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A couple of years ago, I went to a local spa to get my wife a gift certificate for a mani/pedi and saw that they were selling a little machine with metal balls on the end. I asked the receptionist about it and she said that it was a way of getting a face lift without surgery! I tried out their demo model, did NOT receive a face lift, paid for the gift certificate, and promptly forgot about it.

As many of you know, I’m an active participant in realself. Realself is an online community where patients can research cosmetic treatments and the doctors who provide those services. It also serves as a platform for interaction between patients and cosmetic service providers.  I recently saw a question about microcurrent treatments for the face. Remembering what the receptionist had told me, I decided to look into these claims myself.

The principle behind microcurrent treatments is the passage of a low-voltage electrical current through your skin between the two electrodes. People really seem to like it!

Popular at-home microcurrent facial machines claim to “improve facial contour, skin tone, and wrinkle reduction across the jawline, cheek area, and forehead.” They also claim to be “clinically tested.”

When you look at the medical literature, microcurrent treatments have been studied since the early 1990’s in the fields of rehabilitation and wound care. It seems to be helpful in healing chronic wounds, particularly those on the legs related to diabetes and spinal cord injuries (1). Physical therapists have also used this technology to help people recover from tennis elbow (2). I couldn’t find any studies that specifically analyzed microcurrent treatments on the face, nor could I find scientific literature that backed its use for cosmetic reasons.

Electrical stimulation IS effective in the rehabilitation of facial paralysis from Bell’s Palsy (3).

A patient with Bell's Palsy on the left.

A patient with Bell’s Palsy on the left.

In Bell’s Palsy, your facial nerve stops working. It’s almost like your facial muscles get unplugged from your brain. Muscles need electrical stimulation from nerves in order to work. When they lose their nerve connections, the muscles atrophy and may never work properly again. In this situation, electrical stimulation helps prevent atrophy and speeds recovery.

While the theory behind microcurrent therapy as a cosmetic treatment for the face seems to make sense, I can’t find any information in the scientific literature that backs up its claims. If you’re otherwise healthy with a normally functioning facial nerve, I can’t recommend it to you.

Microcurrent therapy seems to be another expensive gadget in the long line of fancy treatments that claim to be viable non-invasive alternatives to face lifts. All of these products over-promise in their ads and under-deliver in their results. If you are concerned about sagging tissues, we can camouflage them with fillers and raise your brows with Botox, but ultimately there are no realistic alternatives to a well-done face lift!

Citations:

1:Baker LL, Rubayi S, Villar F, Demuth SK. Effect of electrical stimulation waveform on healing of ulcers in human beings with spinal cord injury. Wound Repair Regen. 1996 Jan-Mar; 4(1):21-8.

2: Poltawski L, Johnson M, Watson T. Microcurrent therapy in the management of chronic tennis elbow: pilot studies to optimize parameters. Physiother Res Int. 2012 Sep; 17(3):157-66.

3:Tuncay F et al. Role of electrical stimulation added to conventional therapy in patients with idiopathic facial (Bell’s) palsy. Am J Phys Med Rehabil 2015 Mar; 94(3): 222-8.