I can still remember the first tool I bought for my skincare routine: a manual face brush. It was the early ’90s, and it caused a frenzy in my 7th grade friend group; my friend Jenny got one and suddenly the rest of us were frantically trying to track one down for ourselves. It felt so luxurious to gently scrub my foaming face wash into my blackhead-covered skin. But in all my excitement over having this cool, new, It Thing, I never stopped to ask myself some very important questions, like: What does it actually do? Is it helping? Do I need it?
While times have changed and so has my skin, I’m still drooling over skincare tools at 42. And now, the market is saturated with all sorts of gadgets that make a bevy of promises. Lately I’ve been eyeing devices that use vibration and massage as their key modality. Many of these tools boast of results like smoothing fine lines, sculpting the face, lymphatic drainage, and less facial tension.
“Vibrating skincare tools are meant to replicate some of the benefits of traditional massage therapy,” Jolie De Feis, an esthetician-in-training who also writes the wonderful newsletter Hotline Skin, told me. That was all I needed to hear to get on board. But this time, I also made sure to answer the questions I never considered when I was younger.
To start, what does a vibrating skincare tool do? “Vibration enhances circulation and blood flow to the skin that can cause a temporary immediate ‘glow’ and enhanced lymphatic drainage could reduce fluid retention and puffiness to some degree,” says NYC-based dermatologist Dr. Blair Rose. “The increased blood flow could enhance delivery of nutrients to the skin and therefore effect some longer-term benefits for skin health. The visible changes, generally speaking, if any, would be subtle.”
As for the long-term benefits to your skin, De Feis tells me, “Vibration on its own will likely only have temporary effects, but you would see a reduction in puffiness and tension. It’s also possible that overtime you’ll notice improvements in your skin because the vibration is allowing your products to penetrate deeper. Regardless, consistency is crucial to notice any long-lasting change.”
But in order to determine if I actually need a vibrating skincare tool, I’d have to try some out. So, I got my serum-covered hands on Shani Darden’s Facial Sculpting Wand, Jillian Dempsey’s Gold Sculpting Bar, and Joanna Vargas’ Magic Glow Wand and spent a week with each device, incorporating them into my skincare routine to see what happened. Think of it like speed-dating, but with skincare tools. And while I can’t yet speak to the long-term effects, I do have some first impressions to share.
Jillian Dempsey Gold Sculpting Bar
To shop: $195; sephora.com
Jillian Dempsey’s Gold Sculpting Bar is indeed plated with 24 carat gold, which probably explains its hefty price tag. The vibration power is strong — it operates at 6000 vibrations per minute. My favorite part about this product, however, is how easy it is to use. I kept it on my bedside table, and loved using it at night after my skincare routine was done, massaging it upwards on my face while I read. (I followed a tutorial Dempsey did that I found on YouTube.)
Dempsey herself uses it in the morning, after her applying her face cream. It can be used before makeup to prep the skin, and is, according to her brand’s website, “incredible for de-puffing tired skin, lifting, and contouring.” I followed Dempsey’s recommendation and used it in the morning as well, and while I did not notice any major changes in skin or face shape, it sure did feel nice. It should be noted that there are a variety of different vibrating t-bar devices on the market, at much lower prices. Though I did pick one up to try for this story, and it broke after using it for a minute.
Joanna Vargas Magic Glow Wand
To shop: $285; dermstore.com
Joanna Vargas’ Magic Glow Wand also promises to reduce puffiness, and yes, give you that coveted “glow” we’re all after. This product operates in hot or cold mode, and each can be switched to vibrate as well. I used this product with both serums and face masks, as recommended, and while the ease of switching between hot and cold was impressive, the vibration was barely noticeable. I also couldn’t help but think of my beloved ice roller, which I use to de-puff my skin and costs just $13. However, my skin did have a nice glow after using this combined with products, like a hydrating face mask.
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Shani Darden Facial Sculpting Wand
To shop: $399; sephora.com
The last product I tried was Shani Darden’s Facial Sculpting Wand, which comes with two attachments (a flat disc and a smaller, rounded attachment for more targeted areas like under the eyes). This vibrating tool claims to use “high-performance sound wave technology that targets wrinkles on a deeper level—2.4 inches below skin’s surface—while boosting circulation and optimizing skin’s oxygen uptake to give the user “firmer, tighter, smoother skin.” I ran this by Dr. Rose, who clarified, “The skin is not 2.4 inches thick so that is exaggerated and, well, misleading.”
The wand also comes with a small tube of Darden’s Hyrdra Prep Gel, which you apply on your face to help the wand glide and move on the skin. (I quickly used up the bottle and promptly switched to pure aloe vera gel.) This product comes with three vibrating setting and detail instructions on how to use it on specific spots on your face, which I appreciated. I followed the steps, and I did notice a change in facial definition immediately after using it. It also doubled as a lovely facial massager, and I enjoyed just massaging my jawline with it. This product was definitely my favorite of the three (and the most expensive).
All three of these tools were fun to use, but I didn’t find any of them as life-changing as I hoped they’d be. especially at their elevated price points. As an alternative, Dr Rose says you can, “massage with your bare hands or gua sha stone, for example, [which] could bring about similar results at a lower price point.” I do love Lanshin’s gua sha tools, and Skin Gym makes a metal face contouring product called the Face Sculptor, which you can keep in your fridge for cooling benefits. De Feis is a fan of “Solawave, which is a 4-in-1 tool with vibration, red light LED, therapeutic warmth and microcurrent. It’s small, user-friendly and a great introduction to the world of skincare gadgets.”
As De Feis told me, the key to any of these gadgets is consistency. Without regular use, no skincare wand — no matter how fancy or expensive — is going to deliver any sort of magic to your skin.
The New Age is a column about beauty over 40, written by women who are over 40. Revolutionary, when you think about it! Kate Spencer and Doree Shafrir are the hosts of Forever35 Podcast. Doree’s memoir, THANKS FOR WAITING: THE JOY & WEIRDNESS OF BEING A LATE BLOOMER, is out now, and Kate’s rom-com, IN A NEW YORK MINUTE, will be published in March. Learn more at doree-shafrir.com and katespencerwrites.com.