The Use of Microcurrents for Beauty Benefits

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It has long been understood that the body utilizes electrical currents. This was first discovered by Luigi Galvani an Italian physicist who is said to initially have discovered animal electricity or bioelectricity. He identified that muscles in dead frog’s legs twitched when they encountered electrical sparks. 


It is believed that by the early 20th century electrical currents transitioned from the medical field to that of the beauty salons. Today electrical currents are commonly utilized in the beauty industry and even making their way to home use. There are two broad categories of microcurrents used to enhance the skin’s appearance—direct currents and alternating currents. These differ in the form the electrical wave takes. 


Direct Currents

A direct current can be either positive or negative, but not both. See Figure 1. It stays in a single polarity throughout the duration. Direct currents can help with the absorption of skin beneficial ingredients. Many ingredients can carry an ionic charge—either positive or negative—and formulas can be created to support that charge. In these situations, the charge can then be complemented by an electrical current. Similar charges repel each other which helps to push the ingredients to the skin. Here is an example, hyaluronic acid carries a slightly negative ionic charge. If it is put into a formula that support this through selection of the other ingredients and product pH, it can maintain that charge. Then if a low level negative electrical current is applied during application, the hyaluronic acid can be more efficiently absorbed by the skin. This enhanced absorption can potentially translate into improved and/or faster results. Similar types of delivery can be done for positively charged ingredients as well.  The visual benefits of this would then align with the benefits of the topical being applied. In the case above where hyaluronic acid was used, there would be hydration which could translate into plumping or making the skin appear fuller and more youthful. 


Figure 1. Direct currents are either positive OR negative

Figure 1. Direct currents are either positive OR negative


Direct currents can have some residual benefits also. Research has shown that the application of direct currents to the skin result in improving the skin’s ability to absorb products/ingredients for up to 24 hours after the application. In a laboratory experiment using an electrified Franz cell, skin was treated with a direct electrical current compared to non-treated skin. The amount of different ingredients that entered the skin was quantified for 24 hours. As well as the skin treated with the direct current allowed more to enter the skin.


While most direct currents take a constant form, differing shapes can be utilized for other uses or benefits. For example, the direct current can be pulsed. It still doesn’t cross over into the other quadrant or polarity, but it varies in its intensity. This pulsing can further help with the movement of fluids within the microcirculation.


Alternating Currents

Alternating currents as the name indicates alternate from the positive pole to the negative, pulsing back and forth. See Figure 2. This type of current can take on a variety of patterns as it alternates. Yet, it is a charged balanced meaning that it spends an equivalent amount of time at each pole (ie positive and negative). While this wave form still needs a medium to ensure it is adequately and comfortably conducted by the skin, it doesn’t need to be paired with a skin care product to see benefits. The current itself provides the benefit like targeting circulation. This technology is commonplace within the beauty industry used as microcurrent facials. Research carried through eight weeks illustrate that a commonly used cosmetic alternating waveform, can positively impact the appearance of fine lines, pores, skin tone evenness and texture. Trends indicate it may also help with skin elasticity.


Figure 2. Basic alternating current

Figure 2. Basic alternating current


Figure 3. Commonly used cosmetic alternating current

Figure 3. Commonly used cosmetic alternating current


Microcurrent facials are most commonly conducted in salons or aesthetician offices. Depending on the type, they are conducted more periodically—a few times a month. Yet, there has been an emergence of at-home devices that use lesser powered currents but more frequently to yield similar results. Direct current which again, are paired with products to push skin beneficial ingredients to the skin for enhanced absorption, have been shown to have more lasting benefits. These types of at-home applications can encompass longer (typically 5-10 minutes) applications and are done periodically throughout the week. Utilizing an alternating current at-home regimens will only take a couple of minutes and allows for daily treatments to enhance the look of your skin.