By Alene Dawson
Special to the Los Angeles Times
July 24, 2011
Imagine having the fountain of youth as close at hand as the bathroom. We're not there yet — but there's a burgeoning number of at-home, high-tech beauty gadgets that claim to smooth wrinkles, whiten teeth and remove hair without the need to invest in pricey beauty treatments at the spa, dermatologist or plastic surgeon's office.
Some of these gadgets are so high-tech the Food and Drug Administration considers them medical devices, so approach the world of cosmetic gadgetry with caution. If a gadget has been approved by the FDA, it shouldn't cause damage if used correctly.
We checked in with experts about some of the newest home-care devices. Our virtual panel includes Dr. Ronald Moy, president of the American Academy of Dermatology, UCLA professor and past editor in chief of the Dermatologic Surgery journal; Dr. Edmond R. Hewlett, DDS, UCLA professor and consumer advisor for the American Dental Assn.; Kate Somerville, founder of the skin-care line that bears her name; and Dr. Carolyn Jacob, a cosmetic and laser surgeon, Northwestern University Medical School clinical instructor and director of Chicago Cosmetic Surgery and Dermatology.
TRIA Laser Hair Removal System ($395, Triabeauty.com)
What it is: With looks that conjure a hand-held retro sci-fi weapon, this laser takes aim at unwanted body hair by targeting the hair's dark pigment and using heat to disable the follicle so hair doesn't grow back. The device is designed to work only on fair to medium skin tones (there's a skin color chart on the site) because if skin is too dark, a laser potentially could burn. And it doesn't work on gray, blond, or red hair. The TRIA website states that the device is not to be used on neck, face or genitalia.
The claim: "The TRIA Laser Hair Removal System is the only FDA-cleared home laser hair removal system that provides permanent, hair-free results."
Jacob: "The pros are that the diode wavelength has been shown to work. Also, if you're too dark, it won't let you treat yourself — it has a safety mechanism so that you won't be able to hurt yourself. The negatives are that it's a very small applicator size. We call it a spot size. It's pretty darn small, so if you were doing tiny little areas like … your underarm, that would be feasible. But it would really take a very long time to treat, let's say, your legs or your arms because that treatment spot size is so tiny. I prefer [it] as a touch-up device for people to have at home after they've had laser hair reduction at a dermatologist office."
Palovia Skin Renewing Laser ($499, Palovia.com)
What it is: An at-home anti-aging system with a device that pulses laser light into skin around the eyes. The user applies a gel, then holds the laser device to the skin around each eye briefly.
The claim: "The first FDA-cleared, at-home laser clinically proven to reduce fine lines and wrinkles around the eyes."
Jacob: "This is a non-ablative fractional device similar to a very low-level Fraxel. ... The pros are you can stimulate some collagen, and for some people with very fine lines it's probably useful, but it takes many treatments. There is also some swelling after each treatment.... Also, I think that it could cause a lot of pain on the thinner areas of skin.... In the doctor's office, you have to have a topical anesthetic with a non-ablative fractional such as Fraxel. I've had it done on my chest before and, wow! That hurts! And you literally look like you have a light sunburn."
DDF Revolve 400X Micro-Polishing System ($95, DDFskincare.com)
What it is: Included in the box are the hand-held DDF micro-polisher tool, two foam-applicator attachments, a deep cleansing brush attachment, polishing crystals and batteries. For a microdermabrasion treatment, you're instructed to massage the crystals into the face with the micro-polisher tool with the foam applicator, then rinse and wash.
The claim: "A breakthrough device that delivers microdermabrasion results that are as effective as a professional treatment… After just one microdermabrasion treatment, see immediate improvement in pore appearance, skin tone and evenness, fine lines, skin clarity and brightness, and radiance."
Jacob: "I think it would help to unplug pores and remove dead skin cells, however it may be a little too rough for people with very sensitive skin or rosacea."
Somerville warns against possible post-microdermabrasion patches of hyperpigmentation developing with sun exposure.
Moy says that the device may improve some of signs of aging, "But when people are trying to do it for wrinkles, they can overdo it."
The Tanda Regenerate Anti-Aging Starter Kit or Acne Kit ($250, Sephora.com)
What it is: An FDA-cleared New-Age-looking light therapy device that glows red if you buy the anti-aging kit, blue for the acne kit. After you cover your face with the serum or gel, you hold the device for three minutes over each targeted area.
The claim: "A light therapy device combining proven light therapy and botanically-based, light-optimized topicals to provide natural, non-invasive, scientifically proven solutions for common unwanted skin conditions."
Jacob: "The regenerative red light-emitting diode has been shown in studies to stimulate collagen production. But it does it in such a microscopic way that you may not be able to notice anything macroscopical or in a photograph. Also, the Tanda is such a small device…. It takes several minutes to do just part of your face, and then you're supposed to do it several times a week for the best results."
Somerville: "With the blue light [for acne], you may see some results, just because it does kill what we call P-acne cells, which cause breakouts, but it's going to take you a long time to get there."
Go Smile Whitening Light System ($169, Gosmile.com) and GLO Brilliant Personal Teeth Whitening Device ($275, GLOscience.com)
What they are: The Go Smile Whitening Light is a small device with a light that you shine on your teeth after applying the hydrogen peroxide-based serum. To use the GLO Brilliant Personal Teeth Whitening Device system, apply the lip-care product and tooth gel, then insert the mouthpiece, which shines a light.
The claims: Go Smile — "The powerful whitening light is specially designed to work together with our whitening ampoules to bring dentist-quality whitening into your home while eliminating sensitivity." GLO Brilliant — "The patent-pending Guided Light Optics technology radically redefines the teeth whitening experience by using heat and light to accelerate and stabilize the whitening results… GLO whitening goes beyond the professional whitening you would get at the dentist's office."
Hewlett: "They both use hydrogen peroxide, which is what virtually all whitening products use that are supplied by the dentist or available from other means. So there is every expectation that by using these products…your teeth are going to get whiter."
But as for light accelerating the whitening activity, "it's still widely debated if light activation has any effect on the whitening process," he says. But "GLO Brilliant claims that the light actually provides some heat as well.… Heating the peroxide can actually hasten the activity of it."
Clarisonic Opal Sonic Infusion System ($185, Clarisonic.com)
What it is: The makers of the popular Classic and Mia cleansing tools branch out with their Opal Sonic Infusion System, a tool that massages serum directly into the skin.
The claim: "The Opal is specially designed to help build skin's resilience over time and prevent future damage around the eyes."
Moy: "There's no good evidence that this is better than putting on some Tretinoin cream, Renova, Retin-A, stuff like that." He adds that some glycolic acids, DNA repair enzyme creams and peels also have good scientific data proving their effectiveness.
The bottom line on the new wave of high-tech gadgets? Some are worth trying, but it's always good to do some research first.
"The beauty industry is really good at exaggerating… marketing a fancy bottle or a fancy gadget," Moy says. "But if a company has good scientific data that include proven and published placebo-controlled clinical studies, the company makes those studies accessible on their website. If instead they have 22 reviews of people who anecdotally say it works great, that could have been their mother and their grandmother and employees saying that."
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