Many cosmetic treatments that were once the sole preserve of clinics are now available for home use. Considering investing? Dr Lowe gives his expert opinion on the various technologies that are out there.
Pulsed Light and Laser Hair Removal Systems
Clinics have been using both Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) and lasers to remove unwanted hair for some time. Although they are not the same, these treatments work in a similar way - short bursts of high energy light are absorbed by the pigment in the hair and heat up the follicle, damaging the root and thereby preventing hair growth.
Recently, DIY light-based hair removal systems have been introduced. But is the technology safe and effective? "There's no doubt that both at-home pulsed light and laser systems can work if they're delivering the correct wavelengths and sufficient power for hair removal. But given the limitations on power levels necessary to minimise side effects, they may not be as effective as clinic-based systems," says Dr Lowe.
"People with pale skin and dark hair are the best candidates - pale hair tends to lack sufficient pigment for successful treatment, so always check the manufacturer's recommendations. If you have very fair or white hair, dark skin - or even a tan - you should avoid using such systems as the melanin in your skin will absorb the light energy and this can cause skin pigmentation problems and even damage."
Conclusion: Some people will find these systems a convenient way to reduce hair growth. However, bear in mind that light-based hair removal is most effective during the active phase of the growth cycle of hair - the anagen phase - and as hairs are always in different stages of this cycle, multiple treatments are necessary.
Spot Zapping Devices
Most of us have experienced that dreaded moment when a large spot begins to rear its ugly head just when we need it least - before a big date or important job interview. Now, there are gadgets that aim to help clear mild to moderate acne by delivering precisely targeted, low level heat to the spot or exposing skin to visible light from photon light devices.
"There have been studies that show heat therapy works because it causes the bacteria responsible for spots - p.acnes - to self-destruct," says Dr Lowe. "It's possible it may also damage cells called cytokines that release inflammation-inducing chemicals. However, how useful you will find it depends on how many spots you have. I would suggest it's more appropriate if you suffer the occasional large spot than if the problem is widespread."
Visible light therapy has been promoted to address many skin concerns and may use light emitting diodes (LEDs), possibly accelerating skin healing. "We have trialed professional systems in the clinic and the wavelengths that I have found to be of value are the violet wavelengths because they help to clear p-acnes bacteria," Dr Lowe reports. "If you invest in a home device, bear in mind you have to commit to a regular treatment plan to see results."
Conclusion: Both heat and visible light therapy can help to clear blemishes and as such, may be useful tools in a properly targeted skincare regime. Dr Nick Lowe's Anti-Blemish Range has been dermatologically formulated to help reduce inflammation and maintain a clear complexion.
Professional chemical peels are used to address a range of skin problems including reducing out hyperpigmentation and smoothing lines and scars. Active ingredients include: alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) such as lactic and glycolic acids; beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs) such as salicylic acid and the deeper-acting trichloroacetic acid (TCA).
They all have a similar action in that they remove the outer layers of the skin, revealing a fresh layer beneath and they stimulate the dermis to produce new collagen. How deeply they work is dependent upon the strength of the product and the length of time they are left on the skin before neutralising.
Home-use versions work on a more superficial level than in-clinic procedures. "The concept is fine but some of these products still have quite a high percentage of actives. If you have sensitive skin, be cautious as they can cause irritancy. Also, whatever your skin type, you shouldn't overuse them - once every two weeks is probably enough," says Dr Lowe.
Conclusion: Occasional use of DIY peels can be helpful to smooth the skin and even out tone and they may be useful to maintain improvements gained after a clinic peel or IPL treatment. Post-peel, daily sunscreen protection from UV light is vital such as Dr Nick Lowe's SP15 Super Charged Day Cream or the Secret Is Out Lifting Cream.
In clinic-based microdermabrasion procedures, the practitioner moves a small handset over the skin that blasts and sucks away very fine crystals such as aluminium salts or sodium bicarbonate, simultaneously loosening and removing dead surface cells. This refreshes the skin's surface. It can also help treat whiteheads, blackheads and minimise superficial scars.
There are now a variety of home microdermabrasion gadgets that are inspired by professional treatments, intensifying the effect of special cleansers. Dr Nick Lowe says: "Many DIY devices aren't as powerful as those used by physicians but may help to treat roughness and comedogenic acne."
Although not microdermbrasion in the traditional sense, another DIY skin-cleansing method uses brush heads with sonic frequency to loosen dirt, oil and dead cells, which can result in a smoother skin surface.
Microdermabrasion creams that you massage onto damp skin with your fingers are a safe and effective alternative. Dr Nick Lowe's Cooling Menthol Scrub, which contains spherical micro beads, gently smoothes skin, purifies pores and helps stimulate cell renewal.
Conclusion: As with peels, at-home microdermabrasion can help to smooth the skin or maintain in-clinic procedures but overuse can lead to irritation.
This technology, used by aestheticians for nearly 20 years, is often referred to as a non-surgical facelift. A low-level electrical current is used with the aim of stimulating muscle tone, circulation and lymphatic drainage. It's also claimed micro-current technology can help to trigger the skin to produce more collagen and elastin. Now, there are many at-home systems available.
"I can see how the concept might work but the question is whether the benefits would be long-term," says Dr Lowe. It's possibly worth considering as a complementary treatment to other clinic-based skin rejuvenation procedures such as peels, Botox and fillers.
Conclusion: Not a quick-fix. You have to be willing to adhere to a maintenance programme. Check with your GP if you have a pacemaker or any heart rhythm irregularity.
The theory behind both physician operated and at-home systems is that controlled radiofrequency energy is used to heat the skin beneath the surface, causing the collagen to tighten. It's also suggested that in turn, this stimulates collagen production.
"Radiofrequency is only transmitted to a relative superficial part of the skin and although this therapy can produce some tightening of the collagen fibres, the degree of tightening you experience may be relatively mild," suggests Dr Lowe.
Conclusion: It's probably worth trying a clinic-based radiofrequency treatment such as Thermage first, to help you judge whether it's worthwhile investigating a home-use system. You may find a DIY device useful in a maintenance programme.
Anti-Cellulite Mechanical Massagers
For many years, beauty therapists have used mechanical massage systems that roll and suck the skin to stimulate circulation and knead the tissue in order to help reduce dimpling. Now, home devices are available that aim to replicate this action.
"Certainly, intense massage and kneading on localised areas can improve the appearance of dimpling. But even if skin looks better, I would suggest such visible effects are temporary," says Dr Lowe.
Conclusion: There's no harm in trying mechanical massagers but you have to be prepared to continue using them to preserve any benefits long term.
Lightening Preparations for Dark Spots
Alongside home peels and microdermabrasion, there are many non-prescription products that contain ingredients that have a lightening effect on hyperpigmented areas - for example liquorice, niacinamide (vitamin B3) and mulberry extract.
"Over the counter preparations tend to be less effective than in-clinic approaches, which include the use of professional glycolic peels, pulsed light treatments, lasers and microdermabrasion, but they can be helpful, either in conjunction with physician-administered procedures or prescription creams, or used alone in mild to moderate cases, " says Dr Lowe. Indeed, Dr Lowe has formulated Brightening Radiance Cream and Dark Circles Correcting Cream and both contain Niacinamide and liquorice extract to help fade dark skin pigmentation.
"Crucially, you must always combine any lightening treatments with a broad spectrum sunscreen, used daily to guard against new pigmentation occurring - otherwise, you're simply wasting your money," he adds.
Conclusion: At-home treatments can be useful if pigmentation problems aren't severe.
Laser Light Technology to Stimulate Hair Growth
This involves using a comb-like device that emits laser light in the visible red spectrum in order to help increase blood flow and cellular activity to stimulate hair growth.
"There have been placebo-controlled studies that show this technology can work. However, the growth may be mild and you have to be disciplined enough to use it regularly," says Dr Lowe.
Conclusion: It could prove useful for men and women with early thinning hair but it is not likely to be of such help to those with very noticeable hair loss.
Electro-Inhibition of Muscles to Smooth Lines
This technology uses electronic impulses to relax muscles in the central and upper part of the face that contribute to the formation of wrinkles. Another aim of relaxing these muscles is to help others at the back and upper areas of the head to re-establish their role in overall muscular balance, helping the face appear more relaxed and 'open'.
"It may help those with mild frown lines caused by frowning," says Dr Lowe. "But it's unlikely to improve all kinds of lines on the face."
Conclusion: May be useful for addressing the appearance of fine lines caused by stress and tension - and there's no reason it can't be used in conjunction with other treatments, for example, anti-ageing creams. However, you would need to use this technology on an ongoing treatment basis and electrode patches need replacing after approximately 20 treatments.