For quite a while we’ve heard a buzz about a procedure that some have referred to as “electric facials.” Non-invasive Microcurrent electrical stimulation procedures have increased for use as a dermatological anti-aging treatment. Enthusiasts of Microcurrent facials include doctors like Nicholas Perricone, MD.
And you can even buy your own at-home Microcurrent treatment with technologies like NuFace Microcurrent Toner for Lifting and Toning the Face ($199.59, amazon.com).
The idea is that by sending pulses of low-level electric current into the face, you can improve tone and texture and reduce wrinkles — all without the pesky healing time that comes with some other anti-aging procedures. It does work; but the question is, how well exactly does Microcurrent technology work to improve skin?
How Does Microcurrent Electric Stimulation Work?
The idea behind Microcurrent treatments is that the electric current mimics the electric currents of the body important in cell processes. It stimulates cells to create more of the protein adenosine triphosphate (ATP), as shown in a 1982 study performed on rats (Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research).
Sometimes called the “energy of life,” ATP is an energy-transporting molecule that takes the energy obtained from food breakdown and releases it to power cell processes (Encyclopedia Britannica). Think of ATP as a delivery molecule. It begins as a nucleotide with several parts, but the most important is the three-phosphate group connected by oxygen (Get it? TRI-phosphate). When it fuels cell processes, it donates one of its phosphates and becomes adenosine diphosphate (ADP) (See? DI-phosphate). ADP is then converted back into ATP in the cellular membrane.
In theory, an increase in the energy currency of cells would increase their processes (Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition). Essentially, if your body was “wealthy” with delivery molecules, it could afford to fund more necessary biological processes, such as healing.
What Have Studies on Microcurrent Electrical Stimulation Found?
Microcurrent electric stimulation is a multi-useful tool and has been tested for a huge variety of uses for muscles, wound healing, and more.
A 1985 study on strengthening of the quadriceps femoris muscles found that a combination of isometric training and electrical stimulation strengthened muscles better than an isometric training alone (Physical Therapy). And it’s been shown to actually shorten sports injury healing time, and help prevent the atrophy associated with prolonged muscle immobilization, essentially helping athletes get back to their sport faster (Sports Medicine).
A 2007 study looked at its ability to help those with chronic resistant wounds. All the patients in the study, with associated conditions such as AIDS and traumatic brain injury (among others), had been in wound care treatment for at least three months with no improvement. All of their wounds improved with the use of regular electrical stimulation, and researchers saw necrotic tissue reabsorbing and being replaced by healthy granulation tissue and skin, regardless of age (Advances in Therapy).
A review of other similar randomized-controlled studies found that externally applied low-intensity electrical stimulation accelerated wound healing (Eplasty).
But Does Microcurrent Reverse the Effects of Aging?
It seems that if Microcurrent can help to strengthen the muscles that cause sagging and aid in wound repair, that it would likely help to stop some of the obvious signs of aging. There are fewer studies on cosmetic applications than on those for wound healing and muscle repair, but the studies that do exist are promising.
Electroacupuncture, a form of microccurent that combines acupuncture and electric stimulation, was found to improve signs of aging in 70% of cases after 10 to 15 treatments and with regular “boosters” in a 1992 study (Francaise de Gynecologie et D’obstetrique). It helped increase collagen and elastin fibers in the treated areas of skin. And a 1987 in vitro study on electic stimulation found that Microcurrent increased DNA protein and collagen synthesis (FASEB).
And a clinical trial done in 2010 saw significant difference in before and after photos of women’s skin when treated regularly with Microcurrent (Life Science Journal). Though one of the potential flaws of this study is that researchers used subjective comparisons (looking at photos) instead of a more objective approach to measure the success of the treatment.
Overall, studies are promising. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough of them and, more importantly, there are no comparative studies looking at how Microcurrent facials stack up against other popular anti-aging procedures.
How Microcurrent Facials Relate to Botox™
In many ways Microcurrent is very different from but perhaps complementary to another popular wrinkle reducer, Botox™. When a dermatologist injects Botox™, it cleaves a particular protein needed for neurotransmitter release, not allowing the neurotransmitter to bond to cellular membranes. This stops it from causing muscle contractions (Cosmetic Dermatology). According to Peter T. Pugliese, MD, author of Physiology of the Skin in this 2011 article in Elle Magazine, this causes the muscle to use less energy and could result in muscle atrophy.
When done correctly, it results in a smoother appearance. However, some doctors feel that if used improperly these neurotoxins could result in the face losing fullness (another hallmark of aging). Some think that Botox™ could be supplemented by Microcurrent facials, which would help maintain muscle tone, to get the best of both worlds. Others like Nicholas Perricone, MD, don’t believe in using Botox at all, instead favoring Microcurrent technology along with other anti-aging steps.
Microcurrent technology is very promising and studies seem to indicate that it can help stop signs of aging, but exactly how effective it is awaits to be seen in future studies. Nonetheless, Microcurrent technology has been safely in use for decades. So while we don’t know exactly how it compares to other anti-aging technologies, it has been shown effective, and it’s definitely one worth trying. In fact, some dermatologists think it might work well with Botox™ (though others eschew Botox™ and just go straight for the Microcurrent facials). Either way, it has potential to help firm your face and help reverse some of the signs of aging.
Have you had a Microcurrent facial? Tell us about your experience in the comment section!