After telling the Strategist about the EtekCity massager making the rounds among a certain set in L.A., I received many enthusiastic thank-you notes from folks who went out and bought the inexpensive device. But to each, I would reply, “don’t thank me, thank Anna Zahn” — the lymphatic massage specialist and founder of the spa Ricari Studios, who first recommended it to her clients (one of whom recommended it to me). Turns out, the EtekCity is just one of many “funky Amazon recommendations” Zahn has for inexpensive gadgets you can use at home to replicate the results of pricey esthetician-grade or brand-name devices — all of which she’s tested herself, and bought only after “checking reviews and researching if it’s from an established brand.”
Before getting into her list of dupe devices, Zahn — who is soon opening a New York City location of her spa — notes none are miracle products that provide overnight benefits. And when using any at home, you (of course) will not get the expertise that comes from professionals’ years of training. But, when used at home regularly, she says many of the gadgets help stimulate blood flow, promote lymphatic drainage, and work the body in the same way Ricari’s treatments are designed to do, which over time can result in better-looking skin and other health benefits. “You can’t go to the gym once and expect to be cut, you can’t water a plant once and expect it to grow. But any type of [regular] circulation, stimulation of the skin tissue, will absolutely improve the quality of your skin.” For best results, Zahn stresses to regularly sanitize all of these products (for that, she likes these wipes), and like with anything she recommends to non-clients, she encourages “cross-referencing home use [of the devices] with your dermatologist.”
For an at-home high-frequency electrical-current treatment
Likely familiar territory to anyone who’s had a facial (or specifically seen a derm for acne treatments), the technology behind high-frequency electrical current devices was originally developed by Nicola Tesla to address skin infections. Typically, the devices used feature a glass bulb at the end of a wand that contains an oscillating low-level electrical current. When the wand touches the skin, enriched oxygen kills bacteria, and the current makes blood vessels contract, which can reduce inflammation, help the body heal wounds (like acne scars), and increase circulation. Starting in the ’70s, these devices have been sold directly to spas from manufacturers like Paragon, Equipro, and Jellen, sometimes as part of more elaborate, medical-grade machines. But today, Zahn says that this specific high-frequency technology is readily available on Amazon, for the “go-to purpose of zapping bacteria and preventing breakouts as part of your cleansing routine at home.”
Zahn says “there’s not a difference in effectiveness” between at-home models and most high-frequency devices used by professionals. She says that her favorite NuDerma device — which costs $20 less than a $60 Pro Skin facial treatment at New York City’s Dermalogica spa that incorporates a similar device — has 10 watts of power, making it “is safe and gentle for home use every day.” To use, simply plug it in and pass the bulb over your just-washed face for five minutes, or however long it takes to cover the area. Zahn’s go-to Amazon device comes with multiple attachments — the ones she uses most are the mushroom tube, which is wider and thus covers more of the skin’s surface area, and the ball probe, which she says is good for blemishes. She also suggests “using gauze [as a layer between the wand and the skin] because of the increased sanitation, and because it seems to help the device move more easily over the skin.”
For an at-home radio-frequency facial
Radio frequency facials using medical-grade equipment are the exclusive domain of plastic surgeons and medspas, and a standard two-hour treatment will on average start around $2,000. Venus Viva and Thermage are the two prominent devices professionals use for these treatments; they create pinlike punctures in skin to deliver radio waves that convert to heat at deeper layers, promising benefits that include firming and lifting the face, softening fine lines, and stimulating collagen production. Zahn says “the immediate tightening results” of radio-frequency facials “are truly amazing,” but notes that “even Thermage is not a one stop shop: You need to continue to upkeep with cellular stimulation or repeat Thermage every six months to a year.”
For her at-home upkeep, Zahn uses the not inexpensive (but far less than $2000) MLay device. It operates at a much lower frequency than a Thermage, which Zahn admits won’t deliver the same immediate tightening. “Using the MLay one time won’t give you a complete lift in the jawline,” she says, “but with regular use over time it can really help stimulate the areas that tend to sag, and make the skin supple and tight.” The lower frequency, though, again makes it safer for home use, she explains. For best results, she recommends using it on your face for 10 minutes every other day over a couple of weeks, of course noting and adjusting to any irritation or issues. “Once you feel like you’re starting to notice the effects: firmer skin, improved color and circulation, then you can drop down to once a week or as needed,” she adds.
For an at-home cupping treatment
Zahn says that cupping, an ancient therapy in Eastern medicine, is the treatment she does most consistently at home, basing her technique on the cupping program she developed with L.A.–based acupuncturist Dr. Ryan Monahan for Ricari. Monahan told me the benefits of cupping include “improving the circulation of fresh, oxygenated blood in the body, and clearing toxins and cellular debris through the lymphatic system while improving skin tissues’ nutrient supply.” Full-body treatments can cost $75 on average, and because the tools used by professionals are relatively similar to those you’d use at home, Zahn says the biggest sacrifice you make with at-home cupping treatments is expertise, and that professionals like Monahan will often have assistants to help them. But Zahn says that, with the help of some video tutorials and a friend with an extra set of hands, you can learn enough to replicate the benefits at home.
Cupping can either require manually moving a cup around to massage the whole body, or placing a cup in a single spot to heal specific muscle injuries. Different tools are used based on the treatment, but for moving cupping, specialists like Monahan typically use glass cups. A fire is lit inside each cup, then extinguished before a cup is placed on the body, and as the air inside the cup cools, it creates a suction force that stimulates blood vessels in the skin. Zahn’s preferred at-home set is not glass, but silicone, making them even simpler to use. “They’re really benevolent and easy to handle,” she says. Instead of using fire to create the suction force, with these, you simply press down on each cup to create the vacuum effect on skin. Zahn suggests first “applying a body oil, because if you try to use the cups on bare skin you won’t be able to move them properly.” Then, after applying a cup, “massage out the tissue in all directions, finishing by moving the cup upwards towards the heart to encourage lymphatic drainage and circulation.” To get the hang of it, she suggests watching this video tutorial (fast-forward to the six-minute mark to get straight to the technique). And Monahan notes that you should be careful not to cup skin “that is damaged, wounded, or with moles or any other growths or abnormalities.”
For an at-home cellulite-reduction treatment
Pretty much all anti-cellulite machines that med spas use for targeted cellulite reduction treatments incorporate deep massage, according to Zahn, who notes there are often other technologies at play — like vacuum, suction, or heating and cooling elements. Massage underpins cellulite-reduction treatments, though, because it helps with lymphatic drainage and circulation, which inturn reduces fluid retention and minimizes the appearance of cellulite.
To replicate the benefits of these treatments at home, Zahn says you could use a $600 TheraGun (a device she says she loves) — or this far less expensive Ameiseye massager. It only has three strengths, she says, so “it’s a bit on the lighter side in terms of stimulation,” and does not have the force or precision of a TheraGun or spa-grade devices used in cellulite-reduction treatments. Zahn adds that this means you’d need to use it at least every other day (though there’s no harm in using it daily) before you start to notice any reduction in the appearance of cellulite — which, she notes, is not something you can ever “get rid of” because “cellulite is genetically and hormonally driven, and can change over time.” The Ameiseye massager is gentle enough that it can also be used “on your face around your sinuses” to drain lymph pockets that build up there, according to Zahn. For best results, she suggests using the device directly on skin you want to target “after applying a face or body oil” (she likes Sunday Riley CEO Glow). [Editor’s note: The massager is currently only available via third-party sellers that charge extra shipping costs.]
For an at-home microneedling treatment
Using tiny needles to puncture and resurface the skin is an ancient practice. Most estheticians that offer this treatment use a machine with optional needle lengths (.5-, 1-, 1.5-millimeter) combined with manual rolling. Like cupping, having it professionally done comes with added expertise of use — you can trust your esthetician’s tools to be of the utmost cleanliness, Zahn says, and a pro’s trained hands are less likely to wound skin. But manual rollers are still a very popular at-home tool (Rio has written about how she uses one to combat hyperpigmentation). Before taking one to your face, though, Zahn recommends “checking in with an esthetician; if anything, bring yours in and have them do a little tutorial with you. Especially if you’re acne prone, it can potentially worsen.”
Her preferred at-home roller (which has appeared in a Strategist gift guide before) is even less expensive than Rio’s — its needles are .25 mm, a size Zahn says makes it great for using as an exfoliant/skin prepper before applying other products. (Rio’s roller’s .5 mm needles, and larger ones, are better for treating serious skin wounds like scars and marks, according to Zahn.) She says you get the best results by using it on a freshly washed face and applying an active serum after rolling, recommending this vitamin C serum — which, incidentally, has also appeared in Rio’s skin-care Google doc. To ensure it’s of the utmost cleanliness, Zahn also says to soak the roller in alcohol or antiseptic before and after use.
For an at-home microdermabrasion treatment
“These are everywhere in Korea and Japan, where there is a culture of tackling air pollution for skin health,” Zahn told me, adding “they seem to be making their way over here.” She admits that she’s only received one treatment where a skin “spatula” like this was used, noting that the esthetician used it instead of traditional microdermabrasion tools or acids that can be too harsh on some skin types. But because they’re the opposite of harsh, you should not expect a spatula like this to immediately deliver results on par with those of a dermatologist-administered peel or microdermabrasion.
Zahn uses her Ricank spatula to exfoliate, loosen dirt and grime in pores, and help any active serums or other products penetrate deeper into skin (and says its as gentle as an electric toothbrush or proper facial-cleansing brushes like a Clarisonic). “When your pores feel congested, when you’ve been wearing a lot of layers of makeup, or when you’ve spent a lot of time in polluted air,” are all times she suggests reaching for it. Zahn adds that, due to its shape, the device also makes a great blackhead extractor, and that the light, manual scraping movement you make while using it makes the spatula really effective at removing facial cleanser. [Editor’s note: Though the product photo shows two scrubbers, the price shown is for one, according to Amazon.]
For a Biomat
A lot of spas (like Skin Worship and Ricari in L.A. and EVO in Mill Valley) offer the perk of a warming infrared mat for clients to lie on during treatment, while other spas (like New York City’s La Casa) offer specific infrared-mat treatments for healing or relaxation. These mats — the gold standard of which is the $1,500 Biomat beloved by folks like Moon Juice founder Amanda Chantal Bacon — plug into the wall to produce infrared rays that recreate the properties of natural sunlight on skin, without the harmful UV radiation. Zahn explains that a mat with these properties “can help boost production of healthy cell tissue, increase circulation, relieve muscle soreness and calm the nervous system.” In addition to modern spas, infrared mats are “used on pro athletes, in hospitals, and are a godsend if you’re sick or have any injury. My mom, who’s had multiple surgeries, sleeps on hers every night.”
Her Amazon picks aren’t cheap, but the most expensive one is almost a third of the price of the Biomat, and both deliver the same Infrared benefits, according to Zahn. She explains the difference in price between her at-home models and a Biomat is in part due to name recognition, but also the types of healing crystals utilized in each mat. Of her two favorites, the MediCrystal has Amethyst and Tourmaline stones packed into tubes that line the interior of the mat — which Zahn notes that people “sometimes find a bit uncomfortable,” and will pad the mat with fleece. Zahn says the even lower-priced HealthyLine mat, which is beloved by many of her staffers, is a great entry level infrared mat that has jade discs woven into its fabric (instead of packed into tubes like those on the MediCrystal mat). She says both mats are “permanent fixtures in my living room,” and that she’ll lay on one every day for at least 15 minutes.
For a Déesse LED mask
LED light therapy for skin is ubiquitous in high-end spa treatments (including those at Ricari), with masks using the energy of different light wavelengths to promote collagen, improve skin’s texture, and encourage cellular turnover. Because it is not a new or protected technology, LED gizmos can be pretty inexpensive to find (Rio has written about a $52 LED wand she uses to “stop pimples in their tracks”). When you’re paying more for an LED device, it’s probably for better design, ease of use, customizable programs, or simply more bulbs. The gold standard beloved by celebrity estheticians like faciast Joanna Czech is the Déesse mask, versions of which Czech sells for a cool $1,900 (and Amazon sells for $2500).
When researching LED devices that might be comparable, Zahn found an FDA-approved photorejuvenation mask from CSBY on Amazon, which she now uses everyday at home. She says the quality of light that her CSBY mask and the Déesse mask emit is basically the same, though the Déesse offers eight low-light treatment modes compared to the CSBY’s seven, and the Déesse has a whopping 770 LED lights compared to her CSBY model’s 192. [Editor’s note: Zahn’s CSBY mask is currently sold out, but the mask shown is a very close cousin; it also offers seven light treatment modes, but is a bit smaller than Zahn’s model that partially covers the neck as well as face, and likely has fewer LED lights.] At a basic level, the Déesse’s higher bulb count means it emits more LED light than the CSBY mask, but Zahn says it’s hard to tell “at what point do the number of lights make a noticeable difference?” More important than the number of lights is consistency in use, according to Zahn, who says if you use the CSBY mask for 15–20 minutes everyday you will notice a difference in the brightness and tone of your skin after about a month. She adds: “Some of my clients who’ve followed the same protocol have told me it reduces light wrinkles.”