My favorite part of any facial is not the masks, the peels, or the extractions (OK, maybe a bit), but the devices. When an esthetician comes at me with any futuristic tool (like microcurrent, radiofrequency, or bio-brasion), I can’t help but feel giddy. As a frequent sufferer of hormonal breakouts, most of my facials end with a dose of high frequency.
It all happens so fast, but when the esthetician runs that humming rod across my skin, I know I’ve had a successful treatment. I’ve often felt that if I could take that magical tool home, I wouldn’t need professional facials at all. (Sorry, estheticians—you know I love you). Little did I know I could keep that acne-ending gadget right in my medicine cabinet. Read on for a breakdown of everything you need to know about high-frequency treatments.
Meet the Expert
- Rachel Nazarian, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist and fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology. She specializes in cosmetic treatments, skin cancer, and dermatologic surgery.
- Kerry Benjamin is an L.A.-based esthetician. She is the founder and CEO of StackedSkincare.
- Nava Greenfield, MD, a board-certified dermatologist of Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York City.
What Is a High-Frequency Treatment?
High frequency is a technique that utilizes targeted thermal energy to treat acne, fine lines, wrinkles, enlarged pores, cellulite, and undereye circles.
"High frequency uses small currents to oxygenate the skin," explains Benjamin. Acne-causing bacteria's worst nightmare, oxygen kills the pimple-inducing stuff on contact. "There are two kinds of high-frequency electrodes; Argon gas and Neon gas," she continues, "Argon gas is violet and is great for acne/oily skin. Neon gas is for anti-aging benefits." So if you're looking to treat acne with high frequency, look for the Argon or violet variety.
Benefits of High-Frequency Treatments for Acne
- Safely kills acne-causing bacteria
- Minimizes inflammation and redness
- Reduces post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH)
- Reduces acne and prevents future breakouts
- Shrinks enlarged pores
- Oxygenates the skin
- Increases circulation
While I see reduced breakouts when I use high-frequency, be forewarned that, according to dermatologist Nazarian, "there are no specific studies that would suggest using [high frequency] to treat acne." High-frequency treatments are meant to kill bacteria and reduce inflammation, hence the apparent acne-fighting benefits. The remedies increase circulation to stimulate collagen, making the treatment an effective anti-aging and glow-boosting tool, too.
How to Prepare for a High-Frequency Facial
For an at-home treatment, professional esthetician Kerry Benjamin says to always cleanse the skin before the facial. "Apply a layer of StackedSkincare EGF Serum to penetrate deeper into the skin to speed up acne healing," she adds. You'll also need to stop using any retinoids for five to seven days before the treatment and avoid harsh exfoliants for a week prior.
Be sure to remove any metal jewelry before your high-frequency treatment.
What to Expect During High-Frequency
In the past, you’d have to go to a spa to experience a high-frequency facial for acne, but there have been a several at-home device launches that allow you to achieve the spa-like results from the comfort of your own bathroom. Case in point: the StackedSkincare device.
The tool itself looks like a stick with a little bubble on the end—that bubble is the electrode. The electrode produces argon gas and emits a small electrical current. When applied to the skin, Benjamin says it generates oxygen, kills bacteria, and calms inflamed skin for the high-frequency home facial of your dreams. The tool is a safe skin treatment for both cystic and active acne and works to shorten the lifespan of the breakout and prevents future blemishes and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.
To achieve the stellar results that the StackedSkincare device is known for, you must understand how to wield it properly. Benjamin explains how below.
- Thoroughly wash and dry your face, and apply your serum. Benjamin suggests one with epidermal growth factors (like her StackedSkincare EGF Activating Serum, $149, or Nurse Jamie EGF Platinum 3 Restorative Facial Elixir, $198) because growth factors speed up healing.
- Cut a small piece of gauze, and place it on your face.
- Insert the electrode into the wand, place it over the gauze, and turn it on.
- Turn up the dial on the wand until you feel a slight tingling sensation. “You should feel it, but it should not be painful,” Benjamin says. “Don’t crank it on too high, or you will dry out the acne too much.”
- Move the wand over the acne lesion in circular motions, working on each area for no more than three to five minutes. “You can also ‘spark’ the acne by tapping the tip of the wand on the acne a few times, and then move in a circular motion again,” Benjamin says.
- Once you’ve hit all the spots, your high-frequency facial is officially over, and you can finish by applying your moisturizer.
Before and After
I personally see reduced breakouts when I use high-frequency devices in addition to my regular skincare routine. This StackedSkincare user saw significant improvement in acne and inflammation while using the High-Frequency Device in combination with the TCA Peel ($149) and a 12-week StackedSkincare regimen.
High Frequency vs. LED Light Therapy
A similarly futuristic method of acne-treating technology is LED light therapy. Often confused with high frequency, we asked Benjamin to give us a run-down on what sets the two treatments apart.
"High frequency is a rejuvenation process based on electrical currents," Benjamin explains. "This treatment utilizes oscillation, or movement, through a wand attached to a compact machine. The electrical currents are set at just the right frequency. During a high-frequency treatment, low-level electricity is transferred to bulb-like tips through an easy-to-hold wand. The bulb is then placed just at the surface of the skin where the electrical magic takes place on your face."
While high frequency utilizes low-level electricity to penetrate deep into the skin, LED therapy harnesses the power of light to kill superficial bacteria on the skin in acne treatments. "LED stands for light-emitting diode (LED). The device emits specific wavelengths of light that provide a safe method of cell renewal," says Benjamin. "It’s a great way to treat a wide range of concerns, and it’s also almost impossible to overdo the treatment since these devices emit a very low wavelength." With LED therapy, blue light is used to treat acne, while red light is used for anti-aging benefits.
At-Home vs. In Office
Treatments performed at home will typically use a lower amount of energy and therefore, provide less dramatic results than in-office. "Devices in the office are frequently able to deliver a higher amount of energy," explains Greenfield. "They come with more risk and are only performed by trained individuals."
Potential Side Effects
"Some may experience tingling, redness, swelling after the procedure, which generally resolves in up to a few days," says Greenfield. "It's a pretty well-tolerated procedure."
To prevent drying the skin out and exacerbating acne, avoid using any at-home high-frequency device for too long or on too high a setting. "Stick to no more than two to three minutes in any given area and 15-20 minutes for your whole face up to once a day," advises Benjamin.
If your skin is on the sensitive side, you could experience some inflammation. Benjamin does not recommend high-frequency for people with a pacemaker, a history of heart disease, or during pregnancy. "If you have sensitive skin conditions such as rosacea, eczema, or psoriasis, please avoid these areas if they are inflamed." Additionally, Benjamin cautions against using AHA or glycolic acid with high frequency and says to avoid any broken capillaries or spider veins.
Glycolic acid is an alpha-hydroxy acid that loosens bonds between dead skin cells. It helps stimulate collagen production and acts as a humectant, attracting moisture to the skin.
Depending on whether your treatments are done via a home high-frequency device or in-office, you can expect to pay anywhere between $150-$400. However, with a home device, you can get multiple treatments out of the one payment, wherewith in-office reoccurring treatments, this price will add up over time.
There's minimal downtown with a high-frequency treatment, but Greenfield recommends being gentle with your skin on the day of the procedure, "You want to avoid anything harsh, no harsh cleansers," she says.
Benjamin suggests applying a layer of healing serum (you can reapply the EGF Activating Serum), followed by StackedSkincare HA Hydrating Serum ($130), and finishing with moisturizer after the treatment. For oily skin, she recommends a light water-based moisturizer.
The Final Takeaway
While I notice a significant difference in my skin when using high-frequency, note that using high-frequency specifically for breakouts is a bit controversial. Some estheticians and dermatologists back the treatment for breakouts, but there haven't been many scientific studies to prove the treatment effectiveness. Consult your dermatologist before getting high-frequency to treat any form of acne, especially if you plan to use an at-home tool.
American Society for Dermatologic Surgery. Skin tightening.