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At-home anti-aging devices are really coming of age. Technologies such as microcurrent, microdermabrasion, ultrasound and LED light therapies once used to be confined to the doctor or esthetician’s office. Not anymore! Scaled down tools are increasingly available and reliable. Don’t expect the performance you’d get from a professional machine, but with patience and dedication, regular use will produce great results. That’s the good news. The problem is that there are so many technologies and devices to choose from. Here’s how to tool up and select the right device for you.
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.
Best for: Smoothing wrinkles and fine lines
At home: Unfortunately, the FDA-cleared PaloVia has been withdrawn from the market and is no longer being made. At this time we have not found an alternative to recommend.
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 worked its magic. Recent research suggests that it works by targeting water layers on elastin. Read more about LED. The most common is red LED and this is best for wrinkle repair, while blue is for acne. There’s also infrared, yellow and amber LED as well. The effects of LED are cumulative and reward those willing to put in the time for regular use (three to five times a week).
Best for: Smoothing out wrinkles, plumping the skin, calming rosacea
At home: If you want to keep it simple, then a good choice is the FDA-cleared Baby Quasar Plus ($399 in the shop). Four wavelengths of light are used: 610nm, 630nm, 660nm, and 850nm. This ranges from amber to infrared light, and the size of the device head covers the periorbital area.
Red and blue LED light are incorporated into the FDA cleared Truth Vitality Lux Renew ($279 in the shop), which also features ultrasound (see more on this technology below).
Microcurrent uses a subsensory electric current that delivers a pulse to the facial muscles and stimulates them and the surrounding tissue. The theory is that microcurrent improves the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the chemical in muscles that provides energy. It’s supposed to increase elastin by 48% and collagen by 14%. The effects are cumulative and the muscles are purported to “remember” where they are supposed to be (e.g., lifted, not sagging). Read more about microcurrent.
Best for: Firming sagging skin
At home: In my experience, at-home microcurrent should be kept simple and easy to use. Truth Rejuvenate lives up to this with two metal probes that are neither too big nor too small, and they comfortably and effectively sculpt and tone the face.
Microdermabrasion is a form of exfoliation that removes the top layer of dead skin cells and uneven, thicker layers of skin. Professional machines use crystal and diamond microdermabrasion tips. The crystals are sprayed and the machine follows by vacuuming them. The suction or vacuum action also serves to pull the skin closer to the sandy disc in order to abrade the skin and remove dead cells. Home devices do not spray and use crystal or diamond tips; however, unlike with professional machines, the amount of suction cannot be controlled.
Best for: Fine lines and mild sun damage
At home: The Personal Microderm System ($179) has crystal discs that exfoliate with options for gentle and moderate. The Riiviva Microderm Device ($299) is an at-home microdermabrasion kit equipped with medical-grade, diamond-tip technology.
How it works: High frequency radiowave technology used to be best known as systems such as Thermage. These used high temperatures, were very painful and not terribly effective. New versions of this technology include the Pellevé Wrinkle Reduction System, and they cause heat to build up where the skin and fat layer come together. Enough heat is required to cause a process called denaturation — collagen fibers contract, and because they believe they are undergoing a trauma, they start stimulating new collagen.
Best for: Firming sagging skin
At home: For denaturation to take place, the operating temperature needs to be 41°C or more. At-home devices do not reach that temperature and consequently, in my experience, don't work. Examples are Silk’N FaceFX, and Dermawand.
How it works: First of all, ultrasound (ultrasonic) is high-frequency sound waves, between 800,000 Hz and 2,000,000 Hz. This cannot be heard by humans. As the ultrasound waves pass from the treatment head into the skin, they cause the vibration of the surrounding tissues, particularly those that contain collagen. This vibration leads to the production of heat within the tissue. With a handheld home device, this heat does not become very intense. The temperature rise in the surrounding tissue increases oxygen to the cells and aids in the removal of waste. The skin should feel instantly energized, rosy and firm. Read more about how ultrasonic works. A dermatologist version that I have seen (but never tested) is the Ulthera; however, this machine uses heat for micro-targeted and very fast heating of the tissue that causes it to be “injured” and the tissue’s response is to contract.
Best for: Firming and lifting
At home: Truth Vitality Lux Renew ($279 in the shop) is FDA-cleared for the treatment of facial wrinkles and acne. It is a handheld at-home device combining ultrasound technology with red and blue LED light therapy.
Note: This article was last updated on December 23, 2014.