When it comes to skin care, micro- and nanocurrent technology lack research, but in my case, one product helped clear up my hormonal breakouts and gave me a lift, albeit only temporarily.
Name: Tiarra Mukherjee
Age: Let’s put it this way, I’ve owned some VHS tapes.
How long she’s been living with acne: 20 years
The last few years have seen an onslaught of dermatology devices popping up in doctor’s offices — nonsurgical magic machines that celebrities swear by. Jennifer Lopez likes radiofrequency. Gwyneth Paltrow shouts out Thermage.
And now there are microcurrent treatments — reportedly favored by high-profile clients like Meryl Streep, Charlize Theron, Kate Hudson, and a bevy of Kardashians, all of whom gush about its lifting, tightening, zit-zapping, and all-around rejuvenating powers. Used by aestheticians to the stars Joanna Vargas and Melanie Simon, microcurrent treatments have become a signature service at trendy spas like Skin Gym.
But there are also options for those of us with tighter purse strings: home devices. While they certainly can’t promise the results the pros can, they too have legions of devoted fans.
Being the skin-care junkie I am — and having faced a decades-long battle with acne — I added a microcurrent device to my home beauty regimen: the Ziip GX, a favorite of Jennifer Aniston and Priyanka Chopra.
What Is Microcurrent Technology?
Before we talk about the Ziip in particular, let’s back up and define microcurrent technology more broadly.
According to the marketing hype, you feel a few harmless zaps of electricity, and in a flash, you’re ready for your close-up. Sounds too good to be true, right?
The New York City–based dermatologist Rachel Nazarian, MD, of the Schweiger Dermatology Group, says that while microcurrent technology appears to be safe for skin, whether there are long-term benefits remains a big question. “Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of clinical trials that support its use unequivocally,” says Dr. Nazarian.
That said, some medical doctors are cautiously optimistic. “There is data suggesting that a microcurrent device can help stimulate collagen to strengthen the foundation of the skin,” says Joshua Zeichner, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. “With continued use, you may see mild improvements in laxity.”
Anthony Youn, MD, a plastic surgeon in Troy, Michigan, says that sometimes science follows marketing: Popular opinion could warrant more studies, which could warrant stronger, skin-specific medical-grade FDA-approved devices, and then more doctors may get on board.
What Is Ziip?
The brainchild of Melanie Simon, who’s been called the Nikola Tesla of facials, the Ziip microcurrent device harnesses the same kind of electrical current and strategy that Simon deploys in her salon for $250 a pop. This device packages those capabilities in a $495 palm-size gizmo resembling a gilded wireless mouse that creates a circuit with your skin to increase cell energy, communication, and repair. The promise: more radiant, glowing skin.
To use it, you first slather your face with copious amounts of the conductive nutrient-rich “Golden gel” that comes with the device. Then rub the machine gently against your face in circular motions and upward strokes.
The purpose of the gel is to help the micro- and nanoccurents delivered by the Ziip penetrate your skin more deeply. (Microcurrent stimulates the top layers of the skin, while nanocurrents provide an intensity that is bioidentical to the human body and offer longer-lasting results, Simon says.) Also, she says, the gel contains human growth factors and active peptides that are supposed treat the skin, leaving it looking younger and more supple even after you’re done with the treatment.
Here’s What Happened When I Tried It
As I took the Ziip out of the box, I was reminded of the sensation I felt when I held an iPhone for the first time. The simplicity of the design whispered, “The revolution is here.” I was at first confused by its lack of buttons, but was relieved to find that the Ziip uses Bluetooth to connect to an app, and you control it from your phone.
The Ziip has a menu of treatments customized to target various common skin issues, including laxity, wrinkles, acne, and hyperpigmentation, and delivers specific currents depending on what you’re hoping to treat. I tried them all, but my focus was “Total Clearing,” an eight-minute routine that zaps acne bacteria and promotes younger-looking, radiant skin.
As directed, I gently glided the Ziip from my neck upward. I spent a considerable amount of time on the “elevens” between my brows, since that’s where the Botox money goes, and then, of course, on any visible breakouts. The treatment did seem to reduce some inflammation in my cystic acne (under the skin) and get my superficial acne under control. I felt a distinct tingling and warming sensation when the device rolled over my pimples. Angry milia (whiteheads) and open comedones (blackheads) seemed to be jolted into retreat, and I noticed an exciting lift in my skin that made my cherubic cheeks look chiseled. I was ecstatic.
A few days later, however, I saw that my cysts had persevered. I ended up in the dermatologist’s office paying for cortisone injections as usual.
So while the Ziip may have temporarily kept some of my surface blemishes at bay, it wasn’t miraculous enough to defeat all my herculean hormonal cystic acne. And the plump, high cheekbones I had wished I was born with? Gone like helium-filled balloons on day 3.
Three Things I Liked About the Ziip
The real headline here is that the Ziip does deliver results. Short-term and temporary, yes, but nonetheless, it does do something. If you’re going to a wedding or a special event, it’s definitely nice to have in your arsenal. Here are some of the upsides:
- It blasts surface acne. No drying gel or pen or sticker has ever zapped a superficial zit the way the Ziip device can. My cystic acne is a beast, and while the device did not tame those deeper flare-ups, not even light therapies and lasers can tackle the tough cases.
- It offers instant results. Unlike many other skin interventions, there is no waiting time, no swelling, and no side effects. As soon as you’re done using the Ziip, you see results.
- The device itself is a work of art. Let’s be honest: Part of the reason why so many of us have iPhones is that Apple knows how to create sleek objects. The Ziip is a sexy little thing. It’s simple, futuristic, elegantly austere, and looks great on a vanity. Its functionality is also streamlined and cool. I hate wires, so I appreciated the Bluetooth connectivity and ease of controlling it from an app on my phone.
Three Things I Disliked About the Ziip
I hate to nitpick when it comes to a device that zaps zits. But a few aspects of the Ziip left me feeling a bit, well, deflated.
- It’s not permanent. I was over the moon about the possibility of lifting and sculpting my cheeks, for example, and while I saw promise (and considered purchasing stock), it turned out to be a temporary quick fix. While some say results may accumulate over time, there’s just not enough time in every day to do it in the hope that it might last, or provide some future benefit, especially as you start to get older and the effects of gravity begin to show.
- It’s not easy to use. The actual process — tracking the beeps, slathering on enough gel to make sure it’s conducting for the signature 20-minute treatment — can be complicated and time-consuming. Sometimes you’re unsure if you’ve missed a spot or if you’re doing it right, and if you’re short on patience, you may find yourself frustrated.
- Is it really a bargain? Sure, the cost of the Ziip is considerably less than a package of treatments from a top aesthetician. But it’s not a one-time investment. The gel costs $50, and because the instructions say you need to apply it generously, you might go broke replacing it every month or so if you keep using the device.
My Final Thoughts
If I were in my early twenties and was gifted the Ziip, I’d certainly use it religiously with the hopes that one day I’d be able to save on Botox and filler. But if you’re older, the decision to buy a Ziip boils down to time, money — and how you want to spend both.
For me, time is precious, and the Ziip took too long to use and produced only temporary results. I feel my money is better spent on the big guns: lasers and neurotoxins.
Still, I may rely on the Ziip in the future for treating minor acne breakouts and for some lifting and plumping ahead of special occasions.
While my hormonal breakouts were resistant to the Ziip’s micro and nanocurrent technology, the device may work better for others. Simon told me several of her clients have shed tears while sharing stories of how the Ziip cleared up their cystic breakouts. If you’re struggling with this type of acne, know that Ziip didn’t work for me but may for you. If your acne is recurrent, it’s always a smart idea to consult with a board-certified dermatologist to ensure that you’re armed with a multipronged approach.
Other Ways I Manage My Acne
Ultimately, each person’s skin is as unique as his, her, or their fingerprints. If anyone by now had figured out a one-size-fits-all answer to pimple-free, tight, lifted skin, dermatologists, beauty brands, and writers like me would be out of work. I’m always on the hunt for the perfect solution, but here’s what’s currently doing the trick:
- Retin-A Micro .06 percent This is my one never-fail. Retinoids and retinols (Retin-A) are the only topicals that uncontestedly build collagen, fight acne, and stave off premature signs of aging all at once.
- Pai Rosehip BioRegenerate Oil Don’t tell my dermatologist, but contrary to the advice that oil clogs the pores of everyone with acne-prone skin, this anti-inflammatory facial oil by Pai has done wonders keeping my skin hydrated (so it doesn’t produce more oil), and it doesn’t cause congestion like mineral or coconut oils. (Word to the wise: Do ask your dermatologist if any oil is right for you, to avoid potentially worsening your acne.) Plus, it helps the Retin-A do its turnover thing, without common side effects like drying, redness, and irritation.
- Avoid sugar and dairy. This part is painful, but clear skin is worth it. For years I was told by many a dermatologist that what you eat has no effect on acne, and while this notion is still up for debate, they seem to be coming around. Research in an article published in April 2016 in Advances in Dermatology and Allergology suggests sugar exacerbates acne and that there is convincing evidence that milk and dairy products are comedogenic. Personally, if I eat an ice cream sundae, it’s not my waistline that suffers, it’s my face.