I Used This Vaguely Sexual Device to Zap My Face With Electricity

They say good things come to those who wait, but at-home “facial trainers,” devices that send microcurrents of electricity to the skin, claim to subtly lift and firm the face in just five minutes. I wanted in on the action, so I figured an appropriate place to start was with the__ NuFace White Rose Mini__, a palm-size gadget that seemed less intimidating (smaller, fewer buttons, less X-rated looking) than other home-use options out there. Yes, there’s still something vaguely sexual about its appearance—the two side-by-side spheres made the 12-year-old in me giggle—but next to the versions that look like full-on sex toys, this one seemed downright cute by comparison. As a whole, home-use microcurrent gizmos often resemble a Spencer’s gag gift, but their claims are quite serious (boosted radiance, increased lymphatic drainage, stimulated collagen, reduced wrinkles over time) and are more than enough for me to get my head out of the gutter and administer a self-imposed electrical express facial.

But before zapping my own face, though, I wanted some expert insight. “I’m a big fan of microcurrent technology,” says dermatologist Francesca Fusco. “It gives a lift to the brows, cheeks, and jawline for up to 24 hours.” New York–based plastic surgeon Haideh Hirmand explains that microcurrents have been shown to restore muscles and speed healing. “Microcurrents have been studied and successfully applied in muscle rehabilitation, wound healing, and macular degeneration,” she says. “The low-level electrical currents stimulate on a cellular level.” The waves “stimulate muscle, so microcurrents have been used for physical therapy since the ’80s to regenerate muscle,” says Miami-based dermatologist Leyda Bowes. “Facial skin is bound to muscle, so you’re stimulating superficial facial muscles with electricity,” which, in theory, should tighten the skin, at least temporarily.

The technology’s skin-tightening ability has also made it popular with facialists for years. Mila Morgan, an anesthesiology-trained microcurrent practitioner who has become a closely guarded secret amongst Los Angeles women for her transformative anti-aging microcurrent treatments, explains that “microcurrents mimic the body’s electrical system and set off a series of cellular changes, including the production and storage of collagen and elastin. It can rejuvenate the skin, improve its tone and color to a youthful pink glow, balance hydration, diminish pores, improve acne and acne scarring, improve rosacea, and tighten and lift—but results are definitely practitioner- and machine-dependent.”

Equipped with this info, plus a double start-to-finish viewing of NuFace’s how-to video, I was ready for my first session. I dutifully washed and dried my face, applied the thick, clear NuFace primer gel, then mimicked the model’s every move, rolling the gadget over my skin in the prescribed pattern (gliding it upward three times from chin to ear on each side of the face, then upward three times above each brow in five-second intervals).

nuface 2

The two metallic spheres work together to create a moving current, explains Bowes, sending electricity to the skin (the limited-edition model’s spheres are also coated in 18-karat rose gold. Perhaps that’s because rose gold is an especially effective conduction medium, I thought. Nope, it just looks pretty.

nu face mini gold

The currents are completely painless, but noticeable if you happen to roll over a patch with thin or no gel; it feels like being just *baaaarely *snapped with a tiny rubberband. This might have freaked me out had I not been reassured that there was no cause for alarm. “Microcurrents should not lead to any inflammation,” says Bowes. “The electrons are too small, so they’re not capable of any harm.” Aside from the occasional rogue twitch, it feels like a relaxing facial rub.

After I finished the treatment process, I noticed that my skin did feel subtly firmer—and the temporary toning would make a great addition to a holiday-party-prep routine. (“Microcurrents do not require any down time. You can put makeup on, go out in the sun [Editor’s note: wearing sunscreen, of course!], and do your normal routine,” says Morgan. “You can attend an event that same day or night.”) But what about long-term? Dermatologists are doubtful that at-home devices deliver enough energy to effectively promote collagen production. “Because the NuFace directions say to do it every day, that means that there is probably not enough current and that the results don’t last longer than a day,” says Morgan. Bowes echoes this, stressing that “you must maintain the treatments to see results. It’s OK to do, but it’s not going to provide very dramatic improvement long-term.”

NuFace instructs users to conduct the sessions five days a week for 60 days (then downgrade to two or three weekly treatments) to notice a cumulative effect. Challenge accepted. I’m in it for the long, two-month haul. (Though I’d like to debunk that whole five-minute thing, since 1) the session takes longer than five minutes if you constantly lose track of rounds, like me, and 2) you have to rewash your face to remove the thick gel. My roommate and boyfriend know that my nighttime skin ritual already clocks in at about 20 minutes, so tacking on “face training” is adding around half that time again.)

Will it give structure to a nebulous jawline and coax cheekbones into existence? Can it tighten my forehead muscles and pull up my saggy eyelid skin? Is it like SoulCycle for the face? Look for my detailed check-in come mid-February.

For skin-care ideas that don’t require an electrical cord, watch: