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Promises, Promises: The Truth About Anti-Aging Devices

At-home devices that claim to erase facial wrinkles and promote firmer skin and clearer skin tone are flooding the consumer market. These gadgets, which use various technologies, are less expensive than are similar professional treatments, but the jury is out on their effectiveness and how long the treatments last.

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Copley Read sought a beauty boost. A few months shy of her October 2011 wedding, Read tried a new at-home laser device that’s called the PaloVia to smooth the crow’s-feet that had begun to sprout near her eyes.

“If I had the chance to erase these faint signs of age before the ceremony, I would take it,” says Read, 29, of Philadelphia, who is a communications consultant and who reviewed the device for the beauty blog TruthInAging.com.

It worked—sort of. Although her fine lines didn’t disappear, the device visibly reduced her wrinkles in time for her wedding. She says she was pleased by the results, although the initial side effects, which subsided after about 1 month of use, were anything but pleasing. When she used it, Read says, the device felt like “hot, tiny rubber bands were snapping against my skin, and afterward, my face was scorched red, as if I’d been out in the sun all day.” The skin around her eyes, she says, looked as though she “had been punched in the face or was suffering a severe allergic reaction.” 

Read says the discomfort was worth the results, and although she’s hesitant about the time commitment and inflammation, she says she would do it again. “I think about starting up another regime with the device nearly every time I scrutinize my fine lines in the mirror,” she says.

The fight to make the face that you see in the mirror appear younger has been going on since mirrors were invented, but only in the past 2 years have consumers been able to purchase products, such as the one that Read tried, in the ongoing anti-aging battle.

The devices, which typically are low-power versions of wrinkle-fighting equipment that you would find in the offices of aestheticians, cosmetologists, dermatologists and plastic surgeons, have one thing in common: Their makers pledge that the devices will melt decades off your timeworn face. We found that some of these devices provide limited benefits in certain situations, because they are scaled-down versions of proven technologies, much like at-home versions of teeth-whitening or manicure treatments. In fact, Food and Drug Administration allows at-home anti-aging devices to go to market with less stringent regulations than it does other new health-related consumer devices, because FDA considers these anti-aging tools to be “substantially equivalent” to professional devices that are available.

But health experts tell Consumers Digest that the unknowns about these products are enough to etch furrows in your forehead. That includes insufficient research, unknown long-term side effects, and—in many cases—negligible results.

POWER PLAY. One thing is certain: People don’t like their wrinkles. Consumers rank aging as their No. 1 skin-care concern. Consequently, the U.S. at-home skin-care industry zoomed to $900 million in retail sales in 2011, compared with $55 million in 2006, and is projected to soar to $2.8 billion by 2016, according to research firm Kline.

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Karen Doskow of Kline says at least 24 at-home anti-aging devices are on the market. In 2010, only a handful existed. The proliferation of at-home anti-aging products has come about since FDA sanctioned the first at-home anti-aging laser device in 2009 and this and other devices began to appear on the market in 2010. (Before 2009, hand-held anti-aging devices could be sold legally to consumers only through beauty and medical professionals, who served as middlemen.)

Initially, at-home anti-aging devices were touted on TV shopping networks and infomercials and online. Now at least two cosmetic giants—L’Oréal and Unilever—either make or license at-home anti-aging devices. Major high-end retailers now sell them, and some department stores (think: Bloomingdale’s, Neiman Marcus or Saks Fifth Avenue) devote sections of their cosmetics departments to these gadgets.

Doskow says the “sky is the limit” on the number of anti-aging devices that could flood the market within the next 2–3 years.

These devices typically use lasers, LEDs, microdermabrasion and radio-frequency (RF) waves to reduce wrinkles by altering either the surface of your skin (microdermabrasion) or your collagen, which is the protein that’s under your skin and gives the skin its structure, strength and fullness (laser, LED and RF).

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