My Favorite Skincare Gadgets – #1: Ultrasound

I use a few skincare devices or tools, what I call gadgets, in conjunction with my skincare.  You may want to consider using gadgets to help speed results and to help with tougher aging issues.  If you are young or have no major wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, sags, or scars to repair, then you probably don’t need to buy these gadgets.  But for most aging woman over 40, these devices can help keep the skin functioning well and fight the forces of gravity.  For me, the most important criteria in selecting any device or gadget is value for the money, and benefits with few or no risks.  The gadget must be well-built, effective, and have scientifically proven results.

I will discuss my gadgets one at a time, in order of must haves.  My first gadget must-have is an ultrasound device.  This is a very versatile and affordable option available for home use.  Of course, you can get professional ultrasound treatments that will give you amazing results after 1 treatment, but the home devices can give you similar results with long-term use.   Home devices may range from $200-$400 but you will recoup your investment in no time, considering how much spa ultrasound treatments cost.       

Ultrasound Probe or Spatula

Ultrasound has been used in the medical and esthetic industry for decades, so it’s not new technology.  However, home units have only become affordable recently.  Instead of shelling out thousands for professional units, you can purchase small units that are cordless or corded for a few hundred dollars.   I have two units, one with a spatula and a separate ultrasound probe.  The professional units usually have both types of attachments for convenience.  

The benefits of using ultrasound with your skincare can be summarized into 4 areas:

1.   Ultrasound uses sound waves (phonophoresis) and cavitation (the process of creating microbubbles with liquids) to break up pigment deposits (lipofuscin) and other stray pigment cells (melanin).  Once broken up, the debris can be removed easily by the lymphatic system via the lymph nodes.  Over time, pigment blotches are lightened, and the skin’s waste removal function normalizes.  Additionally, ultrasonic waves can loosen and blast off any dead, hardened skin cells on the surface of the epidermis and help loosen debris in the pores (blackheads).  This is a much safer way to exfoliate and remove blackheads because you are not harming the viable cells of the skin or irritating the skin.   The skin is baby soft after exfoliating with an ultrasound spatula.  You may have a slight pinking, but that goes away in a few hours at most.  

2.  Ultrasound waves generate heat as a byproduct of the energy produced which, in turns, heats the skin and promotes collagen regeneration deep in the dermal layer.   The desired temperature is 115 degrees Fahrenheit, which is not very hot.  If you can purchase a skin surface thermometer, you can monitor how warm your skin gets while doing a treatment.  You don’t want to overheat the skin, as this may produce a sunburn effect.  The heat also helps loosen cellular waste and lipofuscin/pigment accumulations, again helping to move them out through the lymphatic system faster. 

3.  The ultrasound waves stimulate the arrector pili muscles in the dermal layer, causing the skin to tighten immediately and for weeks afterwards.  It gives you a mini facelift with repeated treatments.  You can use ultrasound in this way to tighten skin and reduce the appearance of nasolabial lines, drooping eyebrows and jowls.  

4.  Ultrasound also uses sound waves and cavitation as a means of pushing topicals and actives through the hardened keratinocytes on the surface of the epidermis and into the extracellular matrix (ECM), the component of skin which gives skin its structure and elasticity.  For actives to be effective, they must reach the receptors in the ECM.  If an active has the molecular size of 750 daltons or less, they should be able to easily penetrate through the epidermis into the dermis.  However, slightly bigger molecules can be pushed down with the assist of ultrasound. 

How to Use Your Ultrasound Probe or Spatula

If you only have enough money to choose one ultrasound device, consider what your main goals are.   If you want a device that will exfoliate the dead skin cells from the epidermis, help loosen blackheads, then the spatula is going to be your best bet.  If your main goal is to push topicals into the skin, massage, lift and tighten the skin, then a probe may be better.   You can use a spatula to do the same functions as a probe, but it is a little trickier to maneuver on the face and may take longer.  You cannot exfoliate with a probe, however.   

This is a picture of my 2Mhz probe:  

This is an entry level professional ultrasound spatula, there is a metal blade at the end of the handpiece:

This is a cordless, handheld spatula:

You should read the manufacturer’s instructions before beginning.  To be sure it is working, sprinkle a few drops of water on the metal probe or blade of the spatula.  It should instantly vaporize into the air.  You don’t want to overdo your treatments, as you may cause prolonged pinking of the skin (like a mild sunburn).   Five to ten minutes per each side of face should be adequate, depending on how strong your unit is.  My rule of thumb is massage treatments approximately 3x/wk and exfoliation 1x/wk at most.  Since my skin’s cellular turnover is very good at this point, I don’t really need to exfoliate my skin very often, so I just exfoliate maybe twice a year with my professional ultrasound spatula, when I have extra time for a “spa treatment” with an enzyme peel applied prior. 

A major benefit of ultrasound is that it is noninvasive and non-irritating; even sensitive and rosacea skin types can use ultrasound devices.  This makes it preferable over acid peels or microdermabrasion for exfoliating the skin.  It cannot damage the viable cells of the epidermis or dermis.  You must use a conductive gel (plain aloe is good), water, or one of the 302 mists to keep the skin moistened as you move the probe or spatula.  This allows the ultrasound waves to penetrate or conduct through the skin.  During massage and topical penetration treatments, apply your topical first, wet the skin with gel, water, or 302 mist and then move the blade of the spatula or probe from the center of the face, up and out towards the ears, and down the side to the jaw line.  This will help push excess fluid, cellular debris, and stray pigment cells out through your lymph nodes.  To help lift and tighten, move the spatula or probe from the center of the face to the hairline in sweeping upward movements.       

Ultrasound Precautions

Ultrasound devices are extremely safe if these simple common sense precautions are followed:

1.  Never let the spatula or probe sit stationary on the face.  You need to continually move the blade at a slow, but steady pace.  You can move the probes in small circular movements.   The ultrasound device will generate a little heat, but should never become hot.  While using the probe or spatula, keep your skin moist and slightly wet by using a mister or fan brush to apply conductive gel, water, or 302 mist.   Wet one area at a time, such as 1 cheek, half of forehead, jaw line, eyebrows, eye bags, concentrating on areas of concern.       

2.  Don’t use over the eyelids and eyeballs.   Don’t use over major neck veins, arteries, or thyroid.   I do use the probe above my eyebrows and underneath my eyes, but keep it gentle and of short duration because the skin there is extremely thin and delicate.

3.  Never use ultrasound devices that are intended for the body on your face.  The skin on the face is thinner than body skin.  You should use only 3 MHz or 2 MHz devices for the face.  Never use a 1 MHz probe for the face, as it could penetrate into the subcutaneous layer and damage fat cells.   

Resources:

http://www.liebertonline.com/doi/abs/10.1089/rej.2008.0683

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/10/101021141000.htm

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HNLXI8n33O0

http://www.skinspatula.com/

http://www.bellaireindustry.com/

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