The Science of Anti-Aging Skincare
By Ying Chu
Photo Credit: Bill Diodato
Even if you're nowhere near a socket right now, your body has an electric charge. It's a long way off from X-Men-level magnetism, but all living cells (even plants) use positive or negative currents to communicate. Unfortunately, this charge lessens with age. For your face, this means that the fibroblasts that pump out skin-plumping collagen stop keeping up with the damage (from sun, stress, pollution) that causes wrinkles. The good news is that cutting-edge technology can help zap your complexion back into peak condition.
Though it may sound, um, shocking, interest in skin shock therapy began years ago, with the rise of "galvanic facials" in Europe (galvanic is another word for electric). But now, at-home galvanic systems (like Nu Skin's) are appearing stateside, too. Similar to professional models, these devices use a low voltage to increase product penetration. "Like charges repel each other, so in theory you can use a positive current to push a positively charged cream into the skin," explains Dr. Patricia K. Farris, clinical assistant professor of dermatology at Tulane University in New Orleans. Galvanic facials promise to instantly plump, but Farris warns that there is still little scientific proof that these treatments produce real, long-term results.
Instead, Farris is excited about two new technologies that are clinically proven to drive product into skin: "Electroporation delivers short, high-voltage bursts to create tiny holes in the skin that molecules can then pass through. It's worked with getting green-tea polyphenols, peptides, and hormones into the body, but the sky's the limit," she enthuses. Another breakthrough, Iontophoresis, uses a similar process for ingredient penetration but at a lower (and less painful) current. "We've been using Iontophoresis to push antiperspirant through sweat glands and hair follicles to reduce perspiration," says Farris.
Meanwhile, celebrity facialist Melanie Simon has been using high-tech medical devices to energize, tighten, and rethicken skin. A-list clients fly in every few weeks to keep the scalpel at bayespecially when hectic schedules mean limited shut-eye. "Insomniacs have worse complexions than drug addicts because they're never getting the deepest stage of sleep, when cells regenerate," says Simon. To coax cells into repair mode, she uses a Nano Perfector machine to replicate the brain's electric current during deep sleep: "Everyone has a unique electrical signature, like a fingerprint. A lightbulb runs on one ampere. The Nano Perfector replicates your frequency at an accuracy of one billionth of an ampere. Most people get two hours of deep sleep a night. Using metallic gloves connected to the device, my treatment takes about an hour and 15 minutes, but the restful wavelength stays in your body for 72 hours, prolonging the skin's natural repair mode. It's like being in a sleep tank for weeks." Simon uses her Nano Perfector with another machine called the Arasys, which works like a pacemaker (invented by the same scientist), conducting energy to contract facial muscles through patches placed on the skin. "After one treatment, some clients will look five years younger. Their pores are smaller, their complexion is more even, and overall texture is improved," she says.
If you can't get to Simon's spa in Montecito, California (or don't have $200 to spend every 20 days on her facials), you can now try an at-home alternative: Simon's Circ-Cell skincare line stimulates repair with a powder and serum that activate when blended. "The powder contains zinc, copper, magnesium, tourmaline, and amethyst, which are electric minerals. Copper is the most conductive metal besides silver," says Simon. Once applied, the minerals heat up and put off an electric charge, which feels warm on your face. "It's the same technology that keeps a quartz watch ticking," according to Simon.
Neutrogena, RoC, and Aveeno use similar technology but with zinc and copper only. "All these electrical creams try to mimic the skin's frequency that stimulates collagen production," explains Farris. "When a wound starts to heal, fibroblast cells turn each other on using a low level of electricity. By activating the powder ions with the liquid, you're creating a tiny battery that tells the fibroblasts to make more collagen. Water is a good conductor, so any moisturizer works in the mix." Just don't expect any zaps. Unlike a defibrillator's jump-start to the heart, these gentle skin treatments work on such a low voltage that you won't feel a thing. But the cost for this pain-free beauty is patience: Results take about two months.