Skin Cycling vs Microneedling vs Simply Shrugging Into the Abyss
Spoiler: do what the spirit moves you to do, we are all dying anyway!
I do not have perfect skin nor will I ever go on Accutane or birth control pills, so I may never have Clean Girl/glass-skin suitable for a “no airbrush” campaign splashed across billboards, taxis, subway stations, and weekend-only mall activation storefronts. Sometimes this deeply irritates me, as a beauty writer and general vain person, but mostly I have come to terms with it and I have developed a deep appreciation for high-coverage concealer, zit stickers, and a very trained ambivalence. And truly, I love zit stickers. They are a pleasure to me, and sometimes I wear them like face jewelry just because. In my Tumblr era I used to write little flash fiction about all the acne bumps along my cheekbones, how I would sometimes pretend I was Maleficent, the monstrosity of sebum buildup transforming me into something mythical and therefore less mundane if not conventionally beautiful. If I can’t be perfect, I can be mythical, monstrous, terrifying - and honestly, that might be preferable.
At the end of the day, flaws can be rewritten to be origin stories. And I’m a storyteller. I want stories. I want the fantastic, memories that seem more like myths - the kind that people lean into you to hear you tell them. I am lucky to have a lot of those kind of stories already. I got to spend my early twenties traveling the world writing things I wanted to, and what matters in those memories isn’t how perfect my skin was but the experiences I got to have. I researched beauty wherever I wanted to go. I can’t remember if I had bad breakouts in any of these places. It would be depressing to me if I could.
Acne and I have a relationship together, all across my body, and fighting it is not a war I’m ever going to win. Would it be cool to never feel pressure to have blemish free skin? Yeah, sure. But do I also find enjoyment in the rituals of beauty and the pursuit of an unreachable goal? Yes. Some days I do have great skin, and it is a high that makes doing my makeup just that much more pleasurable - I focus less on texture and color correction and more on playing with color, angles, highlight. And the rest of the days I find pleasure in learning what a difference a minute makes to setting a concealer properly. Learning patience in the process and seeing the difference in how everything fits together is something I find satisfaction in. I am better at technique because of my breakouts, I am more invested in learning about efficacious skincare ingredients, about the importance of clinical tests, about oxidation, about skin barrier health - because that knowledge makes me understand my body better, and knowledge is as close to control as I’ll get. And it is something I can share while perfection is an individual reward mostly reliant on great genes. But knowledge? Yes, I can give it out, to whoever, forever, and they can share it too. I keep learning how to do things better than I did them the day before, and if I couldn’t find joy in that I would be miserable. Find joy when you can, we are all going to die before capitalism is destroyed. We might as well get some fun out of it.
I take pleasure in trying out different beauty services and sharing knowledge with you. I would probably do it less if I had perfect skin. I’d be afraid of messing it up, the perfection would feel fragile - NOBODY MOVE / VALUABLE ART IS PRESENT / LISTEN UP FIVES A TEN IS SPEAKING - but if I’m already breaking out, I can always immediately see the results. This year I have focused on trying out different kinds of facials and changing my skincare routine rituals to see if it would make a big difference. Many of you have asked about skin cycling vs microneedling, knowing I’ve been trying out facials all across Los Angeles. So here are my thoughts:
First, a breakdown of “skin cycling” - which you may already do without knowing what it’s called.
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If you want my recommendations for products for skin cycling, with this in mind, here’s a roundup in the order you’d use them. For skin barrier health in general, here’s another. Tony did a great explainer on “skin barrier health” on insta.
I have been doing skin cycling since before it was coined by Dr. Whitney Bowe (who now has a branded skincare line to capitalize on it, which I haven’t tried and have no opinions about whatsoever). It’s fine! I’ve noticed that my skin was definitely getting stripped and more hyperpigmentation after years of ineffectual tretinoin usage, so switching from tret to skin cycling has helped recovery and my breakouts. I don’t have as much redness and irritation as before, though I still get maskne around my cheekbones.
However. This is where microneedle facials have made a difference.
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My wallet hates to confirm this, because they typically run $175+ a session, done monthly, but! They have worked, for me. They don’t prevent breakouts, but the skin turnover has evened out my texture and gotten rid of scarring which has accumulated on and off over the years. A microneedle facial is totally different from your regular facial which might have steaming, extractions, masks as part of the routine. Where I’ve gone it’s pretty much: clean your face, numbing cream (maybe a twenty or thirty minute wait?) and then they needle your face. This doesn’t hurt because of the numbing cream, and the whole process isn’t more than an hour and a half at max. Recovery is a weekend where your face is angry, peeling like a red lizard - aquaphor and no skincare products until 3 days post - and then your skin is good to go. This isn’t a treatment you do right before an event, and it’s something you ought to schedule being a gremlin at home to recover from. When my face feels uncomfortably tight or dry in the first day or two of recovery, I would drench it in a Cica Toner with a mister bottle and it made things a lot more comfortable. Cica is good for skin barrier repair and recovery.
I personally saw good results after 2 sessions, and those results lasted only as long as the strength of my skincare routine (with SPF) and the blessings of my genetic inheritance. Results can last quite a while! It’s not a miracle, but no beauty product or treatment is. It’s been about five months since my last microneedle facial and I’ll probably get another one at the end of the year. But I don’t find it necessary to buy a 6+ package, nor can I frankly afford it. I didn’t get these facials for free, so I’m not saying they work from some sort of editorial pressure from PR. I just bought a few from several different Groupon places and went to different ones recommended by other beauty writers to compare without bias. (In terms of the often-maligned Groupon deal - I liked this place the most, the aesthetician was the sweetest, the results were just as obvious as good as more expensive places. I write by the hotel pool afterwards.)
So yes, microneedle facials - they work! For a while. Not forever, but I did see results. Sometimes they try to upcharge you on aftercare serums - I didn’t find recovery was hugely different with their use, I wouldn’t bother. If you have acne scarring and hyperpigmentation that your skincare routine isn’t doing quite enough for, I think it’s worth considering getting 2+ microneedle facials and see how you like the results. You might want more depending on how much scarring you’re dealing with, and how intense the recovery process is, but for me - results plateaued after 4. And you can’t space them out too far from each other; you really do want to get them about 4-5 weeks apart. A regular facial is lovely, and I love them for different reasons, but they don’t provide comparable results for hyperpigmentation and scarring.
If you want any recs for places in NY & LA for regular facials or microneedle ones, just let me know in the comments what your budget / focus is and I’m happy to help. Is there any beauty thing you keep trying out? Something you’re especially curious about? Let me know.
Thanks for reading,