A recent email from a reader got me thinking about at home treatments and devices and what conditions, if any, they can help with:

“Dear Marta, I have developed deflating upper cheeks/tear ducts. If you look at Angelina Jolie and Nicole Kidman they have the same problem as well. Flattening cheeks that create hollow eyes. The problem is compounded by redness on my cheeks, but not around my eyes - a reverse raccoon look. I found that Mychelle Pumpkin Renew Cream helps the redness and I use Suzanne Somers microcurrent machine to try to lift and plump the cheeks/eye area.

I know there is a way to stop this because actresses like Rachel Weisz, Sandra Bullock, and Kate Beckinsale do not have this problem. So there has to be an answer. Are there any other products, machines, or treatments?”

Even though it’s hard to resist some gratuitous commenting on celebrities, I don’t have an inside scoop on Rachel Weiz’s cheeks. But I will mention celebrity dermatologists are increasingly moving away from Botox to a treatment that pads the upper cheeks and under eyes with fillers, such as Restylane. As this is injected, it is an invasive treatment and some of us (myself included) are hoping to postpone (perhaps even forgo) anything that involves needles and knives.

Fortunately for us, there have been some real advances in non-invasive treatments. And I mean real advances. In fact, in the past couple of years, they have come such a long way that scaled down treatment machines that can be used safely at home have evolved way beyond the infomercial hoax to things that actually do help.

So here is a rundown of some them and what they do, starting with, of course, cheek plumping.

LED (light emitting diode)

Best for: plumping and firming the skin.

How it works: I would go so far as to say that LED is an anti-aging breakthrough. However, until recently, no one really knew how it did its magic. Recent research suggests that it works by targeting water layers on elastin. Read more on LED

At home: Handheld devices, such as the Sirius Aurora ($149) or Baby Quasar  ($399). Click here for a video comparing the two. These have relatively small light panels that need to be moved across the skin. I find that these are helpful for fine lines. I recently tested a panel called Facial Secret ($330) that I found does a very good job and it certainly makes my cheeks look plumper. You have to do it at least three times a week though. Red (and also amber or yellow light) are used for wrinkles and plumping. It is worth noting that Sirius comes with, in addition to red, blue and green panels for acne and hyperpigmentation respectively.

Microcurrent

Best for: face firming and lifting

How it works: By delivering a tiny charge that stimulates facial muscles (I believe that the system was originally designed by doctors to help stroke victims regain movement). Face and neck muscles feel toned - the equivalent of having done bicep curls.

At home: Although I have monthly microcurrent sessions with my esthetician, I’m not a big believer in microcurrent at home. The wands needs to be manipulated to target individual muscles in the face and is best handled by a trained practitioner. I have tested the Suzanne Somers Facemaster and the NuFace and wasn’t all that impressed with either of them. Reader reviewer, Stacey, did like the NuFace, however.  Recently, I have become more intrigued by the potential of galvanic systems at home (see below).

Galvanic

Best for: firming and lifting

How it works: Converts electricity into a direct current so that the electrons flow continuously in the same direction. Based on the theory that light charges repel, the galvanic negative currents encourages the absorption of charged ingredients and so the device must be used with a gel. Leaving this aside, galvanic seems to be most like microcurrent but the devices have a flat surface rather than wands.

At home: The only one I have tried is the Nu-Skin Galvanic Spa and I was initially pretty impressed. Somehow, not enough to keep up with it and the device has been gathering dust for a couple of years. I think that’s because I didn’t like the supplied gel that you are supposed to use with the device.

Laser

Best for: wrinkles and fine lines

How it works: Laser basically works by traumatizing the skin so that it turns over cells more quickly. Specifically, fractional laser resurfacing technology uses narrowly spaced micro-beams of laser energy to prompt new collagen growth.

At home: The PaloVia ($445) has FDA approval for around the eye area – although you can safely use it, as far as I can tell, on the rest of the face. I didn’t enjoy the sensation of being zapped or the redness that follows. However, we sent a batch out to reader reviewers and got raves back from Dennis, Gail and Copley. If you are up for it, the PaloVia works.

Ultrasonic

Best for: firming and lifting

How it works: This is ultrasound and it delivers a focused beam of heat. This micro-targeted and very fast heating of the tissue causes it to be “injured” and the tissue's response is to contract. The result is tighter skin. However, contracted tissues aren’t the body’s only response. It also produces more elastin and collagen. A dermatologist version that I have seen (but never tested) is the Ulthera.

At home:  I am trying out a new LED and ultrasonic combo and my early tests have got me excited already. More on this to come!

[Editor’s note: Also check out Truth in Aging’s own Ultra Renew Ultrasonic/LED device!]