Let's talk electricity and your face today. That's right, we estheticians absolutely love to run electricity through your skin. But it's for a good cause, I promise!
There are many different types of electrical applications that we use in the treatment room. Using electricity to stimulate the skin in one way or another is not a new concept, it has actually been around for over a hundred years. However, the different types of electrical treatments vary in age.
For example, high frequency was first introduced to skin care in 1892. I still use this form of treatment in my treatment room today because it is amazing at combating cystic acne breakouts.
In contrast, radio frequency was introduced in 2001 through the ThermoCool device. Radio frequency is currently used in many different treatments, including the new Morpheus8 treatment that combines radio frequency and microneedling.
Over 100 years are in between these two devices, and we're still using this modality on a daily basis. Electrical treatments definitely have longevity, and that's because they get some really good results.
Today in particular I want to talk about radio frequency and its side effects. I have some serious concerns using radio frequency. I'm not here to bash the results that you can get from it, but I do want to set out some warnings because I feel like these are being swept under the rug in aesthetic establishments.
Let's start out with how radio frequency works.
Radio frequency produces an electrical current that creates heat, and this current and heat goes very deep into your skin, all the way to the subcutaneous fat layer, which is the bottom layer of your skin structure.
The heat that it produces induces collagen production by creating a low-level thermal injury. This type of injury is called thermolysis. This means it breaks down the surrounding tissue using heat.
This isn't necessarily a bad thing. As we age our collagen and elastin production fall off. Stimulating new collagen growth is an excellent goal.
It sounds scary to be creating a wound to the skin, however that's exactly how peels and microneedling work. We create a very superficial wound which stimulates the body to heal it, thereby producing more collagen and elastin, in hopes that your skin will have a more solid structure when the whole healing process is over.
In addition to creating new collagen, we're starting to notice another side effect that radio frequency is now exploding onto the market for.
It seems to reduce fat.
You can now see so many treatments that target this with radio frequency. It is highly popular, because it is not incredibly expensive, even the devices themselves from a professional standpoint are much cheaper than some of the other electrical devices out there, it isn't painful, and the treatment sessions are quick.
But this is where we come to some issues. There are two main problems with radio frequency that make me choose not to use it in my practice.
Radio frequency produces heat.
Didn't we just say this was a good thing because it induces collagen production? We did. And it does. Studies definitely have proof of that.
However, when you produce heat, especially heat deep in the skin, it is a possible side effect that you can also induce melasma.
Melasma is a condition that affects darkening of the pigment. It's also commonly known as the pregnancy mask. It is darker patches that appear usually in symmetrical areas across the face. The forehead and cheeks are the most common area that we see it in. Melasma is tied to hormonal changes, hence the name pregnancy mask. But it can also be tied to birth control changes or hormones that change rapidly as we age.
Melasma won't occur, as far as we know, without a hormonal imbalance. Unfortunately, it is really difficult to know if somebody has a hormonal imbalance sometimes. You could be at the beginning of a hormonal imbalance and not be experiencing a lot of symptoms from it. You could have had a hormonal imbalance for a long time and have gotten used to the symptoms from it.
And when you have that hormonal balance that deep heat can trigger melasma. Your practitioner will probably never even know you are a risk for it.
Melasma is incredibly difficult to treat. It is probably the most difficult condition to treat as an esthetician. So, I work incredibly hard to stay away from treatments that could possibly induce it.
Radio frequency seems to dissolve fat.
What? This is always a good thing, right? We always want to seek less fat.
No. We do not.
Let me say that again for the people in the back. If you are at the point in your skincare life where you are trying to induce collagen and elastin, the last thing you want to do is remove fat from your face.
The reason we want to induce more collagen and elastin is to keep our skin strong and supple. When we take additional fat out of our face, we lose volume. That volume loss is what creates those saggy wrinkles around our nasal labial folds and underneath our chin.
This is the whole concept of filler injections, to create more volume. You're injecting, usually hyaluronic acid, into your face to take up more space.
People that experience significant weight loss can let you know, once you take that volume out, you will see more wrinkles.
So that fat loss is over time is actually contributing more to the problem that you were originally trying to solve by getting radio frequency on your face.
So, what do I do instead?
Microcurrent, peptides, and Gua Sha massage.
This is my golden trifecta for treating wrinkles due to volume loss. I use it in my signature anti-aging facial The Lift & Flow.
Microcurrent is a different electrical treatment. It is a weak electrical frequency that is extremely close to the natural frequency your body produces. This frequency goes even deeper than radio frequency and stimulates muscles and nerves.
Microcurrent has been around since 1964 and it's used in a lot of different applications, including pain treatment and wound healing.
Microcurrent does not cause any wounds. It increases blood flow and excites cells, inducing the wound healing cycle that way.
Microcurrent has been shown to be void of any negative side effects for those that are not contraindicated for it. Read: Don't stimulate your body electrically if you have heart conditions or have a pacemaker or the like. If you fall into that category I guarantee you will probably experience negative side effects and your facial wrinkles will be the least of your concerns that day.
So microcurrent will help create more collagen just like radio frequency, but it has even more benefits. It stimulates the muscles to become tighter, giving you better structure underneath your skin. It creates healthier skin cells by driving more blood to them and evening the electrical currents that naturally go to each cell.
Microcurrent also pushes products deeper into the skin, allowing for better absorption. This is where my peptide serums come in.
In addition, microcurrent is great for compromised skin, such as skin with symptoms of rosacea. Since it interacts with the nervous system and calms it down, any condition related to the nervous system receives beneficial effects.
Since it does not produce heat, it has no effect on melasma.
I love to add on Gua Sha massage, because that helps the structure of the elastin fibers underneath the skin, and I top it off with a serum that provides you with peptides to ensure your skin has the proper nutrients to create that new collagen and elastin.
True microcurrent is a more expensive machine. And speaking as a professional who has purchased professional devices, there are a lot of knock-off brands that say they have true microcurrent, but they end up actually being radio frequency or just galvanic. So, if you were professional reading this, make sure you're buying from a reputable brand. Yes, you will pay more, but you will know what you actually have.
I understand the allure of the cheaper machines coming straight from China, but China does not have the same regulations that the United States does, and they can absolutely lie to you about what they're selling you. And they absolutely do.
If you are perspective client reading this, I hope this gives you insight as to whether or not radio frequency is a good choice for you. If fat removal is the end goal of your treatment, and you know that you don't have any hormonal imbalances at all, then this might be a great choice.
However, if you are working on skin elasticity and wrinkles because you have gone through the change and lost volume in your face and are starting to see that sagging, I would recommend you stay away from radio frequency and look into microcurrent instead.
I hope this empowers you to make excellent choices!