Microcurrent: Pilates for Your Face

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Anti-aging fads are transient, but one time-tested means to promote youthfulness endures: Exercise. Pragmatic doctors sternly recommend it; glowing yogis solemnly swear by it; that sprite mall-walking grandma is living proof of its benefits. It would only make sense, then, that exercising your face is one way to preserve a youthful glow. Right?

That’s the thinking behind microcurrent facials, a beauty treatment that’s risen in prominence over the past five years. Microcurrent practitioners use electrical probes to transmit currents into the skin, activating the muscles in the face. And unlike Botox – which freezes the muscles in the face – microcurrent is an alternative that instead strengthens them, resulting in skin that’s toned and lifted. In other words, microcurrent can help you put your best face forward – and yes, that face will look like you.

As a new mom, this seems like a promising prospect; I’m constantly wishing I looked just a little more well-rested than I am… or ever will be. As such, I visited Shamara Bondaroff, aesthetician and founder of SB Skin, a wildly popular New York City-based practice that focuses entirely on microcurrent facials. When I ask her to explain the treatment, she puts it bluntly, “It’s exercise, plain and simple.” She continues, “You have muscles on your face, and we’re lifting and tightening them.”

I like to call it Pilates for your face.

Using a hydrating aloe gel as a conducting agent, Bondaroff runs two metal probes across my face. The feeling is sort of prickly, but not uncomfortable; I happily imagine the muscles in my forehead doing the equivalent of pulsating squats. Bondaroff concurs, “I like to call it Pilates for your face.”

While I’m on board with the idea of working out my face to tighten and lift, I don’t fully comprehend how that translates into the other benefits of microcurrent Bondaroff espouses – such as brightening and clarifying. She explains, “When we activate these muscles, we’re also doing things like stimulating the production of collagen, elastin, amino acids and ATP.” The aforementioned helps to speed up cell repair, promote circulation and encourage lymphatic drainage.

In this sense, the benefits of “facial Pilates” are manifold; Bondaroff explains that microcurrent is also an effective treatment for those suffering from acne and rosacea, citing younger clients who have seen a radical improvement in their skin from it. “We have 18-year-olds to 87-year-olds coming in here.”

Other loyal customers? Devotees, both former and current, of Botox. “I have customers like myself who do not want to go down the Botox route, but I also have plenty of women who do have fillers and injectables,” she says. “It’s actually really important that they [women with Botox] do see me; because when you freeze a muscle, you’re not working it. We’re keeping that muscle healthy and alive, so you don’t have issues like atrophy later on.”

Long term, a treatment like microcurrent can really change the way a woman ages.

Bondaroff points to numerous cases where she has seen Botox become increasingly less effective for women due to muscle atrophy, resulting in problems like eyebrow drooping; she explains that through her work, she’s actually been able to wean women off of fillers entirely or greatly reduce their injectable habit. Joanna Vargas, celebrity facialist and founder of Joanna Vargas Salon and Skincare Collection, corroborates this perspective. “Long term, a treatment like microcurrent can really change the way a woman ages. I have clients who have been coming to me for years for my Triple Crown Facial. The results are cumulative and amazing.”

Admittedly, Vargas and Bondaroff are both the crème de la crème of facialists, microcurrent or otherwise; an appointment with either is pricey, especially when you factor in their mutual recommendation to undergo repeated sessions for best results. Luckily, there are several devices available that impart the benefits of microcurrent at home, including NuFACE, ZIIP and NEWA. Vargas notes, “One benefit of at-home devices is that they keep the lymphatic system healthier in the skin. They do stimulate lymphatic drainage, just not as much as a professional treatment. However, if you use it regularly, it will help. Knowing the subtleness of the results, I would use it nightly or every other night.”

Such devices retail between $350 and $450, so they’re likewise not cheap. But after seeing the results from a single session with Bondaroff – I looked, to borrow a phrase from my mom, “bright-eyed and bushy-tailed” – I’m tempted to add in an at-home microcurrent device to my routine. Because looking like I got that extra hour of sleep is almost as priceless as actually getting that sleep.

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