatham H, Guan L, and Chang ALS. Unintended widespread facial autoinoculation of varicella by home microneedling roller device. JAAD Case Rep. 2018 Jun 6;4(6):546-547