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We Asked So You Don't Have To: An Expert Guide To Facial Tools

Hannah Frye
Author:
March 18, 2022
Hannah Frye
mbg Assistant Beauty Editor
By Hannah Frye
mbg Assistant Beauty Editor
Hannah Frye is the Assistant Beauty Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.S. in journalism and a minor in women’s, gender, and queer studies from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Hannah has written across lifestyle sections including health, wellness, sustainability, personal development, and more.
Image by Alina Hvostikova / Stocksy
March 18, 2022
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Oh, the vast, vast world of facial tools. On beauty websites and in stores alike, there's an entire dedicated section for these ever-changing devices. Looking to prevent breakouts? There's a tool for that. Craving more bounce-back from your skin? Many tools for that. Trying to define your cheekbones via lymphatic massage? Countless tools for that as well. 

No matter the mission, there's a tool or two that will claim to treat the problem—and many of them can certainly do exactly as advertised. But the part we sometimes miss when we talk about these popular and exciting devices is who they're best for. Remember: Not everything is made for your unique skin type, so before you go and make a purchase, do a little digging to see if it's compatible with your needs.

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We asked the experts to give you the ultimate guide to navigating the world of face tools (or at least eight of the most popular options). 

Gua sha

When we mention lymphatic drainage, many of you probably think of a gua sha. This is valid, given that this tool has gained more attention in recent years. But, the gua sha technique actually has an extremely long and sacred history in Chinese medicine and was used to both prevent and treat disease. (You can read more about the history of gua sha here.) In the words of one of our favorite Chinese medicine experts Debbie Kung, DAOM, LAc: "Facial gua sha is medicine in your hands. That tool you're holding in your hands has thousands of years of ancient wisdom."

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Usage: 

Most people can benefit from gua sha when done correctly, as its primary beauty benefit is to provide long-lasting contouring and definition in the face, as well as increase lymphatic drainage and microcirculation to the area. However, don't use gua sha over any areas with open wounds (active pimples) or on a burn of any sort. 

Enter rule No. 1 of gua sha: Take the time to learn how to gua sha your face properly. When we use gua sha tools, it's important to honor where the technique and tool design originated, and be sure to use the tool as intended. 

This is important for so many reasons, as using it incorrectly can actually cause wrinkles in the skin. There are tons of resources online to learn how to use a gua sha, but you can also go to professionals who have experience in gua sha facial massage. 

As for the gua sha stone itself? "The tool is not as important as the technique," according to Kung. This means you don't necessarily have to mess around with a ton of different shapes in order to achieve great results, but you should try to buy them from a company that honors the cultural history. Kung's go-to gua sha provider? The Essentialist

Facial steamers 

For some, using a facial steamer may be more of a luxurious experience rather than a tool used to achieve a certain outcome. Meaning: It's more about the spa-like vibe than it is the results. In a professional setting, steam is used to help with extractions—but let us remind you that you shouldn't perform extractions at home. 

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Usage: 

The truth? You don't really need a facial steamer. The benefits often don't outweigh the risks at the end of the day—especially for novices. The occasional steam treatment may feel nice, and it certainly does have benefits, but it's not something to be used without caution as you can actually burn the skin. "It only takes burning yourself one time to realize you went too hard," Kung says. 

Additionally, those who are prone to ruddiness should definitely avoid it. "The chronic flushing of facial skin can result in the accumulation of broken and dilated blood vessels, leading to a mottled and ruddy complexion over time," Rachel Nazarian, M.D., of Schweiger Dermatology Group in NYC notes. 

All of that being said, if you want to try it at home, be sure to use high-quality steamers, and don't steam more than once a week, as board-certified dermatologist and co-founder of LM Medical in NYC Morgan Rabach, M.D., previously told mbg. 

Face cupping

Facial cupping is another lymphatic drainage method that's used to move blood around the body for better circulation. Cupping is an ancient practice with roots in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), where the skin is suctioned away from the rest of the body in order to stimulate the flow of chi. It's similar to gua sha in a way but has its own long list of do's and don'ts when it comes to the how-to. 

You've likely seen the body counterpart of this practice—and the nasty bruises that come with it. Don't worry: "Body cupping uses cups applied to specific areas for a longer period of time, which creates the bruising we are accustomed to," notes celebrity facialist and founder of Cecilia Wong Skincare Cecilia Wong, which is not true of the facial routine. 

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Usage:

Lymphatic drainage expert Camila Perez says she prefers to use it on the body and prefers gua sha for the face. On occasion, she'll reach for a cupping tool for facial sculpting but says, "Gentle is better," when it comes to navigating this tool. 

Because cupping creates a negative suction on the skin, you run the risk of damage if you pull too hard. As we said before, it's best to consult an expert, as everyone's skin is different. If you've consulted with an expert and are ready to try at home, there are many different cupping sets out there, one of the more popular being the SkinGym Facial Cupping Set.

Derma roller

Derma rollers create dozens of tiny punctures to the skin when rolled across the face creating tiny "wounds," although the needles are generally only 0.25 millimeter in depth. They're basically the at-home version of microneedling, which is a popular cosmetic procedure. The skin reacts to the tiny damages the needles create by resurfacing and restructuring, resulting in a brighter and smoother complexion. 

There's a caveat: With wounds, no matter how tiny, comes the risk of infection. The same applies here, especially if you use the tool incorrectly or don't cleanse it perfectly (which is a pretty intense process, I might add). 

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Usage: 

We'll spare you the time and potential infection; leave microneedling to the pros. As an esthetician, Perez has seen it all and knows the ins and outs of esthetic procedures. She tells her patients, "At home, do your skin care, chemical exfoliation, and maintain healthy skin," but recommends skipping the DIY version of this complex procedure. 

Side note: If you're suffering from rosacea or eczema, it's best to avoid microneedling altogether.

Microcurrent 

These tools may seem intimidating, but they're becoming more and more user-friendly. If you want an in-depth explanation of microcurrent tools, dive on in. But we'll keep it short for now: These tools work by sending currents into your facial muscles. The result? Skin that's lifted and contoured. "If I could be plugged into a microcurrent machine all day, I would be," Perez says when asked for her POV on these high-tech devices. 

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Perez explains that they have the power to truly transform the appearance of your skin, but it's something that takes dedication. So, if you're an on-again, off-again type of facial tool user, maybe skip the microcurrent devices. It's important to invest in a high-quality product, which can get fairly pricey. Not to mention, you need a water-based conductive gel in order for the device to do its job—an added cost to the routine. 

Long story short: If you're dedicated to improving the appearance of your skin, microcurrent is the way to go. It's an investment, but the benefits are worth it. Two of our top picks are the Nuface Mini or Ziip Gx Series.

If you're not so into the idea of committing to yet another step in your skin care routine—or just are self-aware enough to understand that you're not going to be diligent—opt for something that takes less effort and has a less expensive price point, like a gua sha or face roller. 

LED light

You've probably seen the red light masks all over the digital beauty space. Now, more companies are moving toward light wands and other versions of the same device. LED red light therapy works because the light emitted activates the fibroblasts in each cell, which helps build collagen. 

This tool can help to reduce fine lines, speed up wound healing, help with inflammation and redness, and improve overall circulation, Susana Salazar, a holistic esthetician at Studio Britta, previously told mbg. 

Usage:

Anyone who is looking for skin longevity and inflammaging reduction could benefit from one of these masks. There's a major key to getting an LED light tool that works, and that's to look for at least 660 nanometers of red light in your device. Any less, and you're essentially holding a Christmas light up to your face. 

Note that these tools should not be used on anyone with a sunburn or open wound. 

Cleansing brush 

The famous face brush was something in all the beauty magazines a few years ago: The quintessential face brush claimed to work by removing the top layer of dead skin cells and debris from the face. In the last several years, however, they have since faded out. The question remains: Should we be using a brush to clean our face? Where did all the buzzing brushes go? 

Usage: 

The short answer: You don't need to. In fact, we encourage you not to. 

The long answer: These brushes can even be stripping to the skin and cause dryness. "Harsh brushes are some of the worst ways to remove dead skin cell buildup," notes holistic skin care practitioner and acne specialist Zaida Gordon, the founder of SkintegrityLA. If you're looking to exfoliate, a chemical exfoliant is a better choice. That being said, if you absolutely must use a cleansing brush, try out a silicone-based one instead, as they're easier to clean and more sanitary (for what it's worth, Gordon agrees on silicone-based options, too). ​

Cryo face globes 

These chilly tools have been especially popular as of late, inspiring more and more brands to come out with their take on the original skin icing method that's been used for ages all across the world. The main allure that comes with cryo tools is the much-needed depuffing effect they provide in the morning. Not to mention, they feel great on the skin. 

Usage: 

Most people can benefit from a little depuffing at some point, no? As always, there are a few things to keep in mind when using these tools. First being, "It's a temporary fix," as Kung says. The contouring that you see when rolling an ice globe over the face comes from the shrinking of dilated blood vessels. The cool temperate tightens the skin in the moment, which makes the skin look great and can help prep the face for makeup. But it isn't going to reduce puffiness permanently, so look to gua sha or microcurrent for that long-term effect. 

Experts recommend sticking to cryo tools rather than an ice cube, as the latter could burn your skin. In addition, be sure to follow the directions because some tools are meant for the fridge, while others are safe to go in the freezer. 

And for those with acne breakouts, these tools are especially great for you: Simply place the cryo tool on an inflamed pimple to reduce redness and utilize the chilly tool to gain some relief if you have a sunburn. 

The takeaway. 

After all is said and done, preference matters more than anything else. There are countless face tools out there, and there's bound to be more as time goes on. This can make it hard to navigate, so be sure to do your research and always follow directions. If using these tools at home isn't appealing to you, there are specialized facials that can have the same impact. Remember: Don't hesitate to ask a professional before embarking on a skin tool spree, because it's better to be safe than sorry.

Hannah Frye
Hannah Frye
mbg Assistant Beauty Editor

Hannah Frye is the Assistant Beauty Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.S. in journalism and a minor in women’s, gender, and queer studies from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Hannah has written across lifestyle sections including health, wellness, sustainability, personal development, and more. She previously interned for Almost 30, a top-rated health and wellness podcast. In her current role, Hannah reports on the latest beauty trends, holistic skincare approaches, must-have makeup products, and inclusivity in the beauty industry. She currently lives in New York City.