As a former personal trainer, Sarah is passionate about all things health, beauty, and self care.
Recently I’ve been wanting to step up my skin care routine. At the moment my regimen primarily consists of moisturizers, serums, sun screen when I go outside, and the occasional home facial or scrub. I went online to see what home facials are the best when it comes to preventing signs of aging and hydrating your skin, the two factors that I am most concerned about. After finding a few, I realized that most of the ingredients were pretty much the same and while they were highly recommended, most of the good reviews were more about how relaxing the person’s evening was and how nice it was to enjoy a facial at home. Though I can certainly agree that doing a facial at home is a nice touch to a self care day, I’m not sure I’ve seen much more than just a little bit of hydration and maybe some temporary firmness immediately after leaving it on my face for too long.
Aside from DIY facials I have also gotten a few professional microneedling sessions, which seemed to make a bit of a difference after several sessions. I do know that there are a number of other medical grade skin tightening treatments out there, though, which is why I decided to do some research to see how they work, if they work, and whether it’s better to just stick to my facials at home. Here’s what I found.
Medical Grade Skin Treatments: What are they? How do they work? Who are they for?
The first discovery that I made is that there’s a medical skin procedure for almost anything. Whether you want to reduce wrinkles, tighten your skin, work on sun damage or pigmentation concerns, or eliminate scarring, there’s a procedure out there for everything. I’m only going to go over the “facial” like treatments since they are the most comparable to home facials. These include various forms of microneedling, lasers, and some non-invasive therapies that need to be administered by a professional.
Microneedling, also referred to as mechanical collagen induction therapy, is a procedure in which a small hand held motorized tool equipped with several tiny needles (typically 33-gauge) at the tip is used to penetrate the skin up to 2.5mm deep as a trained professional carefully runs it across the area to be treated.
Areas treated with this typically include the face, neck, decolletage, and in some cases the scalp (for hair growth) as well as other areas of the body.
When the needles puncture the epidermis and dermis, the body goes through a natural inflammatory response by increasing collagen and elastin production as it tries to repair itself from the micro damage caused by the needles. As a result, the skin is said to become tighter, firmer, and thicker, and less susceptible to scarring and wrinkling. At the same time, already existing wrinkles and scars are reduced in the process.
Types of microneedling
The Dermaroller is a form of microneedling that is different from the battery powered tool described above. Instead, it is a hand held device with a roller at the tip dressed with several tiny needles which is rolled across the treatment area. This can be used at home or by a medical professional.
During the therapy you will be sanitized and sometimes provided with a topical numbing cream to mitigate the pain throughout the process. Once the procedure is complete, you may apply a serum to provide your skin with additional hydration and nutrients that are better absorbed due to the punctures left by the needles.
This process only takes up to 15 minutes and can be used once every week. There is little to no downtime, including mild soreness, dryness, and redness, which will subside within 1 - 2 days.
The Dermapen is the motorized hand held apparatus described above, which punctures the skin with needles attached to the tip. This version usually requires numbing cream after the area of concern is sanitized as it can go up to 2.5mm deep. Depending on the patient’s response to the pain and the size of the treatment area, this form of microneedling can take 15 - 25 minutes to perform. There is minimal to no down time which includes redness, dryness, and possible soreness, all of which will go away within 2 days.
RF fractional microneedling is administered using a larger applicator which emits RF waves through the needles in the process. In addition to the controlled damage caused by the needles, the radiofrequency provides added heat in the SMAS (superficial musculoaponeurotic system) layer of the skin. This layer lies beneath the fatty layer below the dermis and is not reached with regular microneedling sessions. Due to the added heat damage, the body produces additional collagen and elastin, making RF a more superior and advanced alternative. RF microneedling is typically used on patients who want a more dramatic result, who have more mature skin, scarring, or want to improve skin laxity.
This therapy can only be used once a month and involves more recovery time. Side effects may include bruising, swelling, redness, and if administered improperly - scarring.
4. Transdermal delivery of drugs, serums, and solutions
Microneedling can be used to deliver medications and nutrients directly into the skin. In some cases the needles are hollow and simultaneously inject custom solutions during the process. Common ingredients included in these solutions are:
- Vitamin C
Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is an important vitamin when it comes to the overall health of your skin. It aids in the differentiation of keratinocytes, which are found in the epidermis and produce keratin, cytokines, growth factors, and interleukins. Studies also suggest that vitamin C may increase melanin levels, which helps protect our skin from photodamage caused by UV radiation when exposed to the sun.
Peptides are amino acids that make up specific proteins required by the skin. In particular, collagen is composed of three polypeptide chains, meaning that adding peptides to your skin can stimulate collagen production.
Neurotoxins (like Botox) are most commonly known for their ability to reduce and prevent the formation of wrinkles. Intradermal Botox Therapy is thought to reduce the production of sebum, which in turn can pore size, oil production, sweat production and red and brown marks left behind from acne.
- Hyaluronic acids
You may have seen hyaluronic acids in the list of ingredients found in most skin care products and serums. Hyaluronic acids are naturally produced by the body and hydrate the skin by absorbing water molecules in the treated area.
There is a large variety of lasers used on the skin for tightening and improving the quality of the epidermis and dermis. Lasers can be used on several regions of the body including the face, neck, decolletage, and depending on the case some other areas of the body.
The two main types of lasers are ablative and non ablative lasers.
- Completely ablates (removes) the epidermis and heats the dermis (causing collagen production due to heat damage)
- Typically requires numbing cream
- Downtime may last 2 - 4 weeks as new skin develops and includes redness, tenderness, stinging, itching, tingling, and swelling.
- More invasive than non-ablative lasers
- A fraction of the epidermis is damaged, while the majority of the surrounding cutaneous laeyr is left untouched
- Typically requires numbing cream
- Minimal downtime lasting 1 day to 2 weeks including redness, swelling, dryness, itchiness, skin flaking
- Less invasive than ablative lasers
What do lasers treat?
Depending on the type of laser used, laser treatments can improve the quality of your skin in the following ways:
- Tightens and firms skin
- Reduces pore size
- Eliminates fine lines and wrinkles
- Reduces crepiness
- Eliminates sun spots and hyperpigmentation
- Improves sun damage
- Produces collagen and elastin
Over the counter face masks
I also did some research on OTC face masks, their primary ingredients, and how they improve the quality of your skin. Here’s what I found:
- Salicylic acid
Topical application of salicylic acid can help the skin shed old cells of the epidermis and decreasing redness (inflammation)
- Benzoyl peroxide
Benzoyl peroxide is often found in acne medications and works by reducing the amount of acne causing bacteria in the skin.
- Vitamin C
Vitamin C can be applied topically to increase the production of collagen and elastin, which helps keep your skin firm and plump. It can also help your skin protect itself from UV rays, which is why you may notice it in the ingredients list of your sunscreen.
- Hyaluronic acid
While hyaluronic acid can help hydrate the skin, it needs to be combined with water in order to hydrate, meaning that it isn’t as beneficial when applied topically on dry skin.
Similar to benzoyl peroxide, sulfur can have antibacterial effects, reducing acne causing bacteria on the skin. It is also the third most common bacteria produced by the body.
Activated charcoal is a skin care product that binds to dirt and oil, and pulls it out. This makes pores less visible.
While DIY home facials can be beneficial to your skin in some ways including hydration, mild sun protection, and exfoliation, the compounds that benefit you the most don’t always work as well when only applied topically. This is why treatments such as microneedling, in which small punctures are made in the skin allow these compounds to absorb into deeper layers, enhancing their effects.
Using DIY masks at home can be beneficial and certainly won’t hurt, however, based on the research above medical grade skin treatments are superior.