Saturday, April 06, 2019

Beauty Gadgets- A Quick Overview

Anne Francis and Robby the Robot in Forbidden Planet, 1956

I live on the intersection of high-maintenance girly-girls (at what age do you stop referring to yourself as such?) and nerdy geeks who like the little enhancement tech gizmos bring to our lives (and get surprisingly ragy when things don't work as they should. Ask our old dishwasher, R.I.P.). Somehow No surprise then that I've managed to amass a small hoard of beauty gadgets with cords, electric and USB alike, that now demand their own power strip in my beauty room. I haven't tried everything that's on the market (I'm too skeptic to shell out for a NuFace, not to mention to make the commitment to use it fully according to instructions). The stuff reviewed here is for face only and is electrically powered, just so we're clear.

Possibly the strongest statement I'll make here is that if you're going to buy just one single item ever make it a lighted magnifying mirror. It's the least sexy of all gadgets and can be downright scary. But if you're about to get close and personal with your pores (see below) or if you're an eyeliner user particularly over the age of 40 you need this thing and you'll need it more urgently with every passing year. I've had an OttLight one over a decade ago (it was a PR gift)  and when it died I replaced it with an 8" SimpleHuman that has been serving me well ever since. It's an older model, x5 magnification that I supplement with a small suction cup x10 for eyeliner. The lighting action is sensor activated and USB powered. People who complain about the light not turning on right away have probably neglected the occasional cleaning of the sensor (I use an alcohol wipe). I rely on it daily and should probably look at adding a travel version, because the one I have right now, a KEDSUM tri-fold I bought on Amazon ($26) has been unreliable at best. It looks fantastic, but mine has issues charging (USB) and sometimes refuses to turn on (it has a switch in the back, but the mirror doesn't seem to care). I've travelled with it quite a bit over the last eighteen months and I'm ready for an upgrade.

I promised some pore talk, so we're getting to it. I have one strong recommendation and two shrill warnings. Let's start with one that does good. Many facialists have started supplementing their cleansing and extracting process with a steam/water-aided electric pulsating wand that shakes the pores clean. It's a good thing if you're not the biggest fan of manual extractions (I'm not, and the husband was traumatized by his one experience of a "relaxing facial". He still loves me. I think). The salon machines are not exactly sized or priced for the average consumer, but look online and you'll find a wide range of pulsing spatulas that promise to clean out your pores as well as give you an alternate setting that actually pushes skincare into your recently purified skin. Prices vary and I've taken my time researching before deciding on the right one for me, Labelle Ultrasonic Gentle Stainless Steel Facial Skin Scrubber Spatula by Trophy Skin ($149. I'm pretty sure it was cheaper when I bought it seven months ago). It works on a well-steamed (see bellow) and damp skin by sending ultrasonic pulses into the face that serve as eviction notice for the gunk in one's pores. I can't vouch for the effectiveness on seriously congested and acneic skin and wouldn't use it without consulting a dermatologist or a serious aesthetician first. All I know is that for my normalish skin that tends to get surface and just-under-the top layer blackheads this is a working solution.

It's important to read and understand the instruction, to remember that the gadget works on ultrasonic pulses (I rarely hear them  and the cats don't seem to mind. No idea about dogs), and to avoid scraping, pushing and digging. Don't apply any pressure to the skin. Just glide it, change directions according to the face nooks and crannies and let the spatula do its work. The result is part satisfying and part horrifying as tiny sebum plugs vacate the premise.

Once done it's time for your choice of skincare, but here's where the spatula falls short. The reverse pulses feel pleasant but I don't feel they contribute anything to serum absorption. Maybe it's just me, but I wouldn't purchase this if you're mainly interested in pushing products into your skin. I have something else to recommend.

But before we get to that I still have a warning: vacuum pore suction devices. No No. No. I bought a dirt cheap one a couple of years ago that did diddly squat. You'd think I've learned my lesson, but no. I had to get a more "serious" one, with adjustable suction levels, replaceable suction heads in various sizes, and broken capillaries to boot. The gunk, by the way, remained comfortable until I switched to the Trophy Skin spatula. If you ever asked yourself who's the idiot who buys this junk featured on Instagram, that would be me (though I bought it on Amazon. I'm still as dumb).

The precursor to pre-cleaning is steaming the face. Methods vary from the good old boiling pot and a towel over one’s head (not recommended in homes ruled by felines) to various small appliances you can buy anywhere. A few have more functions than others, but I have yet to find a reason to replace my current one which is at least six years old and was purchased for less than $30. It’s no longer in production, but its clones are many.  The rules are simple: stable surface, close your eyes, don’t shove your face deep in there, and give the cats a few other educational toys to distract them.

I mentioned above that I didn’t think that the reverse action of the ultrasonic spatula was doing much for me. Instead I’ve got addicted to the Foreo UFO device ($280 at Sephora). The price is scandalous because they’re trying to keep milking you for money with the refill masks. As much as I adore this gadget I’m still mad about it. The UFO comes with an app, which means you’re supposedly have to locate your phone and bring it to the bathroom. Thankfully the default settings are good enough unless you’re intent on a specific facial routine. Once the Foreo UFO is nicely charged (USB, what else?) you remove the outer ring, stick the round mask and fasten it back with the plastic ring. If you’re using the app this is where you use the phone camera to read the barcode of the wrapper, or just click it on and start massaging your face gently with the device, enjoy the change in temperature and the LED lights that are also supposed to be beneficial. It’s a 90 second luxurious spa treatment that I feel does wonders for my skin (I can tell when I’ve been slacking). There are several different types of masks. I buy the basic Make My Day and Call It A Night ($9.99 for a seven unit package), and keep empty wrappers of each on hand to scan as needed, because I have a little secret. Many of us have piles of sheet masks around and they’re not all made equal. A good masking session takes more time, relaxation, and a high quality mask (both the sheet and the essence). Cheap and flimsy masks do have their place since they still give a hydration and glow boost. You just need to cut them to an approximate size and stick them in the UFO under whichever setting you fancy. It’s a great solution for the more questionable filler masks in your Mask Maven subscription, various GWPs, and all the ones that are supposed to make you look like a cute animal for Instagram stories. No. I will not film myself wearing a lemur mask, but I will use it in the solitude of my dressing room with the UFO. One last piece of advice: don’t pay full price. Sephora and other retailers have sales.

Now we’re getting to some unnecessarily controversial territory. A couple of years ago Lisa Eldridge decided to pull down a video about her experience with with facial microplaning . She was slagged as anti feminist and a promoter of unnatural beauty standards because women have facial hair and peach fuzz and shouldn’t feel the need to get treatment for it. I’ve watched that video while it was still available and even if I hadn’t, being familiar with Ms. Eldridge, her work and philosophy I could tell you there was no way she’d ever shame a person for their facial features. Ever. If you want to really be horrified go search Monika Blunder channel for her (possibly sponsored) video on the topic. As a Jewish person with ancestry that engulfs the Middle East, Balkan countries, and most of Eastern Europe I can tell you that facial hair, fuzzy or not, has been the bane of my existence from age twelve onwards, including years I’ve yearned paper bags over the head would be an acceptable fashion choice. I’m laughing it off now from my chair in a well-stocked beauty room and a lifetime experience of beauty treatments, but thirteen year old me would have sold my sister for a solution that would make me feel better about my appearance, at least to a less suicidal point. Microplaning is not a simple face shaving since it takes off the outermost layer of dead skin and debris, thus revealing a healthier, less prone to clogging skin, and a better absorbent canvas for skin care. The full Monty clinical procedure is relatively expensive, and frankly, I wouldn’t trust just anyone with a #11 scalpel near my face. There are several DIY options, such as the one Wayne Goss has shown on YouTube last year but it was a manual tool and not an electrical gadget, so it’s out of today’s scope. I would say that it’s better suited for an experienced microplaner, because it’s still a razor of sort. So beware. 

The one I’m talking about today is the Dermalash 2.0 ($189 at Sephora, Ulta, and most department stores). It’s another greedy scam to sell you an expensive device and then keep you buying the much needed refills. I wouldn’t use the same blade more than three times, and again use your Ulta points and various 20% coupons to take the sting off. It’s still annoying, but it works beautifully. Two things to know: it’s better to let the peach fuzz grow almost fully back before repeating, because that’s how it takes off most of the filth that’s caught in it. The second thing is that you must carefully eject the blade from the device so you can actually recharge it. It needs to be placed (blade-free) head down into the base. The LED light will indicate that it’s charging. Too many people didn’t fully read the manual (it’s confusing) and have returned fully functional units because they couldn’t figure out this little detail. The results I’ve been seeing over the last months (since the 2.0 model was launched) have made me a believer. I wish I could show my mustachioed and side-burnt teenage self all these wonders. 

One last note: Clarisonic. I still have my first generation brush I’ve written about back in the day and a stash of the old brush heads since I’ve heard they’ve changed, and not all brush types have improved. I’ll check it in due course. To the one I bought all those years ago joined a MIA Fit a few years ago ($219 wherever Clarisonic products are sold. I think this model might be in the process of phasing out in favor of a  bright and shiny new thing). It was a PR gift which has been serving well and traveled the world with me. Except that first time in Italy when I realized the PR package didn’t include a charging cable. I ordered one immediately and it was waiting for me when I got home, but the hilarity in the shower was unnecessary. In any case, I love my Clarisonic brushes and I’m secretly coveting the ultimate prize in the series, the Mia Smart Luxe Ultimate Collection ($299) that also includes a face massager and and eye awakening device (and hopefully a butler that looks and sounds like Tim Gunn to administer all these treatment).

How do you feel about beauty gadgets? Any recommendations?


  1. Hi Gaia, I find some of the newer gadgets a little intimidating! Especially gadgets like microcurrent therapy tools. I think my Clarisonic cleansing brush is as far as I go and even then I don't use mine often. I find my skin gets irritated the more I use it. Besides, I love the feeling of cleansing and giving myself a nice facial massage, it's quite relaxing!
    In regards to Dermaplaning, I've been doing that since the mid-90's and it's quite effective at keeping my acne at bay and keeping the fuzzies in control. I don't think I could ever do it myself though, best left to the professionals.

  2. Oh, I have been wanting a foreo ufo and dermalash, but those prices! I know - Sephora sale. But still. . . THe thing I have actually been coveting the most (because my husband's razor actually works well in removing my peach fuzz), is the Nuface trinity toner.


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