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Are Electrical Currents The Acne Solution Of The Future?


You may have heard that electrical current is good for tightening, smoothing, and lifting—but did you know it could also help with breakouts? That’s exactly what I discovered when I started using the Total Clearing treatment program on the Ziip. When I rolled the device over a zit, my skin felt different—more zappy? Tingly? The surface of the pimple would feel different immediately after too, and then by the next day swelling would be reduced and the pimple would be pretty much gone. What was up? And why couldn’t I get the same effect when I used a different at-home electrical current device?

To figure out how what I was seeing could be true, I called Melanie Simon, the creator of Ziip. “It’s something that I figured out through 15 years of doing treatments,” she said, noting she was originally just as surprised as I was. “When I stayed in one setting specifically, I noticed people’s skin getting better.”

But first, let’s backtrack. It’s important to understand that there are two different forms of current: alternating current, and direct current. (Otherwise known as AC and DC, and not to be confused with AC/DC.) Most electrical current skincare treatments use AC, where the current switches back and forth between positive and negative charges. “In a normal alternating frequency, you’re getting half negative and half positive. It’s regenerative, because it works with currents naturally in the human body,” says Melanie. The Ziip’s firming and sculpting "Energize treatment" relies on them, as does the NuFace and more powerful professional tools. She also adds, “It’s the kind of current that Nikola Tesla was known for.”

The other kind of current, DC, picks one charge and sticks with it. Instead of alternating between a positive and negative charge, direct current uses either positive or negative charge only. In the 1800s, the difference between these two types of currents actually sparked something called the War of the Currents. “Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla used to battle each other, because Edison thought that direct current was better than alternating current,” notes Melanie. In 2019, we don’t have to pick between one or the other—she uses both, just depending on what she wants to accomplish. On breakouts, she uses negative DC.

If you took high school physics, AC and DC should be familiar concepts—it’s when Melanie starts talking about applying it to acne that things begin to get a little complicated. “Whether it’s hormonal or a blackhead or a whitehead, all acne has bacteria in it, and bacteria puts off a positive electrical charge.” She’s talking, of course, about P. acnes bacteria—bad bacteria that takes up residence on your skin and causes breakouts. When using a traditional AC program (including one on a different device, like a NuFace) you should be able to get half of that acne-busting effect. But Melanie noticed that when she used only negative current on breakouts, they seemed to diminish almost instantly.

When I got off the phone, I began to do my own research. Preliminary, studies like this one are beginning to show that Melanie might be right—DC has been effective in killing P. acnes bacteria. But I also noticed some significant holes in the explanation. First off, the above study is one of very few to take on this topic. It takes place in vitro, which means in a lab—it’s also done on rat bone, and not human skin. Plus, P. acnes bacteria seems to actually have a negative charge. Confused, I phoned a friend with a degree in chemical engineering—he confirmed that using a negative charge on negatively charged bacteria wouldn’t neutralize it at all. Here’s a seemingly promising study that uses positively charged DC current to effectively kill bacteria, but it looks like the effect may actually be mediated by something else. So maybe it’s just the anti-inflammatory effects of microcurrent in general that’s helping to reduce breakouts—although this doesn’t explain why the Ziip’s Total Clearing treatment helps more on my breakouts than any other current treatment.

So for now, and until more researchers become interested in electrical currents for acne treatment, the best supporting evidence I have is anecdotal. Not ideal, I know, but the fact remains that my breakouts heal faster after I set my Ziip to Total Clearing—something is definitely happening here. Whether that’s enough to convince you to shell out $500 on your own at-home device, I’m not quite sure—I’ll let you come to that conclusion yourself.

—Ali Oshinsky

Photo via ITG.