When I was growing up “at-home aesthetic devices” meant one thing: Slendertone, the machine that promised a toned tummy via electrical stimulation and was used by sporting paragons such as Muhammad Ali and Franz Beckenbauer. My mum was a model and so had a cupboard containing exciting items such as impossible stilettos, crocodile-skin clutches, a set of heated hair rollers and an original Slendertone.
On the days when I would go home from school to an empty flat, I would dig out the machine, which, with its beige Bakelite knobs and buttons, looked like something from the Thunderbirds set. I would strip down to my bra and pants, attach the rubber suckers to key places about my person (thighs, tummy) and secure them using the long brown flannel bands with Velcro at the ends. Thus trussed, I would turn the dial up to ten and lounge, muscles twitching, while I ate Marmite on heavily buttered Mighty White toast and watched Home and Away. I was not a sporty child, so this was my way of giving my body a workout that involved neither hockey sticks nor gym knickers. I cannot say there was any discernible effect, but for that I blame the toast and not the tool.
My next important beauty appliance (I am not including those silver wands with a tiny cup and hole at the end that were meant to “extract” blackheads if you pushed them hard enough into your chin) was a device of maximum torture known as the Epilady . Oh, what exquisite pain we endured as its gyrating metal rings removed the stubborn hairs from around our ankles, only for them to grow back a week later somehow curly, as if they’d been permed.
In short, beauty in the Eighties and Nineties was not something that happened at home. To really be transformed you need a week at Champneys.
Then came the Clarisonic, a facial cleansing device with soft bristles and a rotating head that promised pristine pores and basically used the same technology as the electric toothbrush. The Clarisonic was the herald of our new age, in which there is a high-tech at-home device for every aesthetic issue.
One of the best places to find these tools of transformation is currentbody.com, a shop devoted solely to aesthetic devices that was set up by Laurence Newman more than a decade ago. “When I started out we had literally nothing on the website,” Newman says. Now it has nearly 1,000 products: at-home LEDs, lasers, electrical-current devices, laser hair removal, thermal facial cleansers. “These are devices that replicate treatments that you might normally have in a salon, but they have been miniaturized to be used at home,” he says.
Many of these are serious bits of kit, and while I’m all for sitting on the sofa and watching Succession while I blast my skin back to its former youthful loveliness using a variety of Bond villain machines, is this safe?
“There are certain things that are OK to do at home, to save money and time,” says Dr. Anita Sturnham, a GP who specializes in dermatology. There are also certain things that are not. “One of the biggest issues I see is when people try to use at-home needling devices. Microneedling is a fantastic treatment, but I would always leave that to the experts.”
Facial microcurrent devices can be used safely at home and do make a difference. “We have been using microcurrents in dermatology for over 30 years for fibroblast function, wound healing and gentle collagen remodeling,” says Sturnham. “These devices are quite safe and foolproof.”
The lasers and LEDs in at-home devices are not as strong as their in-salon counterparts, but are still powerful and effective, so Sturnham recommends brands that have crossed over from the clinical to the domestic and are able to capitalize on years of research and data such as Dermalux and Déesse Pro. She emphasizes the importance of following all the suggested safety protocols, and especially the wearing of protective eyewear.
And so, goggles firmly attached and toast in hand, I have tried some of the newest and most powerful at-home aesthetic devices.
Melanie Simon is the facialist of Hollywood stars such as Jennifer Aniston and Margot Robbie. She describes herself as an “electrical aesthetician”, and her preferred tool for beautification is electrical current. She has been in the business for 20 years, and for 15 of those she used a suite of machines, until she grew frustrated with the approach and decided to develop a gadget that would do everything she needed and that her clients could take home to use — particularly helpful when they are on location or, indeed, during awards season, when her talents are required by a number of clients simultaneously. And so we have the ZIIP, launched in the US in 2015, and now available in the UK.
I had my first encounter with the ZIIP in the hands of its creator, who ran me through some of its functions. Unlike the traditional CACI devices that use electrical current, the ZIIP has many different levels of current, from the barely perceptible “nanocurrent” to the more powerful microcurrent and direct current. As such, it can be used for different purposes, from generally improving skin tone with nanocurrent, which is meant to promote collagen and elastin production, to the manipulation of muscles and fascia to lift brow and jowl. And it has a setting that blasts away bacteria and can be used for breakouts or full-on acne.
The ZIIP looks a bit like a mouse, with two electrical probes that both need to be in contact with the skin for it to work. It is best used in conjunction with the ZIIP app, which offers tutorials for treatments, guiding you through each, with none longer than ten minutes, and the spot-blasting lasting just one minute.
The process starts with a liberal application of the gel that comes with the device. Then a sun-lit Melanie appears on your phone to explain what to do. There is calming plinky-plonky music in the background so you can close your eyes and imagine you are in Los Angeles. Then its down to business. On the nanocurrent setting you really don’t feel a thing, and it can be used freestyle while you’re watching TV (you may want to mute Melanie in this instance).
The “lifting” settings can feel quite intense — a sort of juddering, tugging sensation — but at least that means something is happening, and with the spot-zapping setting you feel little pin pricks every time it hits bacteria — whether you continue to hold the device over the blemish or move on depends on how hard you are. Ideally you would use the ZIIP twice a week. Of the many devices I have tried, it seems to be one of the more simple and enjoyable to use. Plus, my face had a definite tautness to it post-treatment. And if it works for Margot Robbie. . .
This chic black device looks a bit like a posh torch but actually houses the strongest at-home laser on the market. It comes with serum and oxygen mist and the maker suggests you use it for between 15 minutes and half an hour every day, moving the device around your face and neck. This, Lyma says, will penetrate past the skin and fat, and trigger a genetic switch in the deeper layers, meaning that aging cells will create collagen again. As well as reducing facial slackness, it also promises to improve the appearance of wrinkles, scars and pigmentation. As with all these devices you need consistency and time for real results (the maker suggests three months before you start to see significant change). I used it daily for three minutes on a scar on my forehead and after a month it had definitely become less deep and visible.
Joves Venus Pro
This nifty little bit of kit offers hair removal that is painless and permanent (take that, Epilady!). It uses intense pulsed light to blast away the hair follicle, never to return. This type of technology has been available in salons for years, but has only recently become available for use at home. It has attachments for face, leg, armpit, hand and bikini area, as well as one for improving skin tone. The device has an inbuilt cooling system so that the skin does not overheat. There are rigorous safety protocols and you do have to read the instructions properly. Protective glasses are also included. As with the salon version, this works best on lighter skin with darker hair, and weekly sessions over six weeks give the best results.
This device uses the same kind of microcurrent technology as the CACI treatments offered in salons and can be used for saggy jowls and turkey neck. Apply the supplied priming gel, then slide the device, with its two metal balls, along the problem area, enjoying the mild tingly electric shock sensation (you can reduce or increase the current according to your masochism level). It cuts out after the suggested five minutes’ use. It’s quick, easy, portable, looks quite amusing and after a month’s use there was definitely a new smoothness to my jawline.
Slendertone Evolve Abs
Yes, Slendertone still exists! It basically feels the same to use, but looks very different. There are no more beige suckers, now it is a soft foam belt – a bit like the sort of thing you might get if you won a boxing match – to which you add sticky gel pads (the vehicle for the electrical current) and attach a small blue box, which operates the machine. There are different programs, from “passive toning” (ie sitting on the sofa) to “active toning”, which involves wearing the belt while doing planks. I think it is safe to say that you would see better results if you went for the active toning option.
The Dermalux Flex
This is the big daddy of domestic devices. The at-home version of Dermalux’s salon LED treatment emits powerful blue, red and near-infrared light from 360 bulbs. It’s a sizeable, flexible strip of lights that comes with goggles, and can either be inserted into a stand, making a sort of domed tunnel that you slide your face and neck into, or used draped over your body. There are different combinations of lights for different ends – rejuvenation, collagen production, healing, antibacterial. As someone who has spots, wrinkles and psoriasis, I decided to use the triple-light function, which basically means you get it all. The instructions are for three half-hour sessions a week, for six weeks, followed by maintenance. After a session I looked pink and glowing, after a month my pores were definitely smaller, my pigmentation was reduced and the rogue blemish on my chin that had been there for about three months was finally reduced.
Foreo Luna Play Smart 2
The Swedish company Foreo makes nifty little devices that are basically the millennial version of the Clarisonic. They are cute, pastel colored and look a bit like hedgehogs. Apply your normal cleanser, then move the buzzy little device around your face. The “sonic waves” shake the dirt out of the pores and give an invigorating facial massage. My skin actually squeaked with cleanliness after using this. There is also an app, which the device “talks to” via sensors, devising cleansing programs suitable for your skin. It can even tell you how dry your skin is (mine had almost no hydration, so I immediately piled on the moisturizer). It’s easy, fun and effective, although I fear my 13-year-old daughter will steal it.