Why? Well, one probable reason for the at-home device boom is the rise of “maskne,” or acne caused by bacteria entrapped in a humid face mask. Although products like benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, and retinoids are effective for treating maskne (and other types of acne), consumers appear to be seeking out extra reinforcement against breakouts. Two devices that claim to help minimize blemishes—the ZIIP nanocurrent tool ($495) and SolaWave's 4-in-1 wand ($149)—have seen triple-digit sales boosts since the world went into lockdown in May 2020.
Other beauty consumers may have turned to tech-driven skin-care tools when when their favorite spas went into lockdown. Gadgets such as dermaplaning wands and microcurrent tools deliver similar results to in-office treatments, and they also provide users with moments of self-care—something we all needed in 2020.
And then, there was the rise of video conferencing. From work meetings to virtual first dates, we were suddenly able to watch ourselves interacting—a phenomenon that made many people hyper-aware of their perceived flaws. And while makeup and even Zoom filters are a temporary fix, skincare technology promises real-life, long-term results.
Which at-home skin-care devices are the real deal?
Visit the "high-tech tools" section of Sephora's website and you'll find nearly 100 skin-care device options, from LED face masks to motorized pore extractors and all manner of facial toning devices. Many of these gadgets incorporate red light therapy, a classic clinical treatment that translates well to at-home devices. It's most often used for wrinkle reduction—according to one small study of 136 volunteers, 30 sessions of red light therapy yielded an increase in intradermal collagen density and a reduction in fine lines. The SolaWave wand, which combines red light therapy with microcurrent, facial massage, and heat therapy, is one popular example. While there's no data on SolaWave's efficacy, I have tried it and can confirm that my dark circles appear lighter and my skin looks tighter after use.
Microcurrent devices are also popular for at-home use, but they currently have a smaller body of conclusive research in support of them. One study found that microcurrent stimulation yields faster wound healing, which can be effective in reducing acne scars and hyperpigmentation. In another study, participants reported wrinkle-reducing benefits that lasted a month after treatment.
ZIIP is one of the best-known microcurrent devices available for at-home use. It uniquely utilizes waveform technology of nine different electric currents for a clearer, smoother, younger-looking complexion. I have used this device, too, and have noticed a reduction in "tech neck"—fine lines around the neck caused by looking down at a phone.
Perhaps the most revolutionary skin-care gadget of the moment is Droplette ($299), a NASA-backed device created by two MIT-trained PhDs. It delivers a micro-infusion mist up to 20 cell layers deep into the skin, helping treat both aesthetic concerns (e.g. wrinkles) as well as the rare skin diseases for which it was formulated.
Skin care devices aren't just reserved for the face, either—for instance, the PMD Body Cleaner ($159) brings the sonic facial brush experience to the rest of the body. Sonic brushes vibrate at a rate of 7,000 vibrations per minute, helping to deeply clean the pores and prevent ingrown hairs from forming. As someone who struggles at times with keratosis pilaris (KP), a skin condition that causes dry, rough patches and tiny bumps, I am always searching for products that support an even skin tone. The PMD Body Cleanser has resulted in softer skin than I experience from body scrubs, which can sometimes cause inflammation and even folliculitis if used too aggressively.
Are there any devices to steer clear of?
It's important to note that most at-home devices are less powerful than their medspa equivalents. This makes them safer for at-home use, but also renders them less effective in many cases. So if you're looking to invest in a skin-care tool, be wary of products claiming to deliver, say, “a five-minute facial lift.” (Yes, this is actually part of one brand's messaging.)
You should also be aware of what it means for a device to be “FDA-cleared,” a term found on many packages. For clarification, FDA clearance denotes safety rather than evidence-based research behind the product. Once the FDA clears one device, similar ensuing devices can easily get clearance. This doesn't mean the device is going to be effective—just that it isn't likely to harm you if used correctly.
There are, however, skincare gadgets that consumers should steer away from due to safety concerns, according to dermatologist Muneeb Shah, DO. Pore extractors are one category that can potentially cause lasting damage. “People understandably like [pore extractors] for the immediacy and satisfaction of the results, but these can permanently damage blood vessels,” cautions Dr. Shah. He believes extractions should always be done by professionals, and advises using products such as salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide to keep pores clear of oil and debris in between appointments.
Dr. Shah expresses similar concerns over microneedling, which is not as sterile at home as it would be in-office. Microneedling rollers can cause tears in the skin that may introduce pathogens or cause hyperpigmentation in darker skin tones. “These end up yielding temporary results with potential permanent damage,” says Dr. Shah.
Skin-care devices can be expensive—are they worth the price?
Then, there's the other downside to skin-care devices: Their price tags. Many popular devices range from the low hundreds up to $500 or more, making them financially inaccessible for many.
However, for those willing to make the investment, devices can pay off over time. For example, the SolaWave wand and a basic spa facial both cost around $150. The difference is the wand can be used over and over again, while a facial is a one-time experience. In this sense, a device can be used to either extend time between costly in-office treatments or provide the option to opt out altogether if regular facials are not financially feasible.
Plus, it's important to remember that an at-home skin-care tool doesn't have to be high-tech to be effective. Gua sha combs and facial rollers often cost less than $30, and they're thought to help reduce puffiness and increase blood flow to the skin. Plus, you never have to worry about a battery dying during your precious self-care time—a win in and of itself.
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