Time and money -- those ever-scarcer commodities -- can make it challenging to take advantage of the beauty advances available in a dermatologist's office. But increasingly, companies are manufacturing at-home devices inspired by treatments previously available only from doctors.
Though treatments such as photofacial lasers need to be administered by a trained professional, the relative safe technology of light therapy -- which stimulates the production of collagen, a wrinkle reducer -- makes it a perfect candidate for home use. Used as directed, says Beverly Hills-based dermatologist Jessica Wu, light therapy machines won't generate enough heat to cause damage.
The treatment has roots in the space program. While experimenting with light-emitting diodes, NASA scientists discovered that plants exposed to near-infrared light grew more quickly. When the LED light was applied to human tissue, cells healed almost 200% faster.
Independently, Dr. David McDaniel, director of the Institute of Anti-Aging Research in Virginia, began working on a theory of photomodulation -- the idea that a precise code of pulses of light at specific wavelengths can stimulate collagen production, and slow its destruction. "The net result, an increase of collagen at the cellular level, helps reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles," McDaniel says.
McDaniel partnered with Light BioScience to create GentleWaves, a professional treatment using LED photomodulation. Patients who want a noninvasive treatment to improve the appearance of fine lines can benefit from using GentleWaves, says Dr. Lisa Airan, who offers the treatment at her Manhattan office. But treatment cycles usually require the commitment of 12 visits, at a cost of about $100 per session. (The treatment itself takes a minute or less.)
Companies including Tända, Pretika, Baby Qasar and Perricone are now offering at-home devices using the same underlying science of their more potent professional counterparts. "A lot of people are busy these days, so having a device they can use in the privacy of their own home can be very useful," Wu says.
However, not all devices are created equal, the key difference being in their photomodulation codes. "Think of it like your TV remote that sends messages to control the TV set," McDaniel says. The code dictates energy, pulse duration, number of pulses and wavelength. And differences in the code can produce different results -- even opposite results -- with light of the same wavelength. "Which is also why you can appreciate my skepticism about some of the devices being sold today with little or no clinical studies or science to document their claims," McDaniel adds.
We tested two of the devices, the $40 Pretika Light Sonic Pulsating Light Skin Care System, pretikafacebodyspa.com, and the Tända Regenerate Anti-Aging Light Therapy Treatment, $275; at tandaskincare.com.
Both the Tända and the Pretika devices we tried work using the same general technique. The face is washed and a small light-emitting wand is held over parts of the face for prescribed times. Each company recommends using its own skin cleansers before the treatment, but other cleansers can be substituted, though manufacturers warn that many products contain light-reflecting ingredients that can affect the penetration of the treatment. I used the devices for 10 days, each on one half of my face.
The Tända device, which uses a frequency of 660 nanometers, is applied directly to the face for 30-second intervals in three-minute sessions. Every 30 seconds it signals you to move the device to a different area. Treating the entire face takes up to 12 minutes. The Pretika, which uses a frequency of 670 nanometers, requires you to hold the device approximately 1 inch above the area being treated, directing it onto each part of the face for up to two minutes. The entire treatment takes six to eight minutes.
The difference between the two products quickly became obvious. The Tända's cost buys features that make it like driving a Ferrari instead of a Ford. First, it has a charging base instead of the batteries that run the Pretika. Next, the Tända is pressure sensitive and activated when applied directly to the skin, whereas the Pretika requires the user to hold it awkwardly above the face, making it harder to operate. Finally, the Tända's built-in timer makes it easy to track the treatment; you need a stopwatch handy when using the Pretika.
Within a few days, both devices made my skin feel and appear brighter. But after 10 days of treatment, the Tända proved more effective. While I couldn't see any changes (other than texture) with the Pretika, the Tända diminished fines lines around my nose, mouth and forehead. The difference was significant enough that my face looked slightly unbalanced, with deeper laugh lines on one side than the other. My skin also glowed in the same way it does after a facial.
The higher price bought a more effective machine. Other new at-home light therapy models include Quasar Light Therapy, $449, babyquasar.com; and Perricone MD Light Renewal, $335; perriconemd.com.