We’re always working toward medical breakthroughs so we can provide the most effective treatments for our patients with cutting-edge technology; however, there is a lot to be said about the techniques that have paved the way for new medical devices.
For certain conditions, the efficacy of classic procedures often cannot be matched by their modern successors. Subcision for treatment of deep depressed scars, for example, is often a more effective option than microneedling and can produce results with less healing time and fewer treatments, and at a more cost-effective price.
Both subcision and microneedling improve the appearance of scars by creating wounds in an effort to break up scar tissue and trigger collagen regrowth. Microneedling involves the use of a microneedling pen with several small needles that glide across the skin at different depths and speeds. Subcision is achieved with one larger gauge needle that is injected into scars at different angles and depths to break up scar tissue. Microneedling needles yield more epidermal damage than does subcision, causing more bleeding and ultimately lengthening the healing time.
The mechanism of subcising deeper scar tissue also seems to be more effective than that of microneedling. It often takes fewer subcision treatments than microneedling treatments to achieve comparable improvement of depressed scars. Microneedling needles are limited to penetrating at best 2.5 mm beneath the skin surface, while subcision allows the freedom to penetrate deeper into the dermis to reach deeper dermal scars. Subcising also creates larger channels within the scar tissue, which create more space for collagen regrowth, while microneedling does not.
A technique that has shown to improve treatment outcomes is the use of a 26- or 30-gauge needle, moving back and forth in a fanning pattern under the scar tissue while simultaneously injecting lidocaine or saline in those channels. The injection of a fluid component, particularly that of lidocaine, can both decrease the pain as well as inflate the scar in question, allowing more collagen regrowth and wound growth factors to fill the “gaps” created.
Unless scars have a significant epidermal component in addition to their dermal component, subcising the scar is a more effective and has faster healing times. Both procedures can cause bruising , edema, and erythema. However, the epidermal damage that can occur in microneedling has significantly more downtime.
In addition, subcision is a more cost-effective treatment than microneedling. The required materials for subcision are limited to materials that are readily used within practices: needles, syringes, saline, and lidocaine. Microneedling, on the other hand, requires purchase of expensive tools, including microneedling pens, sterile single-use microneedling tips, and protective sleeves for the device, in addition to topical skin care products to apply after the treatment to promote safe healing.
While microneedling is remarkably effective for treatment of superficial scars, fine lines, and hypopigmentation, subcision tends to be more effective for the treatment of deeper scars such as box-car acne scars.
We love new technology in our practices; however, sometimes our tried and true procedures may prove to be a better option in the appropriate patient.
Dr. Wesley and Dr. Talakoub are co-contributors to this column. Dr. Talakoub is in private practice in McLean, Va. Dr. Wesley practices dermatology in Beverly Hills, Calif. This month’s column is by Dr. Talakoub.