As we move into the second decade of the 21st century (can you imagine?!), we’re likely to see a few more of some things: big hair, shiny pants, and yes, at-home dermatology kits. It seems as patients become increasingly well-informed and comfortable with the idea of cosmetic dermatology, they also want to save time and money and try it themselves. With that said, are at-home dermatology kits the same as M.D.-administered care? FutureDerm investigates…
1. At-Home Light Therapy: Thumbs Up (if your derm says yes)!
At the strength administered in dermatologists’ offices, LED phototherapy repairs sun damage and increases collagen and elastin production, with less side effects than lasers, according to Dr. Seung Yoon Lee, a South Korea-based dermatologist in an April 2008 interview with Allure magazine. With regards to LED therapy’s fewer side effects, Lee adds, “LED is safe for dark skin, unlike some lasers.” It is speculated that the reason LED is effective against acne is two-fold. One, LED light may have anti-bacterial properties, and there is a small amount of evidence that suggests that LED light disrupts the growth of P. acnes, the primary bacterial species found in acne cases. Two, LED light may have anti-inflammatory properties, which may calm existing lesions and prevent new lesions from forming.
With that said, one of the most popular light therapy systems available for home use is the Tanda Skin Care System ($299.95, Amazon.com). The system emits visible wavelength (not UV) light from an LED source (414 nm blue light and 660 nm red light), to treat acne. According to a 107-person 12-week study by Tanda, a 63% mean reduction in inflammatory lesions and a 45% mean reduction in comedones was exhibited by those patients who completed the study, which was deemed “significantly more effective” than treatment with a 5% benzoyl peroxide cream over the same period.
So is the at-home LED system the same as that in dermatologists’ offices? Not exactly, as home devices only contain a few dozen LEDs, compared to thousands in most dermatologist office devices. Furthermore, according to Kansas City dermatologist Dr. Audrey Kunin’s DERMADoctor site, the Tanda Skincare System is only to be used on patients with mild to moderate acne, not cystic acne. According to Dr. Kunin, that the way to know the difference is simply by counting the lesions: no more than 125 total lesions across the treatment area (100 whiteheads/blackheads, or 15-50 inflammatory lesions) indicates mild to moderate acne, and hence safe use of the Tanda Skin Care System.
The verdict? As a medical student, I must say, consult with your dermatologist first. And as a cost-savvy beauty blogger, I say (if your derm O.K.’s it) the Tanda Skin Care System may be worth a shot if you are both patient and diligent (results can take weeks to appear), and wish to save money. Given the fact that LED treatments generally run in the $100 range for 30 seconds at high intensity (GentleWaves) or 40 minutes at lower intensity (Omnilux), that means the Tanda Skin Care System costs about the same as just three treatments – and you can potentially use it for years. Furthermore, for accelerated results, it has been suggested by Dr. Jason Pozner in the December 2008 Allure to combine LED use with retinoids.
2. At-Home Laser Hair Removal: Thumbs Up Only if You’re Patient!
The No! No! Hair Removal System ($150.00, Dermadoctor.com) is one of those genius devices I once loved religiously but will never admit so to my boyfriend (honey, I was born with these silky-smooth legs! -cough-) Excitingly, I’m not the only one with these results: in a published 2007 study in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology, the No! No! Hair Removal System was found to remove hair as effectively as more expensive laser and light removal treatments.
Unfortunately, the system is not for the impatient. You have to slide No! No! over your legs at a 90 degree angle verrry slowly. If you go too fast, the system will not work properly (and it’s once-encouraging green light will turn a rather doom-like red). In addition, after treating each area, you have to use the provided buffer to exfoliate the skin. The entire process with No! No! takes about 20-30 minutes, and needs to be repeated 2-3 times per week for 4-6 weeks; however, I will admit, the process got easier (and faster) by my third or fourth use. The truth is, it is likely that you will still have to shave or wax occasionally, but the hair should be less coarse and grow more slowly with proper use of the system.
The verdict? If you’ve been plagued by dark and/or thick leg or arm hair your entire life, and are willing to spend 30 minutes 2-3 times a week for 4-6 weeks on hair removal, the No! No! Hair Removal System was made for you. Furthermore, the system was not yet approved for the face, breasts, or genitals, so only invest in the No! No! Hair Removal System if you’re interested in permanently reducing the thickness and growth rate of arm and/or leg hair.
3. At-Home Chemical Peels: Thumbs Up Only if Your Derm Directly Approves
At home chemical peels can be great, and some are even made by derms: I personally love both Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Peel Pads ($78.00, Dermadoctor.com) and Dr. Frederic Brandt Lase-A-Peel ($75.00, Dermadoctor.com), which both deliver the instant skin-brightening, smoothing, and eventual firming effects of alpha hydroxy acids.
Of course, it is true that while dermatologists offer chemical peels with AHA up to 40%, traditional at-home kits usually offer no more than 10%. With that said, some at-home skin care-divas have read this and surfed the web for chemical companies that will sell them full-strength glycolic, lactic, and salicyclic acids – and often with highly disastrous results. When used improperly, chemical peels can lead to severe irritation, erythema (reddening of the skin), and sometimes irreversible damage. That is why I emphasize that patients MUST buy only the dermatologist-endorsed kits, like that by Dr. Dennis Gross and Dr. Frederic Brandt, and even then would be wise to check with their own dermatologist first if they have sensitive skin. Also, keep in mind that AHAs should be alternated nightly with retinoids for best results (the low pH of the AHA creates an environment that is sub-optimal for retinoids).
The verdict? At-home is great and offers near-instant results, but only use the cosmetic chemist- or dermatologist-endorsed kits, like that by Dr. Dennis Gross and Dr. Frederic Brandt. NEVER resort to buying or making your own chemical peel formulation.
4. At-Home Injectables: Thumbs Down, Down, Waaaay Down!
Botox without the doctor’s visit? Restylane without a derm fee? Many patients yell, “Sign me up!” when they first hear this, and in today’s economy, you almost can’t blame them. Unfortunately, using at-home injectable kits is one of the most dangerous things you can do for your skin. Without a proper understanding of skin anatomy and physiology, you could easily puncture a blood vessel, tear a muscle, or have an allergic reaction.
Furthermore, the secret to muscle relaxants and fillers is the dermatologist/aesthetician who administers them. As Dr. Frederic Brandt, the nicknamed Baron of Botox can affirm, everything about the way injectables are administered – from the muscle to the exact location and angle to the amount of product delivered – depends on the level of expertise of the dermatologist or aesthetician. Between the possible risks and the difference in benefit between novice and expert, why would you ever want anyone but an experienced professional giving you injectables?
The verdict? Stay away….far, far away. Run.
The Bottom Line
As we enter 2010, expect to see a lot of at-home dermatology kits. And while nothing beats a trip to an excellent dermatologist’s office, I personally love the Tanda Skin Care System, the No! No! Hair Removal System and at-home chemical peels by Dr. Dennis Gross and Dr. Frederic Brandt between visits.
Let me know your thoughts in comments below!