Are Skincare Tools Worth It?
by Emily Linehan on May 28, 2021
Updated February 27, 2023
With so many new high tech skincare tools on the market, it is tempting to purchase them to "up" your skincare game.
While a few may be worth your time and money, most of them simply aren’t powerful enough to be effective (and should be left to the professionals), while others can actually be very damaging to your skin.
Before you spend your hard-earned money on these DIY gadgets, here are my recommendations on tools that are great to use at home, as well as some that should be tossed in the trash immediately.
Luckily, skin brushes with bristles are mostly a thing of the past, and for good reason! Because of the sonic technology skincare brushes create micro-tears in the skin which causes it to be in a state of chronic inflammation. Over time, this trauma can work against your skin and begin to break down collagen and elastin. And, if you are acne prone, these brushes also spread acne bacteria which can lead to new breakouts.
What has come to replace the old-school bristle brushes are silicone skin brushes. And, while they are definitely more sanitary and won’t create micro-tears as easily, I still recommend proceeding with caution. Unfortunately, these silicone brushes can still spread acne bacteria around and can over-exfoliate the skin, leading to dryness, irritation, and a very compromised moisture barrier.
Although both the bristle and silicone brushes are often advertised to "deep pore clean" the skin, they underdeliver on that promise. While they will remove surface dirt and grime, they don’t do a “deep dive” into the pores. However, they do often come with a timer switch, which can help lead to a more thorough cleanse if you have a difficult time remembering to cleanse for a full 60 seconds.
With that being said all you really need for a thorough cleanse is to make sure you massage your cleanser on your skin long enough, but if you wanted to try a silicone skincare brush you could once per day. However, if your skin is actively breaking out with a lot of cysts or pustules, I would avoid it as the vibration could burst a cyst internally and pop a surface pimple unintentionally which can lead to more trouble. Also, if the skin is feeling extra dry or over-exfoliated, take a break from the skin brush as continuing to use it will just exacerbate the issue.
If you’re looking for a silicone brush, I recently tested and recommend the Foreo Luna 3.
Micro Roller/Micro Needler
Although micro-rollers are marketed as a treatment to reverse the signs of aging and fade acne scarring, unfortunately, they can create more problems than they solve. These are one of the at-home tools that terrify me most, and here’s why:
- The needling itself is very traumatic to the pores which can create an acnegenic response leading to new breakouts.
- The DIY home devices cannot be sterilized in between uses which can lead to not only the spread of acne bacteria but potentially worse bacterial infections like staph or MRSA.
- Because of the trauma microneedling causes on the skin, you will have to discontinue any products with active ingredients (those that help to fight acne) until the skin clears. Since managing acne-prone skin requires consistency with products that address the cause of acne and control acne bacteria, this would be the equivalent of skipping your skin routine and new acne would begin forming again.
So, please step away from the microrollers and leave microneedling or microchanneling to the professional (who, by the way, use the needles and tips only once and then they are disposed of).
Icing acne-prone skin is one of the best ways to help calm inflammation and expedite the clearing of the skin. While ice rollers are convenient, there are a few reasons I highly recommend ice cubes instead. First, ice rollers do not get as cold as ice cubes which affect how effective icing the skin can be. Also, unless you sanitize ice rollers before every use (and ideally before you put them back in the freezer too), they will get dirty...and keep in mind that you are rolling it on bacteria-filled lesions on the face. On the other hand, ice cubes are one-time use, sanitary and free! So just grab two ice cubes from the freezer and roll them in a continuous motion on the face for about 1 minute after cleansing.
Although I know it is very trendy right now, Gua Sha has been around for hundreds of years. When used correctly, the area you scrape with the tool creates little red spots called petechiae, which are basically little areas of bleeding under the skin. You have to press pretty hard to get this reaction, however, most people aren’t pressing hard enough these days, resulting in more of a lymphatic facial massage. This can help with facial tension and puffiness, and some anecdotal evidence suggests that it can even help stimulate collagen production (although the jury is still out on that one in my opinion), however, there are also some risks.
Since you have to press pretty firmly to get the results you are hoping for, the pressure you put on the skin can potentially trigger new acne...especially deep, cystic acne. The reason is that there could be underlying breakouts forming and the pressure from rolling and massaging the skin can burst the follicle wall, infecting all the surrounding pores which leads to deep, cystic breakouts. Also, the serums and oils that are recommended to use with gua sha are not acne safe, so I really do not recommend Gua Sha (or Jade/Quartz Rollers) for anyone who is acne prone.
If you are not acne prone, you can absolutely give this a try! I would just recommend that you follow a professional tutorial to make sure you are doing it correctly and not damaging the skin.
Using LED light therapy can be a great way to help reduce inflammation as well as rejuvenate the skin. While there are many devices on the market these days, unfortunately, many are not powerful enough to make a difference in the skin. Also, in order to reap the benefits, light therapy must be done regularly (in some cases, daily) which might be fun when you first get the light, but the novelty of it can wear off over time. If you feel like you are ready to make the investment (both time and money), the reputable companies I recommend for LED Light Therapy are:
Based on professional microdermabrasion treatments, these tools would be contraindicated for those who have active acne as the micro-tears that microderm creates on the skin will spread acne bacteria around causing new breakouts to form. In addition, the suction from the tool can also cause an infected pimple or cysts to burst internally which spreads the infection to the surrounding pores beneath the skin leading to larger, more painful breakouts. In addition, the suction from these tools can cause broken capillaries which only an expensive laser can correct, but also can over-exfoliate the skin leading to excessive irritation, inflammation, and dryness. So, PDM devices should be avoided regardless if you have active acne or not.
Although it is reasonable to believe that pore vacuums would be the perfect tool for those who are acne-prone to help clear the skin, the damage they cause to the skin is why I advise avoiding these tools completely. The suction can create micro-tears in the skin that allows acne bacteria to spread easily and trigger new breakouts. Also, the suction can cause an infected pimple or cysts to burst internally which spreads the infection to the surrounding pores leading to larger, more painful breakouts. Lastly, the suction can cause broken capillaries which only an expensive laser treatment can correct. So please avoid using a pore vacuum at home to ensure your skin clears quickly and stays clear.
One of the oldest tools in the esthetics world, High Frequency has been around forever...and for good reason! It is an effective tool to help kill acne bacteria and accelerate the clearing of acne breakouts. The home devices are quite effective (my recommendation is this handheld high-frequency device) and can be used whenever you have active acne.
My recommendation is the NuDerma Clinical Skin Therapy Wand and here is a tutorial on how to use a high-frequency tool.
Here are a few additional tips if you are going to try a High-Frequency tool -
- Make sure the tool emits argon gas - this is going to look blue or purple when it comes in contact with your skin
- Using gauze is optional. It helps the tool glide on the skin, but you can also use it to spot treat a specific pimple or breakout
- It should not feel painful…you should feel the tingling sensation but you do not want to turn it up too high as that will dry the skin very quickly.
- Use the tool for no more than 1-2 minutes…either gliding in circular motions with the gauze all over the face or focusing on a specific breakout. If you use it too long, the skin will get dry and the breakout could hyperpigment (meaning it could create a dark spot).
If you are acne prone this tool is really a lifesaver and I do highly recommend it. Just keep in mind that, like most acne-fighting products, it does work best at the first sign of a breakout, so be sure to bust it out when you first notice a breaking out brewing under the skin.
While it's tempting to try to use a tool designed for popping pimples, this tool causes so much damage to the skin that we do not even use them in our facial treatments at Emme Diane! Not only can they lead to bruising and capillary damage, but they can also cause a deep rupturing of the acne lesion which infects the surrounding pores with bacteria and can lead to severe scarring. So, please avoid using an extractor tool on the skin and avoid picking at or popping your pimples in general! If you find you are having trouble breaking this habit, please read my No Picking Agreement which has tips and tricks on how to break the picking/popping habit.
Removing facial hair is very common these days...in the professional world, we call it Dermaplaning. This treatment is designed to exfoliate your skin, but the reason most people love it is that, along with the dead skin cells, the vellus hair (or peach fuzz) is removed as well! This is great because it allows skincare products to penetrate deeper and work more effectively, and it also reveals a smoother, brighter complexion instantly.
While dermaplaning can be beneficial for most skin types, there are some scenarios where it may do more harm than good. If you’re acne prone you’ll want to be especially cautious as you should NEVER dermaplane over active acne. This is because it will spread acne bacteria around which significantly increases the risk of new acne formation. Also, many of the face-shaving tools on the market can lead to more problems for sensitive or dry skin types due to the friction from the blade causing irritation or triggering a histamine reaction.
So my suggestion is to first discontinue all face shaving until the skin is steadily clear. Once the skin is steadily clear, and if you aren’t dealing with dryness or sensitivity, you can try to dermaplane at home by following my instructions. Or, if you’re more of a visual learner you can check out my tutorial video here!
Additionally, here are some dermaplaning tools I recommend:
Curious which skincare tools are #EmmeApproved? Learn more about which tools I recommend if you're wanting to do more when it comes to skincare here.