Updated 12/15/21. The skincare industry is rapidly advancing, and with that, comes the rise of at-home skincare devices (some of which used to only be available for professional use). I’m often asked to share my opinion on these devices. People wonder, Are these devices actually effective? Which one is best? What kind of results can I realistically expect to see?
In this post, I go into great detail as to which devices, tools, and gadgets you might want to start using. I’ll also talk about which ones you should stop using, or at least use only on a limited basis. This is everything I’ll be reviewing:
- LED blue light therapy
- LED red light therapy
- Jade roller
- Rose quartz stone
- High frequency
- Sonic cleansing brushes
Should I Use an At-Home Skincare Device?
Yes, I definitely think they can be helpful. It’s important to know that many of them are slightly weaker versions of what professionals use. However, that doesn’t mean they can’t play a supporting role in your skincare routine. There are a few things you must get right, though, or it will be a wasted effort.
Just like with anything in life, my general belief is that you must determine where your time is best spent. Time is a limited resource, so you want to spend it wisely. This is certainly the case when deciding whether or not you should invest energy into using a skincare device. As an esthetician, I always guide my clients towards what might provide the best results, and I hope you have a relationship with a trusted professional that will do the same for you.
Before Purchasing an At-Home Skincare Device, Do The Following:
- Perfect your skincare routine and use it faithfully. I’m a firm believer that how your skin day in and day out has the biggest impact and creates the most positive visible changes. This makes more of a difference than receiving occasional professional treatments or using an at-home skincare device. I also encourage you to make good lifestyle choices and eat a healthy diet.
- Make sure your skin is protected from the sun. Exposing your skin to UV light 365 days a year is harmful. It can also cause damage that’s incredibly difficult to reverse once it’s done. It’s imperative to generously and diligently apply sunscreen every day. When I ask people about their sunscreen use, I often hear (and cringe when I do), “I use a tinted moisturizer that has SPF in it.” The fact is that most people don’t apply enough of this product to truly protect their skin. This causes harm to their skin without them even knowing it! Make sure you know how to apply sunscreen. I also suggest wearing makeup every day (yes, really!).
- Use products formulated exclusively for your skin type. After so many years and so much advancement in skincare, I’m still amazed at how many companies promote the standard dry, normal and oily skin types. I’m also still amazed at how many companies say their products are “one size fits all.” Do you mean a teenager with blemishes can use the same product as her 75-year-old grandmother? Ridiculous. Make sure you take the skin type quiz to find out what products and ingredients your skin really needs.
- Use retinol or a prescription retinoid if preventative aging is your priority. Retinol and retinoids have been around a long time, and they’re proven to be effective. I’ve been working with these ingredients for 30+ years. Trust me when I say that next to sunscreen, a vitamin-A product like retinol or a prescription retinoid is definitely a game-changer. Read my beginner’s guide to retinol.
- Educate yourself with tips, tricks, and expert advice. There is a lot of misinformation out there when it comes to skincare. You really need to know what’s right from wrong and how to best care for your skin. Check out 34 skincare tips for getting your best skin ever.
You get the idea. Your skincare routine is everything as are good lifestyle choices. Perfect those, then consider a skincare device.
Renée, How Are You Forming Your Opinions on Skincare Devices?
I’ve been an esthetician for over 30 years (I enrolled in beauty school three months after graduating from high school). I’ve been within three inches of thousands of faces, oftentimes through a magnifying glass and usually for over an hour at a time. In addition, I’ve been able to hold in-depth conversations with my clients, hearing valuable feedback. This experience allows me to come to solid conclusions on just about everything related to skin!
I also have so many colleagues who are scientists, chemists, estheticians, beauty editors, cosmetic nurses, dermatologists, and cosmetic surgeons. We’re constantly having conversations about what’s going on in the skincare industry. Plus, I’ve undergone training in cosmetic chemistry at UCLA, read a variety of research studies, and have been able to experiment on my own skin. I’ve seen and learned a lot throughout my career, but I will never claim to know it all. I’m always open to new ideas and I’m passionate about continuing my education. In fact, there have been multiple times in which my opinion on something has changed based on new findings.
The opinions given below are my own. The difficult thing is, if you talk to another skincare professional, you might hear the opposite. The goal of my blog has always been to make you a more informed consumer. I sincerely hope this post helps achieve that goal and gives you a new way to think about the choices you’re making for your skin.
Is a Microcurrent Device Good to Use?
Yes, I highly recommend microcurrent as it can give a tighter, firmer look to the skin — as long as you’re using it regularly.
This is by far my favorite at-home skin tool. It’s like doing sit-ups for the face, but if you stop using it, the muscles will return to their original state. Microcurrent/nano current devices such as NuFace and Ziip are inspired by professional EMS (electric muscle stimulation) machines that have been used on the face and body by professionals for decades. For the body, EMS is used in physical therapy centers to rehabilitate muscles for partially or totally immobilized patients (such as from broken limbs or paralysis) to create strength. For the face, they give the look of more prominent cheekbones and tighten up the look of saggy jowls. In addition, it can help visibly plump out lines and wrinkles to a certain degree. (It’s also been said to increase adenosine triphosphate, or ATP, to improve cellular processes.)
Microcurrent is essentially a more sophisticated version of electric muscle stimulation. The current will contract and strengthen weak muscles that have atrophied with age. (Keep in mind it works on the muscles and not directly on the skin so if you are someone with a lot of sun damage and have very loose, flaccid skin, it may not help much.) Microcurrent will never take the place of a traditional facelift but it certainly could prolong the need for one. To get the full results, it must be used consistently.
My Personal Experience With Electrical Muscle Stimulation
In the early ’90s, one of my clients suffered from Bell’s Palsy during her pregnancy. This is a form of facial paralysis where the muscles atrophy usually on just one side of the face, causing a visible drop. My client was devastated. Not only did she have a hard time eating and drinking, but she was so self-conscious about how she looked that she would barely leave her house. I had her come see me three times a week to get electrical muscle stimulation procedures performed. (These are totally painless, by the way.) Within six weeks, she was almost back to normal! Her doctor was shocked at how quickly her face rebounded that he then referred many of his patients to me. Trust me, it works!
Is a Microdermabrasion Tool Good to Use?
Yes, it can be a great way to lift brown spots and post-breakout marks. Just don’t overuse use it. And sensitive skin types should probably avoid it altogether.
Personal microdermabrasion machines use a crystal disk that physically lifts and buffs away dry damaged cells. These are somewhat similar to how professional microdermabrasion machines work. What’s important to understand is that when it comes to brown spots, sun spots, and post-breakout marks, known as post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH), you won’t get the fastest results if you only rely just on exfoliating acids, brighteners, or skin bleaches to do the trick. These all are helpful but it’s the physical lifting off and removal of pigmented cells that ensure results. (Facial scrubs and sonic cleansing devices work similarly to microdermabrasion since they are considered physical exfoliants.)
Never over-exfoliate your skin, as you could cause damage to your moisture barrier. Go easy with a microdermabrasion device. (See how microdermabrasion can go wrong!) I suggest using it no more than once a week and on days you’re not using acids.
Is a LED Blue Light Therapy Device Good For Preventing Blemishes?
Yes, these devices can help some people, but for others, there may not be a visible improvement.
When it comes to blemishes, the goal is to prevent them from appearing in the first place. If you do get one, you want it to go away fast with the least amount of scarring, right? The blue-light wavelengths given off in LED (light-emitting diode) skin devices are said to diminish acne-causing bacteria. Since all breakouts are associated with bacteria, in theory, this would help prevent them and address them once they appear, right? Well, not exactly. To do this, they must respond to YOUR specific breakouts and the bacteria associated with them. (All breakouts are NOT equal and you can learn about the different types.)
I have some clients who seem to find blue light LED devices helpful and others who don’t seem to have any improvement at all. It’s simply not a one-size-fits-all type of at-home skin device. For some, it can play a supportive role in possibly lessening pustular breakouts. It doesn’t seem to help much for cystic blemishes and that’s probably because the bacteria is far deeper in the pore. For those who experience stubborn cystic blemishes, you know how these can have a mind of their own!
If you want to try using blue light therapy, it’s not going to give results with just one treatment. You’ve got to be ready to commit to using it for at least a month to really determine if it’s leading to increased skin clarity.
An Alternative to Blue LED Light Therapy for Addressing Blemishes
In my experience, when blemishes appear, topical spot treatments work far better and are much more tried and true. This is because you can use the right type of treatment with the right type of ingredients during the right phase in the life cycle of the blemish. With spot treatments, you can target a specific blemish and it takes you only 10 seconds of effort. In the case of Neutrogena’s blue light therapy mask, it requires 10 minutes of effort per day. (Find out how to prevent hormonal breakouts.)
Is a LED Red Light Therapy Device Good For Reducing Wrinkles and Increasing Collagen Production?
Yes, it can be. However, it can be hard to tell if it’s working.
The first use of red LED light therapy seems to be by NASA scientists who discovered that plants could grow in space when exposed to it. That’s pretty impressive! When used in skincare devices, it is said to help calm inflammation from things like breakouts and rosacea. It’s also said to help with circulation and collagen stimulation, which can help improve the appearance of wrinkles. There are a lot of claims. Based on what I know, I believe there is some positive activity occurring in the skin. However, the challenge is whether or not you can really see a difference.
I think of it as eating broccoli. We know broccoli is good for us and research shows it, but you may not be able to visibly see a difference from eating it. This is why there aren’t a lot of before-and-after photos of red light therapy. The results can be so subtle that they might not ever show up in a photo. (Unlike other treatments like this one where the before and after is very apparent!) You just have to trust that it’s helping the greater good. I believe it is, but it does require an investment of your time so you need to decide if it’s worth it.
Is a Dermaroller Good For Smoothing Skin and Reducing Wrinkles?
No, I don’t recommend using a dermaroller at home. There is a risk for overuse and potential damage to the skin.
Dermarollers are tools that use tiny needles to make superficial holes in the skin. The intention with this is to allow products applied afterward to penetrate deeper. It’s also said that these tools can help improve post-breakout marks, boost collagen production, and more. They are super popular among skincare enthusiasts, but I’m just going to say it…dermarollers, when put in the hands of consumers, scare me to death. Why? Because people fall into a trap, believing the “no pain, no gain” philosophy. All too often, I hear people say, “I can feel it burning so it must be working.”
When you use a dermaroller, your skin is being injured. (Note: Injury can actually be a good thing. It sends a signal to your skin to stimulate reparative processes. That is the premise behind micro-needling treatments and dermarollers). However, it’s important to not hurt your skin. That’s where a dermaroller concerns me. Many people aren’t aware that they might be overdoing it. Using a dermaroller every day is like doing the same weightlifting exercise every day and never giving the muscles a rest. Or, it’s like staying awake without ever getting sleep. Your skin requires rest, and if it had the ability to speak, it would be yelling “Stop! Enough already!”
Many people who use them love them and say they get immediate results. (It’s probably due to swelling and inflammation that causes the skin to look puffy. This can temporarily make pores and lines appear smaller.) I can confidently tell you that I have seen a backlash from daily dermaroller use. I have some clients whose melasma and brown spots have worsened from using it. I believe this is because the daily injury of the dermaroller stimulates a response that wakes up melanin cells. (Heat can increase pigment, too.)
A Note on Professional Micro-Needling Treatments
I do think professional micro-needling can be beneficial to rejuvenate and smooth tired, aging skin. Injury can be good as long as you’re giving your skin enough time to recover. Professional micro-needling treatments can help smooth wrinkles, make pores look smaller, and even help post-breakout indents, as shown in this study. In a professional setting, they use much stronger devices. You’ll only get it done every so often, so I like it as a way to give your skin an occasional boost. I have never had a professional micro-needling treatment, but it’s on my list!
Is a Jade Roller Good to Use?
Yes. it’s a nice tool to use to give your skin a gentle facial massage.
Jade rolling has been used for centuries in Traditional Chinese Medicine. The gemstone is said to draw out negative energy and balance your ‘chi.’ Aside from that, it massages the skin. Facial massage can help boost circulation to help bring fresh blood and new nutrients to skin cells. I’m a big believer in boosting blood flow to the face, especially as you get older. It’s why I do this 3-minute trick every night.
Many people claim that jade rolling helps with lymphatic drainage to reduce facial puffiness. However, true lymphatic drainage is a special technique. The average jade roller isn’t really going to know how to do that. The gua sha technique can be more effective for doing this. (Read more on this below.)
Is a Rose Quartz Stone Good to Use?
Yes, it is a nice tool to use for lymphatic drainage to move fluids and reduce puffiness and swelling.
You can see the rose quartz stone in the top left corner in the picture above. It’s a flat stone that is used for facial massage. Due to the special shape, it can get into the nooks and crannies of the face and neck and perform a better lymphatic drainage effect. This is known as gua sha, and even though it’s been used for centuries, it’s very popular right now.
Like many estheticians, I’ve been trained in lymphatic massage and I know it can definitely give results. I use my hands and/or facial cupping, but a rose quartz stone can work well, too. Years ago, a cosmetic surgeon used to send his patients to me post-facelift to perform massage to help aid in a quicker recovery. The key is, when doing it yourself, you don’t just want to haphazardly rub it over the face. You must know the exact way to perform this if your intention is to make the skin look less puffy. If you don’t get it just right, you won’t get much of a result or you can actually cause more puffiness. I know there are a lot of tutorials on YouTube. I don’t have one I specifically recommend so check out which expert has the best credentials to ensure they actually have the proper experience. Lymphatic drainage massage with rose quartz stone can take up to 30 minutes if you really want to get serious about it, so you need to decide if the effort is worth the reward.
Is a High-Frequency Device Good For “Zapping” Blemishes?
Yes, it’s a helpful tool to help with a quicker reduction of painful, infected blemishes.
High frequency has been used for many decades. While it’s old technology, it is tried and true as to what it can do for the face —particularly with blemishes. I’ve used it since the start of my career so I know it very well. High-frequency devices give off a current that ignites an argon (violet light) or neon (orange light) gas inside the glass electrode. Once the gas ignites, light energy is given off to form electricity. The oxygen in the air around the electrode is then electrified and creates ozone gas (singlet oxygen). When “zapped” onto a blemish, it forces an infusion of oxygen molecules which encourages healing since bacteria from blemishes can’t thrive in the presence of oxygen. Essentially, oxygen will help kill a blemish faster.
If you’re considering getting a high-frequency skin device to use at home, choose one with argon (violet light) as I have found that to be more effective than the ones with neon (orange) light.
Note: You don’t want to overuse this device. Just zapping a blemish for 8 seconds a day while it’s in its infected stage is all you need. An extremely small amount of ultraviolet light is emitted when the violet electrode makes contact with the skin but it’s brief and the low level of UV exposure is considered to be safe. (Want to learn more about how to use a high-frequency device? Read this post and watch this video.)
Are Sonic Cleansing Brushes Good to Use Every Time I Wash My Face?
No, the action these tools are giving the skin is that of exfoliation. Using it one to two times a day can damage your skin’s barrier.
Sonic cleansing brushes act as a physical exfoliator in the same way a facial scrub does. Many of the companies who make these tools will recommend using it twice a day with every cleansing, but would you ever use a facial scrub twice a day? The reason they’re marketed as cleansing devices is that makeup can stick to dead skin cells, so when you exfoliate, the makeup comes off. The truth is, a gentle baby washcloth is also giving an exfoliating action and will remove your makeup efficiently without damaging your protective barrier from excessive brushing.
Is a Dermaplaning Tool Good to Use?
Yes, removing facial hair including peach fuzz can help improve the skin’s appearance.
Dermaplaning is a procedure that promises to leave the skin looking smooth and glowing by removing dead skin cells AND unwanted facial hair (so long, peach fuzz). This treatment is offered at skincare spas and doctors’ offices by trained professionals using a metal blade and it gives excellent results. Now, you can take advantage of at-home devices that provide a similar result for hair removal. I’m all for “shaving” my face as it makes a huge difference in making my skin look smoother.
Your skin is unique. Just like with skincare products, at-home skincare devices will work well for some and not so well for others. Knowledge is power so the important takeaway with all of this is that you want to make informed decisions with everything you do to your skin. You also want to have realistic expectations. Just like how estheticians and dermatologists aren’t magicians, skincare tools are not performing magic, though they can help the greater good of your skin.
Next, learn how to safely extract blackheads and clogged pores from your skin.
Celebrity Esthetician & Skincare Expert
As an esthetician trained in cosmetic chemistry, Renée Rouleau has spent 30 years researching skin, educating her audience, and building an award-winning line of products. Her hands-on experience as an esthetician and trusted skin care expert has created a real-world solution — products that are formulated for nine different types of skin so your face will get exactly what it needs to look and feel its best. Trusted by celebrities, editors, bloggers, and skincare obsessives around the globe, her vast real-world knowledge and constant research are why Marie Claire calls her “the most passionate skin practitioner we know.”
Hi Renee – I have purchased a popular LED mask (red and blue light) which came with instructions to use for three minutes straight after cleansing before serums, toner etc. Given your 60 second rule, do you think the negative impact of leaving cleansed skin bare for 3 minutes may outweigh the benefits of the LED? Thank you!
Posted By: Sarah |
Hi there! I would suggest toning after you use your light mask and then proceed with your following skincare.
Posted By: Ella Stevenson |
Hi Renée: what would you say is a good skincare regime to take care of my skin elasticity, keeping it taunt and prevent skin from getting flaccid and loose?
Posted By: Ingrid |
A vitamin-rich routine with products like Vitamin-Infused Cleansing Emulsion, Vitamin C&E Treatment and Pro Remedy Oil is the best bet to keep the visible signs of aging at bay.
Posted By: Ella Stevenson |
Is microcurrent safe to use long-term? Worry about optic nerve damage and vein damage to the face.
Posted By: Panida |
Hi! I can’t speak to this since we don’t carry devices like this. I personally haven’t heard of long-term damage but would recommend checking in with the manufacturer of your device for more in-depth information.
Posted By: Renée Rouleau |
Hi – Which high frequency device do you recommend?
Posted By: amy stein |
I don’t usually make specific product recommendations because everyone’s skin and budget are so different, but for high frequency devices I recommend a handheld wand from a verified retailer. As long as the source is reputable, you should be good! A want with violet argon light will be most effective for acne. Always be sure to follow the product instructions carefully 🙂
Posted By: Renée Rouleau |
I was relieved to read that Nuface is a home device you like too. What I don’t like is the gel that is supposed to be used with it. I rather use pure organic aloe gel. I’m sensitive to chemicals and rather stay away from them. I’m writing to you because i’m curious what you think about the NuFace gel? Is using Aloe as beneficial to the microcurent going into the skin?
Thank you Renee!!
Posted By: Mary Hazelwood |
Hi Mary, aloe will work just fine with the Nuface device. Our Bio Calm Repair Masque is also a great gel product to use if you’re looking for something other than aloe. Hope this helps!
Posted By: Renée Rouleau |
Can you use cleansing brushes in replacement for exfoliating? 2-3 times a week instead of daily? If so what device would you recommend above all others? I have the gentler silicone one and try not to use it too much. Thanks in advance, love your blog. <3
Posted By: Aleesha |
While I don’t recommend cleansing brushes, if you’re going to use one the silicone kind is best because it’s gentler. While you can use this as your exfoliation, keep in mind that you’re only getting physical exfoliation from these devices. Acid exfoliation is more effective and goes deeper.
Posted By: Renée Rouleau |