Jenjen asks…Do ultrasonic facials do anything of real value? The therapist who gave me one said it really cleans out pores.
The Beauty Brains respond:
Ultrasonic facials use a process technically known as sonophoresis which involves transmitting sound waves into the skin at various frequencies.
How does ultrasonic skin penetration work?
The scientific literature is filled with articles documenting how this process is effective for drug delivery. This is a benefit for drugs that may have side effects when delivered orally (e.g, drugs that upset your stomach) and in cases of drugs where you want a sustained delivery.
Ultrasonic energy is thought to drive ingredients through the skin through a combination of thermal, chemical and mechanical effects. This works best on drugs that are already able to penetrate skin to some degree – for these chemicals the ultrasound waves can dramatically increase how much penetration occurs and how quickly. But that doesn’t mean it helps EVERYTHING penetrate. Some ingredients just don’t have the right chemical properties to pass through skin. Also, the degree of penetration is greatly affected by the type of ultrasonic energy. The paper cited above gave the example of using sonophoresis to increase penetration of salicylic acid. Treatment for 20 min at 2 MHz caused no significantly increase in sal acid penetration but treatment at 10 MHz caused 4x more sal acid to pass through the skin.
What about cosmetic uses?
While there’s plenty documentation for medical applications of ultrasound, we couldn’t find any definitive proof that it provides cosmetic benefits. The closest thing we could find is the website for a dermatologist who offers this procedure. According to Dr. Moranz, ultrasonic treatments can improve penetration of “pigment lighteners, anti-oxidants, collagen stimulants, moisturizers, and sun protectants.” Given the overall technical credibility of the technology (from a medical perspective) it seems fair to assume that the right equipment in the hands of a medical professional could improve penetration of certain types of ingredients. Given that the process doesn’t work for all ingredients and given the cost (one source quoted $800 for a series of treatments) it would make sense to discuss options with a dermatologist if you’re really interested.
The bottom line
If you’re having the process done by a dermatologist we’d have pretty good confidence that you’ll see some benefit. If you’re going to an aesthetician we’d question which equipment is being used and what it is they are trying to get to penetrate deeper into your skin. Depending on what benefits they promise and how much they’re charging you then you can make the decision whether an ultrasonic facial is right for you.
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