Machine Trends in the Esthetics Practice
We all understand the power of human touch, but what about the power of pulsed light or microcurrent on the human body, and more specifically the area of the face and neck? What do the new range of machine treatment modalities hold in store for us as vehicles of change, with baby boomers demanding to feel better and look younger? And of course they want it now, not tomorrow!
Let’s take a look at the wide range of available machines, what they offer the esthetician and invariably the client, and where and when their use makes sense in meeting treatment goals. Before we finish, we’ll also examine the issues of how these machines are classified, and who technically can and can not operate them legally. And as always, the muddle this attempt at regulation creates.
We’ll examine IPL (intense pulsed light), Microcurrent, Ultrasound, and LED (light emitting diode) technologies and their use in treating and improving various conditions from acne to aging.
Intense Pulsed Light, as most commonly used by non-specialist medical practitioners and estheticians, is a method of hair removal from the body involving the use of a specially constructed xenon flash light and focusing optics.
In hair removal the focused, broad spectrum light is applied to the surface of the skin by way of either a hand held wand, or by an articulated arm. The intense light travels through the tissue of the skin until it strikes the hair shafts or the bulb (root) of the hair. The bulb is usually where the highest concentration of melanin is located, as opposed to the rest of the hair shaft.
When the light strikes the dark colored melanin, the light is converted to heat energy. The bulb and most of the hair shaft is instantly vaporized. The intense heat radiated by the hair also destroys the hair producing papilla. It is also said that direct light heat conversion occurs directly in the darker colored capillaries that bring nourishing blood to the follicle.
IPL technology is also employed in the treatment of medical disorders of the skin including sun damage induced hyper-pigmentation, acne rosacea, broken capillaries, and pigmented birth marks. Such treatment is best administered by a specialist / dermatologist. This new technology incorporates ‘dual mode filtering’ and other important advances which result in safer and more effective treatment than the older systems, which were initially designed for simple processes such as hair removal. We’ll discuss later how machine classifications and claims can confuse the regulations put forth by the Federal Government.
In general, the pulses of light produced by the IPL equipment used by estheticians are very short in duration, so discomfort and damage to non-target tissues is minor. Most people who undergo IPL hair removal only experience slight irritation similar to that of a minor sunburn, though under certain circumstances, blisters may occur. The light that emanates from the IPL wand is filtered to remove any ultraviolet components, eliminating the possibility of UV skin damage.
The IPL hair removal process has become very popular due to the relatively low cost and speed of the procedure. IPL compares very favorably to laser hair removal, which is often more costly and time consumptive. The comparison of effectiveness between IPL and laser hair removal is debated by scientists, equipment manufacturers and practitioners but is generally accepted to be equivalent. IPL is generally advertised as “permanent hair reduction” as opposed to “permanent hair removal”, with removal being a common misnomer when applied to laser or IPL hair removal. (when done correctly, electrolysis is the only true permanent hair removal system)
Ultrasound is a term used to describe sound above the range that can be heard by the human ear. Ultrasound’s initial and most prevalent use today is for safe imaging to view inside the human body, but it is also used in physical rehabilitation, especially for seniors.
An emerging area for the use of ultrasound can be found in medicine and skin care for delivery of active ingredients deeper into the epidermis, and possibly even into the dermis. Researchers have discovered that specific frequencies of sound waves can create micro-channels through the skin that allow for the safe and non-invasive penetration of over the counter drugs (OCD’s) and highly active ingredients found in stronger skin care formulations. Manufactures are also using this technique to create micro-channels into the skin to facilitate larger molecules found in newer skin care products to help penetrate them beyond the stratum corneum.
However, not all forms of ultrasound can accomplish this, only the lower frequency models. Most ultrasound machines marketed to the skin care professional are high frequency devices in the range of 1 to 3 megahertz. These are not effective in helping to penetrate product as they work by creating heat and very fast vibrations. Several companies claim 1-3 mega hertz levels can help clean skin, exfoliate and sterilize specific target areas. Much care and research is needed before purchasing an Ultrasound Machine for your business.
Microcurrent is a much less powerful successor to TENS – transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation – which was invented in 1967. It works on a somewhat different principle akin to the ancient Chinese theory of ch’i or ki as a controlling energy force. Along these lines, Microcurrent treatments are designed to work by mimicking the body’s own bioelectrical systems, thereby working to restore the natural balance and augment the healthy processes.
Your body seems to use the Microcurrent energy to increase its own energy production by upping the production of ATP, your own chemical energy, by up to 500%. At the same time, it also increases protein synthesis and waste product removal, and can be viewed as a catalyst helpful in initiating and perpetuating the numerous chemical and electrical reactions that occur in the healing process.
In skin care, Microcurrent electrical therapy can be used to promote healthy skin function, heal trauma, push out waste and inflammation, cycle vital minerals into the cells, and stimulate the small muscles of the face among other things. Many of these functions are again accomplished by increasing ATP, the cell’s main energy source that is required to control primary healthy skin functions. The results are a radiant skin void of toxins and inflammation, vitalized with nutrients and new cell production, as well as taut with energy.
LED (light emitting diode) machines seem to have similar benefits to IPL and Laser treatments, but with decidedly less trauma and downtime. Both Lasers and IPL’s, while eventually showing positive effects on skin in a variety of ways, both cause injury to the skin during application because of the heat generated (thermal trauma). In fairness, IPL’s create less trauma and thus, less downtime than Lasers on average.
LED’s advantageously tend to eliminate the heat factor by converting light energy to cellular energy. One of the benefits can be stimulating the fibroblasts into producing collagen, which is at the base of all aging gracefully strategies. This is also a low discomfort, “injury free” treatment with no recovery time.
LED’s have, depending on the wavelength and the corresponding color produced, been shown to stimulate a variety of responses. A quick guide to the color and most noted benefit is as follows:
1) Blue light therapy kills the P. acnes bacteria. It is therefore effective in treating acne vulgaris and reducing congestion in skin with over active sebaceous glands;
2) Green LED light lessens pigmentation by decreasing melanin production;
3) Yellow light therapy increases lymphatic drainage of fluids and toxins, promoting healing and cellular repair and finally;
4) The Red light triggers the fibroblasts to increase production of collagen and elastin in the dermal layer, helping in the visible tightening of the client’s skin.
As we can see in many cases, combining treatments looks to hold much promise. For instance, if Laser or IPL were used for an aggressive treatment which would give long term results, but at the cost of short term thermal trauma to the treatment area, wouldn’t it be a great idea to use microcurrent to both lessen the discomfort of the thermal trauma and speed the inevitable healing process of the afflicted area?
Of course, any treatment powerful enough to do short term damage probably falls into a doctor monitored situation, and therefore either a Medical Spa or Dermatologist type setting. This brings us to a discussion of how these machines are classified by the Federal Government and the confusion that ensues.
The Federal government attempts to regulate these devices, but many companies do not even register their machines. Add that to the fact that more and more machines are made in Asia, sold inexpensively and with no training or even clear cut instruction manuals, and we’re back to “buyer beware”.
Most machines a spa level esthetician would use are Class I devices and are subject to the least regulatory control. They present minimal potential for harm to the client and are often simpler in design than Class II or Class III devices.
Class II devices are those for which general controls alone are insufficient to assure safety and effectiveness, and existing methods are available to provide such assurances. In addition to complying with general controls, Class II devices are also subject to special controls. This class machine would again most often be used in a doctor monitored setting of some kind. Now, the main problem we encounter in this industry is that manufacturers say they have Class 1 devices to lessen the regulatory controls, but make results claims that rival those from Class II machines.
This is where the regulatory muddle begins, and unfortunately, with machine use and manufacturing at an all time high, we must all take the responsibility for increasing the scrutiny of unsubstantiated claims, and not trust that the Federal Government can guarantee us anything.
Before purchasing a machine of any type, research is the key. Check references, company reputation, documentation, and above all, make sure your purchase comes with a full course of training. We need to not only worry about the machines capability, but also the aptitude, experience and ability of the operator in getting the results our clients demand.