February 1, 2006

Facial Stimulators May Do Little for Aging Skin

By Amy Norton

NEW YORK -- Electrical devices sold as over-the-counter alternatives to a face-lift fall far short of their claims, a study of two such products suggests.

Ads for the devices, known as facial stimulators, say they offer a sort of non-surgical face-lift. The concept is that electrical stimulation of the facial muscles firms up the face and leads to a more youthful appearance -- similar to what's gained from surgery.

But there is no biological basis for that claim, according to Dr. Sam Most of the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle, one of the authors of the new study.

Like other over-the-counter "cosmeceuticals," facial stimulators do not have to be shown effective before going on the market. The current findings, based on two brands of facial stimulator, suggest the devices are a waste of money, Most told Reuters Health.

The study included 10 adults who used one of the devices for four months; another four study participants dropped out early, citing either the time commitment or lack of benefit from the devices.

One of the devices came in the form of a handheld stimulator that is passed over the face at specific points. The other was a mask with built-in contact points that deliver electrical impulses.

Two plastic surgeons, blinded to the treatment participants received, judged before-and-after photos of their "crow's feet," jowls and other signs of aging.

Overall, the researchers report in the Archives of Facial Plastic Surgery, there were no objective improvements in facial appearance after four months. Nor were study participants able to see significant changes.

When asked about specific areas of the face, they rated both devices as "minimally effective at best," according to Most and colleague Dr. Samson Lee.

Though the facial stimulators may not be akin to a non-invasive face-lift, it is possible they have more subtle effects, Most said. Some study participants, he noted, thought they saw a general improvement in their appearance -- though when asked about specific facial areas, their opinions were less positive.

This, according to the researchers, may indicate a "placebo effect" where people see an overall improvement because they want to, but the optimism fades when they have to examine the skin more closely.

SOURCE: Archives of Facial Plastic Surgery, January/February, 2006.