Medically reviewed by Susan Kerrigan, MD and Marianne Madsen, University of Utah
Once upon a time, cosmetics as a whole were only for the affluent–even nail polish or rouge meant a considerable investment into one’s looks–an expense that could put them out of reach for many of the lower classes. Today, though, it’s not just makeup that’s widely available off the shelf–you can take home entire cosmetic medical procedures in one handy little device.
Easily one of the most common examples in this field is laser hair removal, a procedure that was once altogether too costly for many and ran a high risk of inducing skin cancer later in life. Today, the delicate apparatus once needed for actual laser radiation has been replaced with a compact device (hardly bigger than a large wallet) available in a wide range of strengths and sizes for different needs. The dangerous laser itself has been replaced with a system called Intense Pulsed Light (or IPL) that prevents carcinogenic effects by using diffuse light to weaken the hair roots instead of a continual concentrated beam.
Dental care has seen a similar rise in home treatment products, ranging from basic technological upgrades like the electric toothbrush to the increasingly popular home whitening kits. These sets use a number of methods to ensure that every user walks away with the same brilliant smile; some will use chemicals to dislodge buildups, others concentrated water jets or light pulses to inhibit plaque growth. Either version of the product still has users expecting noticeable results from a single, relatively small device that should spare the user a trip to the dentist.
Skin care products have found themselves an unlikely class in this category, with manufacturers of every description marketing tools that claim to work wonders, often with “our new, patented, noninvasive radio frequency vibration technique” or a similar claim. While it is possible to achieve the results these advertisements so frequently tout, only some of these products have any proven medical effect, and users should check carefully before trusting their appearance or wallet to such an item.
Are these at-home kits sometimes a fad? Certainly some devices leave users sorely disappointed and often can’t replace an actual visit to the dentist, dermatologist, or esthetician. Naturally, this is not to say that newer devices are inferior to older treatments; many of them are concrete improvements over the large apparatus once needed for simple treatments. The main concern of many legitimate practitioners is that these gadgets will be taken as a substitute for qualified medical consultation and a lasting solution to the issue at hand. Podiatrists, for instance, may notice an increase in the number of pre-made posture correction items but those who use them become less likely to get measured for a proper arch support and therefore may end up actually losing out in the long-term.
Since these devices are often cosmetic in nature, there is no pressing danger to the users should they fail to seek genuine medical advice. The main fear in such a case is that in more serious situations, such as illness, the patients may be tempted to employ a “home remedy” gadget rather than see a doctor. Even the gadgets themselves seem to be aware of this phenomenon, and many now sport a clear warning instructing the user to seek medical advice before use because after all: better late than never.