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My Guide to the Different Types of Skincare Devices

When you type “skincare devices” into Google, you’re confronted with an onslaught of different gadgets that are meant to firm, smooth, and tone your face.

From $500 age-defying lasers that you can use in your own home, to egg-shaped radiofrequency skin tightening devices, to millennial pink eye massagers — there is a lot to take in.

But aside from the sometimes steep price points and the other-worldly looking shapes, the question we all want to know is: do these products actually work?

Unfortunately, the answer isn’t so simple.

As you may have guessed from my earlier Google-fueled descriptions, there are a ton of different skincare devices, so there’s no clear cut yes or no answer to if they are really “worth it” or not.

But, if your only knowledge of skincare devices revolves around a Clarisonic (the most well-known skincare device), you’re in luck!

Today, we’re doing a deep dive into all things skincare devices.

We’re going to take a journey through the history of skincare devices, then I’ll lay out the major categories of skincare devices and the benefits (or drawbacks) of each.

We’ll also talk about FDA regulations regarding skincare devices, and ultimately why you should (or shouldn’t) add a skincare device to your beauty routine.

I hope you’ve got an extension cord handy because we’re plugging all the way into skincare devices!

Let’s get started!

What Exactly Are Skincare Devices and What Do They Do?

Skincare devices is a big, overarching category that includes any electrically powered gadgets meant to benefit your skin.

This category encompasses hair removal tools, mechanical exfoliators, facial massagers, rotating makeup brushes, and more.

In general, these skincare devices are created as an at-home alternative to procedures you would get in a dermatologist’s office or spa — therefore saving you time and money (not to mention the convenience of doing things in the comfort of your own home).

The History of Skincare Devices

How far back does the history of skincare devices go?

Well, that depends on what you consider a skincare device.

The Clarisonic, otherwise known as the device most women think of first when they think “skincare devices,” was invented in 2001 by David Giuliani, the same man who invented Sonicare toothbrushes (makes sense, doesn’t it?).

While the Clarisonic didn’t initially pick up steam, it became massively popular after Oprah featured it on her Favorite Things episode in 2007.

Shortly after Clarisonic’s seemingly overnight success, many competitors launched similar products.

But, skincare devices were around before the 2000s…they just weren’t exactly perfected yet.

In fact, in the 1930s, Italian physician Dr. M. Matarassoa invented a “skincare device” that used carbon monoxide to freeze off patients’ freckles with a sharp needle – ouch!

Today, the popularization of in-office skincare treatments — from laser hair removal to the vampire facial — have led to the creation of more at-home devices for women who want salon-level results in the comfort of their own home.

If you take a gander at Ulta’s “skincare tools” section, you’ll find 96 products ranging from a $35 Proactiv Hello Kitty brush kit to a $325 gold NuFACE Trinity device kit.

The Different Types of Skincare Devices and Benefits of Each

Did the list of skincare devices in the introduction make your head spin like a Clarisonic brush?

That’s OK, you’re not alone!

There is a wide variety of skincare devices, and the easiest way to break them down is by the actual technology used to deliver the desired results.

Here’s a run-down of what’s out there, what works, and what doesn’t — and why, as well as some recommended devices! 

LED

LED stands for light-emitting diode.

These infrared lights are emitted in different wavelengths and spectrums for different skincare benefits.

For example, red light promotes circulation and blue light kills bacteria.

Some of the most popular LED products on the market are acne masks and handheld anti-aging devices.

The Tria Positively Clear Acne Clearing Blue Light helps to clear up acne in a flash! Gentle and effective on all skin tones, this FDA-cleared device delivers an effective dose of bacteria-eliminating blue light deep within the skin to eliminate acne.

This Foreo UFO Smart Mask Treatment puts the power of LED light therapy in your hands with three targeted photofacials in one at-home device. Enjoy a painless, UV-free phototherapy treatment as red, green, and blue LED light wavelengths effortlessly rejuvenate your skin.

I personally love the NuFACE Trinity Wrinkle Reducer for targeting fine line and wrinkles. It delivers a precise combination of red, amber and infrared light that penetrates different depths of the dermis.

One thing I don’t recommend? The Strialite stretch mark LED treatment.

Stretch marks fade on their own with time, but it’s unlikely a product is going to be able to speed that up — save your money!

IPL

IPL stands for intense pulse light.

IPL involves a high-powered, visible, broad-spectrum pulse of light that can be used for hair removal, dark spots, pigmentation, redness, and broken blood vessels.

In terms of at-home devices, IPL is most commonly seen in hand-held anti-aging tools and hair removal devices.

Radio Frequency

No, this isn’t your favorite FM station!

Instead, radio frequency uses an electric current to heat up layers of skin tissue and stimulate new collagen production (a life-saver when it comes to anti-aging).

Stimulated collagen production will help to increase your skin’s elasticity, therefore making it appear firmer and tighter and reducing the appearance of wrinkles.

Laser

You’re probably most familiar with the skincare laser.

Lasers are sources of high-intensity light that can be focused on small areas.

The beam can gently ablate and/or vaporize skin tissue to treat fine lines and wrinkles, pigmentation, scars, acne, uneven texture, dark circles, or puffiness.

Lasers can also seal blood vessels, remove unwanted hair, and remove unwanted tattoos.

I offer a variety of laser skincare devices on my site, each with different purposes! As you’ll see, Tria is one of my favorite brands.

 

The Tria Hair Removal Laser Precision easily removes unwanted hair with permanent results. Its ergonomic design is perfect for sensitive, hard to reach areas like the bikini line or underarms.

The Tria Age-Defying Eye Wrinkle Correcting Laser works by employing thousands of microscopic laser signals to penetrate into the delicate eye area for noticeable improvement of fine lines and wrinkles. It helps to facilitate natural collagen and elastin production for brighter, more youthful-looking eyes.


The Tria Hair Removal Laser is the only FDA cleared hair removal laser for home use! If you don’t want expensive spa visits for hair removal, this is the device you need. This laser reduces hair by up to 70% in just two uses. When hair returns, it is much thinner and finer and lighter, which occurs between two and three months after treatments.

The Tria Age-Defying Laser is an FDA-cleared fractional laser that treats multiple signs of aging on the entire face. Designed with dermatologists and plastic surgeons, the Age-Defying Laser uses the same technology as professional in-office treatments. Stubborn wrinkles are effortlessly smoothed!

Hi-frequency

Hi-frequency is one of my favorite technologies.

I like to think of it as a “classic” when it comes to skincare devices because it’s been around for longer than many of the other technologies and most beauty professionals are trained with hi-frequency tools in beauty school.

You might recognize a hi-frequency tool if you saw one: it looks like a stick with a bubble on the end.

That bubble is the electrode, which produces argon gas and emits a small electrical current.

This current, and therefore the hi-frequency tool, helps to generate oxygen, kill bacteria, and calm inflamed skin.

As you might have guessed, this makes hi-frequency tools great for acne.

Hi-frequency technology is also used in anti-aging devices because the tool can help increase collagen production, fade dark circles, and reduce the appearance of fine lines.  

Microcurrent

Microcurrent technology is another one of my favorites — you see results quickly and it’s definitely a good bang for your buck!

Microcurrent technology works by energizing and stimulating the facial muscles, sending soft, gentle waves through the skin and tissues.

The result? A toned and lifted appearance of the skin.

If you’re looking to purchase a microcurrent product, I love the NuFACE Trinity.

The Trinity is probably one of the most effective skincare devices out there, you won’t feel like you wasted money with this one!

The Trinity works to mimic a facelift, using the microcurrent technology to lift and tighten the skin.

It’s recommended that you use it about three times a week.

If you’re looking for an anti-aging wrinkle solution, I’d definitely recommend it.

Jessica Alba, Jennifer Aniston, and Miranda Kerr are all fans.

I also highly recommend the ReFa CARAT FACE.

 

It truly feels like you’re getting a facial at home! The design replicates the deep “grip and glide” kneading sensation that an esthetician might include as part of a professional treatment.

Bonus: it’s waterproof, and can be used on your waist, underarms, inner thighs, neck, and chest as well.

Sonic

Unsurprisingly, sonic technology is what’s used in the Clarisonic products (and in their competitors’ products).

As I mentioned earlier, the sonic technology was actually designed by the inventor of the sonic toothbrush.

Like your favorite sonic toothbrush, sonic facial cleansing brushes utilize oscillating movements at a sonic speed to deeply cleanse your skin.

The rapidly moving brushes (Clarisonics have a frequency of over 300 movements per second) can help purify your skin from debris and dirt, plus provides deep exfoliation.

If you’re looking to work some more serious exfoliation into your routine, I definitely recommend the classic Clarisonic.

Just make sure that you don’t go overboard.

Just like regular exfoliating, it’s better in moderation — especially when you have a high powered exfoliating tool.

One sonic product I would advise against? The Dermaflash 2.0 LUXE Facial Exfoliating Device.

There are safer and more affordable ways to get rid of the peach fuzz on your face, and for exfoliating, the classic Clarisonic knows best.

I also LOVE the Foreo Luna Mini 2. The T-Sonic pulsation removes dirt, oil, makeup residue, and dead skin cells for super clean skin.

It comes with eight adjustable intensities and the brush is made from silicone, so you don’t have to worry about irritation.

 

 

Wood’s Lamp

Wood’s lamp sounds like something out of a fairy tale, but it’s also known as an ultraviolet light test or a blacklight test.

Like the name “blacklight test” suggests, it’s used to examine the skin and detect bacteria or skin color changes.

The test is generally done by an esthetician in a dark room, where they’ll hold the lamp about 4-5 inches from your face while studying your skin.

After analyzing your skin, the esthetician can then make recommendations on products and services your skin might be craving.

Doctors may also use Wood’s lamp for diagnosing bacterial and fungal skin infections like Ringworm (also known as tinea).

You can purchase an at-home Wood’s lamp kit, but you’ll have to learn how to read the results on your own!

A more modern (and intuitive) update to Wood’s lamp is mobile apps that help you diagnose your skin and keep track of how it reacts to certain things.

While some are more focused on acne (like Pimmento), SkinVision is an app that is all about helping people to detect skin cancer.

It’s amazing what technology can do for us, isn’t it?

Massage or Vibration

A facial massage sounds nice, but what can it actually do for your skin?

Well, that’s where massage and vibration tools come in.

These devices typically help to treat puffiness and to help your products penetrate your skin more deeply.

Like sonic tools, vibrating facial devices can also help to dislodge debris out of your pores with their fast vibrating movements.

If I had to recommend a massage or vibration product, I’d say to go for the Foreo Iris Illuminating Eye Massager to reduce puffiness, bags, and wrinkles around the eye area for a more youthful appearance.

Spin or Rotate

You might have seen rotating or spinning makeup brushes on Instagram.

Spinning/rotating technology is generally used in brushes that spin or rotate a certain number of times per second in clockwise or counterclockwise motions.

Generally, the brushes also have multiple speeds and are rechargeable or battery powered.

These brushes can help give your skip the deeper clean its craving.

They can also help products penetrate deeper — whether that’s a serum or a tinted moisturizer.

Cryotherapy & Thermotherapy (Cold & Hot Settings)

You may have tried cryotherapy in a salon (brr!), but there are also at-home tools made to mimic the results you get from freezing or heating up your skin.

Most at-home tools will both have cool and hot settings.

The cool setting is useful for shrinking your pores, reducing redness/puffiness, and tightening the appearance of your skin.

The warm mode, on the other hand, can help to open your pores to help products penetrate deeper.

As an added bonus, the warmth on your face is also super relaxing!

Combination Technology

Wooh! We just went through a lot of different types of technology.

You may be wondering which technology is best for you and your skin, but I’m going to let you in on a little secret: the best tools, in my humble opinion, are the ones that combine multiple technologies together.

I find that the tools that combine multiple technologies are generally in the sweet spot — priced relatively affordable and with noticeable results to your skin.

A great example of a multi-purpose product that gives you major bang for your buck is the Alana Mitchell Eye & Lip Device — it uses vibrating technology and thermotherapy for the delicate eye area.

However, if you’re on a tighter budget, a product with just one technology might be more affordable.

Perhaps you’re interested in a massage product or a spin brush?

These products will typically be cheaper but beware of markups.

You should definitely not be paying $200+ for a spin brush with no other features.

I would suggest spending about $50 on a spin brush.

Not only is it a good starter product in the world of skincare devices, but it’ll also definitely help to clean your face better than if you were just using your hands or a washcloth.

Are Skincare Devices FDA Approved?

When you’re considering what to put on your face, chances are you’d like to know if something is FDA approved.

Unfortunately, if you’ve read my blog before, you may know that the FDA doesn’t regulate the beauty industry much because it’s difficult to prove that products work in the beauty industry.

This is why you have to be extra diligent when doing research in what you add to your routine.

Some skincare devices are FDA cleared, but not FDA approved, like the Tria Hair Removal Laser.

Here are definitions of “cleared medical devices” and “approved medical devices” from the FDA’s website:

Cleared medical devices: These medical devices are ones that FDA has determined to be substantially equivalent to (similar) another legally marketed device. A premarket notification submission is referred to as a 510(k) and must be submitted to FDA to review and provide clearance.

Approved medical devices: Approved medical devices are those devices that the FDA has approved a premarket approval (PMA) application or a Humanitarian Device Exemption (HDE) application. This review and approval process is for Class III medical devices (the ones with the highest risk) and involves a more rigorous review than the 510(k) review process.

Essentially, because most skincare devices aren’t deemed “high risk” by the FDA, they aren’t regulated enough to be officially approved.

Being cleared means the FDA has decided that the device is similar enough to other products on the market and they’re not aware of any inherent dangers or reasons why not to allow the product to be on the market.

Bored of FDA-jargon yet? Me too.

To sum it up, the FDA really doesn’t spend much time regulating the beauty industry, and that goes for products and devices.

The lack of FDA approval on devices isn’t because the devices aren’t safe enough; it’s that the FDA has “bigger fish to fry” and doesn’t feel the need to test each skincare device out.

Just like you would with other beauty products, you should always do research before using a new device.

Should You Use Skincare Devices?

Personally, I think there are two categories of people who should consider purchasing a skincare device: those who already go to the dermatologist/salon for skincare treatments, and those who have skincare issues that their current routine isn’t alleviating.

For example, if you already get facelifts semi-regularly, you may want to buy a NuFACE to use at home (and save some $$$).

Or, if you get monthly facials to help detoxify your skin, you may want an at-home alternative (like a Clarisonic) instead.

As for the latter statement, if you’re struggling with wrinkles and looking to take the next, more serious step towards anti-aging, a skincare device may be right for you.

As with all purchases, you should absolutely shop around to ensure you’re getting the best deal, and check all product reviews to see what other users had to say about the product.

If you want a hint, Tria is one that I’ve always known to give great results with their products — and their products are relatively affordable to boot!

Other brands, like Clarisonic, have patented parts of their technology.

However, the majority of the technology we highlighted in this article is not patented, and therefore it’s easy for brands to make competitor products that aren’t all that different from one another, which means that you as the consumer can potentially find a better deal.

Final Thoughts

Technology has taken the beauty world by storm — but the electrically powered rain certainly isn’t washing the skincare staples away.

While rotating exfoliating brushes and heat-powered acne tools might be the kick your skincare routine needs — you shouldn’t use a device to replace your trusty moisturizer, cleanser, and toners.

Personally, I think the skincare devices that give you the most bang for your buck are those that can supplement your regular routine (and ones with multiple technologies, as I mentioned previously).

For example, a vibrating eye device that you can use with your eye cream, or a facial brush you can use with your favorite cleanser.

Ultimately, you’ll likely never “need” a skincare device to perfect your routine, but you might be interested in one due to its time/money value — or maybe just because you think a vibrating facial massager is fun!

And to be honest, they are fun — just like skincare and beauty should be!

Do you have a favorite skincare device? Why do you love it? I’d love to hear about your skincare device experience in the comments below!

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2 thoughts on “My Guide to the Different Types of Skincare Devices

  • Debra Kosch

    I was given a Clarisonic Mia after have shoulder surgery, I whined to my gal pals how I couldn’t cleanse my face properly with just one hand. Next thing I know, I get this wonderful gift and haven’t stopped using it for the past 3 years! I replace the brush heads and charge the battery – that’s it. My skin care specialist has noticed the difference as have I. Using the Clarisonic my pores look better and my skin is so smooth – I must give credit to the skin care line I use (Rhonda Allison) for the incredible ingredients to get to these great results.

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