The Microcurrent Facial | How It Works & Why People Recommend It With Botox
Microcurrent is all over the internet right now. The perpetually never-aging Jennifer Aniston lists it as one of her top beauty tips. She feels people go too far with Botox. Here's what she said in an interview with InStyle:
Wait. What? Can you get muscle atrophy from Botox? Yes, she's got a valid concern. Just like someone whose leg muscles become paralyzed and atrophy (their muscles get smaller from a lack of use), people use who use Botox too often can have their facial muscles atrophy. Let me explain.
Botox works by partially paralyzing your muscles. As time passes, the muscle function comes back - usually after about 4 months.
The best way to use Botox is to allow your muscles to start working again before getting more Botox injections. BUT some people don't leave enough time between injections, so their muscles stay partially paralyzed for long periods of time. When this happens, their facial muscles don't regain strength (by contracting). Instead, they shrink / atrophy. Dr. Don Mehrabi explains this in more depth on RealSelf.com. Here's how he recommends you avoid muscle atrophy: "Do Botox tastefully, and take your time between injections, and you should do fine."
Another way to avoid muscle atrophy is to have your injector give you micro-doses of Botox. Learn more in our post, Botox vs. Baby Botox | The Differences & How to Avoid a Frozen Face.
But I Got a little Off Topic. Back to Microcurrent and Why Jennifer Aniston Loves It.
Ms. Aniston swears by microcurrent facials to keep her skin taut and smooth. She says, “It’s like a little workout for your face.” That's a pretty compelling review coming from a 49 year old who looks as good as she does!
So What Is Microcurrent?
Microcurrent uses very, very low voltage electrical impulses ("micro currents") modeled after the body's electrical currents. It's been used in physical therapy and for sports injuries for quite a while. In facials, you might hear it called facial toning because it exercises the muscles in your face. In fact, it's been used for decades to treat Bell's Palsy (when facial muscles are paralyzed or weak causing one side of the face to droop).
Microcurrent is billed as an anti-aging facial that stimulates the skin, boosts collagen (which gives skin structure) and elastin (which gives skin the ability to stretch and bounce back) production, increases circulation, tightens skin and reduces fine lines and wrinkles. It's even said to reduce puffiness, increase cellular activity, and tighten pores.
But Microcurrent Has It's Critics - And There's Conflicting Information.
"It's been used for facial paralysis (Bell's Palsy) for about 70 years, and it's a common use for other areas of the body. If you pull your back or have a sore back or go to the physical therapist, they will hook you up to an electric (stimulation) machine sometimes. Same concept," says Dr. Daniel Knott, associate professor and director of facial plastic and reconstructive surgery at the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center. "I'm not aware of electro-stim doing anything to the skin, the dermis, the fat. I would only think it would help the muscles," he said. "I would be skeptical of it doing anything except improving muscle tone." So, for cosmetic purposes, "theoretically, yes, I see a rationale for it if you want to increase your muscle tone in your face. You could do that. I just think you'd have to do it a lot." says Dr. Knott. "It might feel very nice to do it, as well. It gives this prickly electric feel to the skin." However, he adds, "there is no data demonstrating its effectiveness" as a cosmetic procedure.
And Dr. Elizabeth Tanzi, Assistant Clinical Professor in the Department of Dermatology at George Washington University Medical Center, isn't convinced either.
“There is no scientific evidence yet that these treatments are helpful. It remains to be seen. We need to see the actual clinical studies rather than one or two facialists saying, ‘It works.’ That’s not very scientific or reliable.”
There's a 2003 study by Dr. Emil Y. Chi, Ph.D. that's widely cited as evidence of microcurrent's effectiveness. BUT after LOTS of looking, I wasn't able to find this study - I only found the results. Below are the results of the study as cited on Dermascope.com by Dr. Erin Madigan-Fleck, a nationally certified natural health professional. She holds a doctorate in naturopathic medicine:
"studies by Dr. Emil Y. Chi, Ph.D. at the University of Washington’s department of pathology revealed that skin tissue treated with microcurrent showed a 45 percent increase in the number of elastin fibers in the dermis and, on average, the length of the fibers doubled. Collagen thickness in the connective tissues increased 10 percent, protein synthesis by 70 percent, and there was an increase in cellular transport by 40 percent. Dr. Chi’s 2003 study further noted a 35 percent increase in peripheral blood circulation and lymphatic drainage."
After Even More Looking, I Only Found 1 Clinical Study of Microcurrent:
The study was a randomized clinical trial of microcurrent's effect on facial wrinkles. It was published in Life Science Journal in 2012. The study followed 30 women who were less than 45 years old with wrinkles but no other skin problems. Each woman's face was treated with microcurrent for 30 consecutive sessions. Each session lasted 20 minutes. Pictures were taken before treatment, after all 30 treatments, and then 1 month after all 30 treatments. Then 3 independent blinded reviewers - and the women in the study - rated the wrinkles in the pictures.
- The wrinkle improvement remained stable (stayed the same) in the time between the last treatment and 1 month later.
- Forehead wrinkles had improved 21.8% in the pictures after 30 treatments and 1 month later.
- The nose and mouth areas got the least improvement - 5.85% improvement after 30 treatments and 1 month later.
- Treatment satisfaction among the women who participated in the study was over 70%.
How Does It Work?
Most times a microcurrent facial uses 2 hand held prongs (1 positive, the other negative) that send microcurrents of electricity back and forth between them. (Sometimes there are more than 2 prongs.) The electricity travels through your skin and into your muscles below.
What's the Treatment Like?
Microcurrent facials are usually done by an aesthetician. She'll apply a conductive gel to your face (the same kind used for an ultrasound) then apply the prongs. As the electrical currents move back and forth between the prongs, they stimulate your skin and the muscles below. Some people feel a tingling sensation, others feel a pulling at their hairline, or a twitching. Some people get a metallic taste in their mouth. Most find the treatment relaxing.
How Long Does the Treatment Take? How Many Treatments Will I Need?
Treatments last anywhere from 45 minutes to 1 1/2 hours. The varies by spa because each spa incorporates different treatments into their microcurrent facials. Some include cleansers, extractions, or masks. Others simply offer a solid hour of microcurrent.
The number of treatments varies with the kind of equipment used, the skin condition being treated, and what you want to achieve. All the articles I read emphasize the importance of continuing treatments because "the effect is cumulative, becoming more pronounced after each treatment. The skin and facial muscles become noticeably tighter and more toned with each treatment."
How Much Does Microcurrent Cost?
One microcurrent facial costs anywhere from $200 - $600. Typically, it costs in the range of $200 - $225. BUT, to get the best result, a series is recommended. You should plan to pay for a minimum of 6 treatments followed by 1 maintenance treatment every 4 - 6 weeks.
What Kind of Results Can I Expect?
It varies. Some people see a difference after just 1 treatment; others see results after 3 or 4. Some doctors say microcurrent facials don't work at all. If the treatment works for you, you should expect to see results that appear over time. Proponents of the microcurrent facial say the effects are cumulative, so you'll see better and better results after each facial. So your facial skin and muscles should become noticeably toned and look tighter after each treatment.
How About Side Effects?
There are very few side effects of the microcurrent facial. Some people feel sleepy and get mild nausea after treatment. Good hydration (drinking lots of water) is key. These symptoms usually disappear after 12 - 24 hours.
So Why Do Some Aestheticians Recommend Microcurrent & Botox?
Shamara Bondaroff, aesthetician and founder of SBSkin, explains it like this in an article on IntoTheGloss.com:
Botox can cause muscle atrophy because it paralyzes facial muscles. So to Bondaroff, microcurrent “is essential if you do Botox,” because it re-stimulates the frozen muscle and keeps the paralyzed forehead muscles lifted, not slack. Then she explains more about why she recommends microcurrent with Botox:
“It’s such a gimmick, and they’re getting girls to do it younger and younger. I have girls come to me who have been doing it for years, and they say, ‘Can you help me? My eyebrows are dropping.' I’ve weaned people off Botox, off fillers,” she says. "What happens is, they look better with microcurrent than Botox, so the girl who was getting it every three months is now maybe every 6 to 9 months.”
Can I Give Myself a Microcurrent Facial at Home?
You definitely can. For those interested, the NuFace Trinity and the ZIIP are 2 of the most well known. But again, they're controversial. When asked about home microcurrent devices, Dr. Tanzi said she wouldn’t recommend them to a patient; but she wouldn’t outright advise against them either. “I don’t think there would be any harm in them unless the device was defective, but it may just be a waste of time.”
Do People Like Them?
On Amazon the NuFace Trinity gets a 3 star rating out of 5 (374 reviews). On Sephora, the Nuface Trinity gets 4.3 / 5 stars (57 reviews). Shamara Bondaroff gives the NuFace a positive review. “The Nuface? That’s like 5% of what I can do with this (the microcurrent device she uses to give treatments in her office). But it’s good. It gives you a little lift, but not a full lift.”
The ZIIP gets lots of 5 star reviews (out of 33 reviews) on CultBeauty.co.uk. Nieman Marcus sells the ZIIP, but I didn't find any reviews on their site. If you do an internet search you'll find lots of reviews. There's a pretty thorough one on Refinery29. People seem to like the ZIIP for treating acne.
How Much Do Home Microcurrent Devices Cost? And How Much Is the Gel You Use With Them?
Nuface Trinity aka the “5-minute face lift” ($325 at sephora.com). This gadget—which is FDA-approved and clinically proven to improve facial contour—uses the same technology dermatologists and aestheticians use. Treatments take only 5 minutes a day (and trust us: you will see a small but noticeable lift after just one use).
How Do You Use Them?
The NuFace: Use it between 5 to 20 minutes for 5 days a week for 3 months. Wash your face with an oil free cleanser. Apply the gel primer. Glide the NuFace upward along the contours of your face. Each glide should last 5 seconds. Repeat 3 times, then remove the primer with a warm, damp wash cloth. You should start to see results after 6 weeks of use.
The ZIIP: Download the app from the Apple store. (There are no options for android users as of today, 8/4/2018.). Pick 1 of 7 possible treatments, from acne to dark spots to sensitive skin or dark under eye circles. The app on your phone sends the program to your ZIIP via Bluetooth. Clean your face then apply the ZIIP Golden Conductive Gel. Tutorials in the ZIIP app demonstrate exactly how to use the device. And varying the treatments should stimulate your skin more effectively, creating improvement that's faster and better.
Melanie Simon, creator of the ZIIP, said in an interview with CultBeauty.co.uk, "The most important thing with nano-current electricity is regularity of use - ideally, users should be conducting treatments 2-3 times a week. I encourage switching up the treatments to stimulate the skin more effectively. As each 'electrical cocktail' is completely unique, changing up your treatments can enhance the benefits, just as changing up your skin care can."
This was a difficult page to write. I think mostly because there are so many conflicting opinions and so little evidence. It may be that microcurrent technology works, but right now there isn't enough research to definitively prove it.
What about people, like Jennifer Aniston, who look great and use microcurrent? Jennifer Aniston and other celebrities that swear by microcurrent often use other skin treatments at the same time. When this happens, it makes it hard to tell which treatment is doing what. For example, in her interview with InStyle.com, Aniston says she uses microcurrent facials, the Clear & Brilliant laser, and Thermage. And I found another article where she talks about using a derma-roller. I'm not saying she's wrong. But I am saying that using that many different treatments would make it hard for even the best doctor to tell which treatment made her skin picture perfect. AND Jennifer Aniston exercises regularly. That's great for skin too!
My best advice? If it's something you want to try and it's in your budget - go for it! It might not help, but it probably won't hurt. As for me personally? I'm gonna wait till the research proves microcurrent works - or it doesn't.
Good luck! Thanks for reading!
Amy Takken is a registered nurse with 20+ years of experience helping people improve their health. Her in-depth skincare articles have been featured on Nazarian Plastic Surgery and The Palm Beach Center for Facial Plastic & Laser Surgery. Amy loves research and constantly watches for new products and treatments to help you improve your skin’s health – because healthy skin is beautiful! To reach Amy, visit our contact page.
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The Information provided on our website is not medical advice and should not be viewed as such. By law, only a medical doctor can diagnose or give medical advice. As a registered nurse, my goal is to educate, so I provide information on skin care, skin care products, and skin care treatments. If you have any condition that concerns you, please see a medical doctor. While most skin conditions are benign, some - like melanoma - can be deadly. If there is any doubt, please, please consult your physician. Thank you!