Everything You Need To Know About At-Home Beauty Devices

Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
Over the past few years, I've seen a huge boom in home devices that promise everything from a completely hairless body to eternally youthful skin. My patients often ask me for advice about these high-tech gadgets. They want to know whether they really deliver the results they promise or if they're just another gimmick on a market full of gimmicks. It depends on the device, of course, but there are some that work and that I'm comfortable readily recommending.

Deep Cleansing
The first type of home device to really lead the way was the cleansing brush. The first and perhaps most well-known of the bunch is the Clarisonic line, but it's not the only brand on the market. But if your current facial cleansers are working just fine, is it necessary to invest in a cleansing brush? It depends on the kind of face cleaning you're after. A cleansing brush provides both deep cleaning and exfoliation. It can deep clean better than a regular old washcloth or a facial scrub.

Cleansing brushes have also been found to improve skin texture and overall skin complexion, diminish fine wrinkles and the appearance of pores, and reduce acne. They may also increase the absorption of topical skin-care products and topical medications.

And yet, in spite of all these great things, cleansing brushes aren't for everyone. If your skin is dry or sensitive, adding a brush may be like throwing salt in the wound. Cleansing brushes can also cause acne flares, especially if they're used too aggressively or not maintained properly (similar to a makeup brush). Regardless of your skin type, though, overuse can lead to dryness, sensitivity, irritation, redness, and broken capillaries. If you develop any of these skin issues, it's time to take a break.

But before you go out and buy a cleansing brush, talk first with your dermatologist.
Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
Hair Removing
Technically, home devices for hair removal have been around for years, but unlike the Epilady of the 1980s, the newer home-hair-removal devices are based on laser or light technology. This sounds great, right? I mean, who wouldn't want to be taking care of unwanted hair in the comfort and privacy of their own home — no appointment necessary.

The downside? They just aren't as powerful or efficient as in-office lasers, so using them for large areas like the legs is not really practical. Generally, these lasers have a small spot size, so it would take you forever to do an entire leg.

In my practice, I like to recommend these in conjunction with in-office laser hair removal, to maintain results after a series of laser hair-removal sessions or occasionally between treatments. As with the cleansing brushes, though, these hair-removal gadgets are not appropriate or safe for all skin types, so schedule an appointment with your dermatologist before laying down your credit card for purchase.

Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
Acne Zapping
The device I get asked about more and more these days is one that promises to get rid of acne — a concern so many of us have. Acne-fighting tools harness light and heat to nip those pesky pimples in the bud. The first anti-acne device used blue light to kill Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes), the bacteria involved in the development of acne. Although the blue-light-only tools are still available, newer devices that use both blue and red light or intense pulsed light (IPL) are now on the market. Red light and IPL provide the added benefit of reducing inflammation.

Like other home devices, these zit zappers are not as powerful as the corresponding in-office treatments. The home laser devices deliver less power than the light treatments many dermatologists have available in the office, so in general they may be less effective at reducing the size and number of acne lesions, redness, and inflammation. With the exception of Illumask, I have not found a home device that allows you to treat the entire face at once, as the office treatments do.
Age Fighting
Most of the anti-aging home devices utilize red light, which was initially used in wound healing. It has subsequently emerged as an anti-aging treatment because of its powerful biological effects on the skin. In the skin-care industry, we're most excited about its ability to reduce inflammation and increase collagen synthesis.

Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
While red light may reduce fine lines and wrinkles, it does not penetrate very deeply and therefore isn't effective in helping with moderate to severe signs of aging. If noticeable correction is needed, you probably won't be happy with red light's results. But it can be an effective part of an anti-aging regimen (Kim Kardashian reportedly uses light therapy for her psoriasis, but I wouldn't be surprised if she's a fan of it for its anti-aging benefits), between in-office treatments, or after a series of in-office treatments.

Another device intended to zap those signs of aging are at-home lasers. These lasers, which are based on fractional laser technology, can penetrate more deeply than red light, so are more effective at wrinkle reduction — though not without a cost. Painful and linked with potentially adverse effects, lasers aren't a method everyone will appreciate.

The home-device arena is continually expanding, and with time we will likely see newer, more effective devices. The devices currently on the market are best used as adjunctive therapies to in-office treatments. Even though the devices are readily available, don't forget that each has risks, so it's imperative to discuss them with your dermatologist before taking the plunge.

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