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I stepped into the gorgeous, well-lit spa overlooking Bryant Park with absolutely no idea what to expect. All I knew for sure was Joanna Vargas's big-deal reputation in the land of skincare, and she was a celebrity aesthetician trusted by Mandy Moore, Greta Gerwig, and more. If they depend on her treatments to get their skin red carpet-ready, I was more than down to give this celebrity facial treatment a try for my not-so-glam subway commute I'd follow it up with. I'd read a little about microcurrent facials prior to my appointment but admittedly didn't do enough research.
This is probably why my mom always gets so nervous when I tell her, "I'm trying a new thing for my face today"—she's well aware of my YOLO attitude toward intriguing beauty treatments. To be transparent, all I knew was my skin would be stimulated by some sort of electrical current from a funny-looking device that'll essentially give my face muscles a much-needed workout. The idea of exercising my face muscles won me over from the jump. So I cuddled up underneath a bed of fresh white sheets and let my master aesthetician take it away. Below, we break down everything you need to know before trying out your first microcurrent facial.
Meet the Expert
- Joanna Vargas is a celebrity facialist whose client roster includes Mindy Kaling, Jenna Dewan, and Julianne Moore. She has two salons (NYC and L.A.) and is the creator of her eponymous skincare line.
- Nava Greenfield, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York City.
What is a Microcurrent Facial?
A microcurrent facial uses low-voltage electricity to stimulate the facial muscles, like a "workout" for the face. The goal is to encourage the muscles to look more defined, growth of ATP, and collagen development.
Known as a non-invasive facelift, and a great Botox alternative, microcurrent facials introduce a low-grade electrical current delivered through a small machine onto the face muscles. The muscles contract and are meant to be trained—just like a gym workout—to lift and sculpt the face. Microcurrent is used to lift the eyebrows, define cheekbones, tighten and firm skin, and stimulate collagen growth. Depending on where and who you go to—and if you're attempting to perform the treatment yourself—you can expect to pay anywhere from $200 to $500 per treatment. There are also a number of at-home devices available, which can range from about $120 to $480.
Benefits of Microcurrent Facials
- Redefines and enhances your features
- Produces collagen in the dermis
- Erases signs of aging
- Results are visible in minutes
"The microcurrent facial uses two handheld prongs that deliver precise dosages of energy to the skin and work simultaneously to repair and produce collagen in the dermis, which is the deepest layer of the skin, while gently erasing signs of aging in the epidermis, which is the top layer of skin," explains Vargas.
After my treatment, it was like my skin had experienced the equivalent of a trampoline effect: it was bouncy, supple, and flexible. I'm 25 and take pride in the fact that I have no visible signs of fine lines or wrinkles yet—knock on wood—but I had a noticeably brighter, glowier complexion. The effect was incredibly instant. My reflection revealed a slightly slimmer face with a more defined and sculpted bone structure. The prongs flushed out my face's water retention and drained out my lymphatics while lifting and tightening my muscles at the same time.
I've had a few invasive facial treatments in my day, so I'm no stranger to the whole "beauty is pain" thing. But I do appreciate a non-invasive, gentle treatment with equally effective results. This entire session was completely painless and quite relaxing. You'd think there'd be a discomfort factor when electrical microcurrents are involved, but surprisingly, it felt like a zen spa session.
"This safe and painless facial helps erase fine lines and reduce the look of wrinkles while firming your skin to define your features," Vargas explains. "It improves muscle tone, reduces puffiness, increases cellular activity, and tightens pores. The overall result is healthier and younger-looking skin, no matter your age." In other words, the old "no pain, no gain" adage does not apply to microcurrent facials.
How to Prepare for a Microcurrent Facial
"Eat a normal meal and take your normal medications before the procedure," explains Greenfield. "Don’t wear makeup and clean your face using a gentle wash. You may want to stop your retinol/retinoid five to seven days prior."
I was receiving Vargas's signature Triple Crown Facial. My aesthetician skipped cleansing my skin and immediately began with gentle microdermabrasion to shed the top layer of my skin. She did this to create a clean canvas and smoother surface on my skin before the microcurrent treatment began. This was just the warm-up.
What to Expect During a Microcurrent Facial
Next was game time. "The Triple Crown Facial is my signature facial that speeds up collagen and elastin production to produce dramatic results," Vargas explained when I was getting the rundown. "It will redefine your features from the first treatment. This microcurrent facial uses three unique steps to reshape your face, and by the end of your treatment, your jawline will be more defined, your cheekbones more pronounced, and you'll have younger-looking and refreshed eyes."
She's right. The second my aesthetician pulled out the microcurrent device, it was like my face muscles were getting a much-needed stretch, bend, and tuck. I could feel the electricity from the microcurrent working its magic on every single part of my face. It was a weird, tingly, and strange sensation. After she did one side of my face, I looked in the mirror and saw one of my eyebrows was higher than the other while my chin and cheekbones were noticeably lifted. It's like a nonsurgical face-lift, and I was feeling it.
Before and After
[Note: This is a before-and-after photo provided by NuFace and is not of the author].
I know that I briefly mentioned this earlier, but I feel like it's appropriate to reiterate the shock factor of seeing one of your eyebrows more lifted than the other minutes after a procedure. Besides a glowing, bright complexion, you usually don't see such immediate, dramatic results from facials. That about sums up why this is a celebrity favorite because who doesn't love an instant face-lift? "The fun part about microcurrent is that you do see a result within minutes," says Vargas. "It's amazing when I can show a client one side of their face done and the other side undone."
Microcurrent vs. Microinfusion
While microcurrent focuses on the facial muscles, microinfusion is a treatment that injects a blend of skincare ingredients into the superficial layer of the skin. Microinfusion is also meant to stimulate collagen production, but its purpose is to improve skin's appearance at a micro-level. It promises to provide a glow and filler-like result, compared to something more facelift-esque as you get with microcurrent.
At-Home vs. In Office
"Different devices will provide different amounts of electrical current," explains Greenfield. At-home microcurrent devices, like the infamous NuFace Trinity ($325), typically won't deliver as high amounts of current as in-office. Still, they're also more cost-friendly and can be used daily. You can expect more immediate, dramatic results when treating yourself to a professional facial because of the more intense electric pulsations—aka a more challenging face workout.
However, don't expect the collagen-boosting aspect to deliver right away with either at-home or in-office microcurrent. "I would caution that when something claims to promote collagen development and also that you should see immediate results—it’s almost an oxymoron—because collagen takes time for cells to build and release, it cannot happen immediately when you get up from the chair after the facial," Greenfield says.
Use an at-home microcurrent device in between professional appointments for up-keep and maintaining the best results.
Potential Side Effects
Microcurrent generally should only feel like the pulsating contraction of your muscles—with a potential of a little buzzy, zing (nothing painful) here and there. However, Greenfield cautions that if your skin happens to be sensitive to the type of machine, "the experience can be an unpleasant one." Microcurrent is also not recommended for people in the first trimester of pregnancy or who have a pacemaker. It may also stimulate inflammation, so it might be best to avoid use during any major acne flare-up.
Like many treatments, the price will vary depending on your esthetician, but Greenfield says she sees microcurrent procedures generally around the $200-$500 range. For best results, it's recommended to get microcurrent about every four weeks for upkeep—which is where things could start to get a little pricey. With a home device, you may need to only pay this initial sum once, to be used over and over with no added cost.
Be gentle with your skin after the treatment. "Avoid any harsh rubbing or physically irritating it," Greenfield says. "Use only mild products and a lot of hydrating serums and moisturizers." It's also recommended to finish with a chemical-free sunscreen all over the face and neck.
For home treatments, be sure to properly clean your microcurrent device. Buildup on the conductive spheres can make it more difficult for the microcurrent to travel to your muscles. NuFace suggests gently wiping the spheres down with a dampened washcloth after each treatment.
The Final Takeaway
As a millennial who loves instant gratification, I've found myself dreaming of my face's future after a couple more sessions. I see a more sculpted and defined jawline on my skin's horizon. Microcurrent facials are essentially taking your face to the gym, and I need to keep working out to see even more results. Vargas recommends clients indulge in these at least once a month. So now that you're abreast of everything there is to know about microcurrent facials, I recommend you book an appointment ASAP.
So will I consistently be indulging in this treatment to maintain my glow of youth? Absolutely.
Caberlotto E, Ruiz L, Miller Z, Poletti M, Tadlock L. Effects of a skin-massaging device on the ex-vivo expression of human dermis proteins and in-vivo facial wrinkles. PLoS One. 2017;12(3):e0172624. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0172624