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What to Roll on Your Face (If Anything)

Photo: Courtesy of @traceeellisross

Judging from Instagram feeds, bathroom counters across the country, and retailers from CVS to Goop, we have reached Peak Face Roller. Since the jade roller came crashing into the Western consciousness in 2016, not long after it was declared an integral step in Alicia Keys’s no-makeup beauty routine, they have become prolific, thanks in part to their adoption by social media influencers and celebrities like Tracee Ellis Ross and Meghan Markle. Courteney Cox, for one, broke her face roller out at the bar at New York’s Cipriani this summer. Now they are mutating. Their materials span the periodic table, with shapes resembling medieval weaponry … and Mariah Carey’s butterfly tattoo. The traditional Eastern stone devices have been infused with American “advancements” like pulsing electricity and LED lights.

The popularity of these products is understandable. Jade rollers, gua shas, microneedlers, and other face rollers tout the ability to induce radiance, reverse aging, lift eyebrows, drain the lymphs, replace Botox, and fight hyperpigmentation. “The goal with any of these tools is to stimulate the skin or its underlying structures,” says Upper East Side dermatologist Dendy Engelman. “And if you do that, it will help with skin quality, blood flow, fine lines, wrinkles, textures, and tone.”

These benefits only surface if you actually use the tools frequently and correctly, she says. And, when looking for guidance, nearly every aesthetician and dermatologist I spoke to cautioned against trusting Instagram influencer how-tos. Instead, Engelman suggests looking to the company who created your tool for video tutorials. “But if it’s something that you’ve bought on Amazon or have acquired and didn’t come with instructions, go online and find skin-care experts.” Tutorials produced by top-of-the-line tool brands and the world’s best facialists are safe and straightforward resources. Adds Engelman, “The concept for each of these tool categories is going to be the same no matter which brand you’ve purchased.”

David Colbert of New York Dermatology Group agrees: “They all do something. The real question is what and how much?” I set out to find out. After testing a dozen devices over the course of a month, I noticed my skin take on a glowier, healthier, more even skin tone, and my bone structure become slightly more pronounced. Here’s a breakdown of what was working and how:

The Jade Roller That Took My Sheet Masks to the Next Level

This simple and ancient Chinese tool shaped like a stone rolling pin is the gateway device. When employed with expert precision and regularity, this single roller could be used to drain the lymph system and help define your bone structure. Gentle massage of any kind will boost circulation and help oxygenate the skin for a near instant complexion boost that gets better over time. But beware of the influencer tutorial. For the most effective technique, turn to the makers of the best tools for videos. If used incorrectly, jade rollers can smoosh plump, healthy cheeks, warns superstar facialist Joanna Czech. Special precautions should be taken for people with fillers, says New York–based dermatologist Whitney Bowe. Using any face-massaging device for deep lymphatic facial massage can not only disrupt the placement of the filler, but cause the fillers to clog your lymphatic system. “If you have fillers or get fillers done, [face rollers] can cause major complications.”

I might remain the last living beauty editor (if not woman in her 30s) who is filler-free, so I roll with abandon. Using the Herbivore Botanicals’ online video tutorial as my guide, I find that Herbivore’s Jade Roller is a choice tool for not only helping to spread expensive serums (I’m looking at you, Vintner’s Daughter) without letting a single drop get wastefully absorbed by my palms, but also leveling up the luxury of the moisturizing experience. Czech prefers jade rollers to be relegated to use with sheet masks for “working the product into the skin,” moving the stone in short hashtag movements all over the mask. Though jade rollers vary greatly in price with very little change in form, they are not all created equal. I suggest avoiding anything too cheap, which is often a marker of a common design flaw: weak metal arms that allow the stone to fall off the tool with the slightest pressure. The Herbivore roller’s arms have been reinforced to tackle this very issue.

The Double-headed Roller That Carved My Cheekbones

Joanna Czech’s own double-headed roller looks like gym equipment because it more or less is. Weighing in at a whopping 12 ounces, this barbell-esque device is designed to grip the muscles without even having to apply pressure. Engelman notes that a dual-headed roller is capable of working more of the skin at once. When employed correctly this face massager can lift the eyebrows, carve cheekbones, and remodel the face for a gentler aging process. Naturally, Czech supplies ample tutorials across her website and Instagram feed for massaging and carving out your features. With the rollers placed above the handle, pushing the tool upward and outward on your face works as a de-puffer, moving excess liquid out of the face — an ideal morning companion if you happen to suffer from allergies to plants, animals, and air like I do. A quick roll around my face (especially drawing up on my forehead and going a few inches into the hairline) leaves me looking all-together alive again, clearing the appearance of swollen jowls and under-eye bags to reveal what lies beneath: cheekbones. When you shift the direction of the handle above the rollers to pull the tool up your neck and face, it works as a massager, helping to reshape the face over time.

The Microneedler Erasing My Sun Damage

Of all of the beauty transgressions I have made in my life, sun exposure is by far the worst — a bad habit I’m beginning to wear in the form of pale sun spots and ripe new baby wrinkles on my forehead and around my eyes. For this, Colbert recommends in-office laser treatments and regular use of Retin-A, but he admits that with the right concentration of needle heads with ideal depth of penetration, an at-home microneedling device can be effective for smoothing the skin’s surface and evening skin tone. Environ’s Gold Roll CIT is one such device, outfitted with 260 microfine needles made out of surgical-grade stainless steel and coated in anti-bacterial 14ct gold. Using the pressure created by the tool itself, rolling it over my face in sections, going horizontally, then vertically, then diagonally (drawing an X over each spot) feels only vaguely aggravating, as the needles cause microtraumas that Colbert tells me “recruit growth factors and the formation of collagen.” But human to human, do not follow the usage of a microneedler with Biologique Recherche P50. My skin was Home Alone–level screaming.

This is because not all skin care was meant to reach the depths that are achieved in conjunction with a microneedler. “Most patients can’t tolerate using a Retin-A or an alpha hydroxy acid after microneedling,” says Bowe. Microneedling should only be used on near surgically clean skin to avoid creating or spreading serious skin infections (I double cleanse my skin before use and spray my roller with rubbing alcohol before and after use), and followed by gentle, clean skin care. “You don’t want to use anything with harsh preservatives,” she says. Same goes for fragrances, sulfates, phthalates, and parabens, which can cause irritation. “Try to use ingredients like hyaluronic acid, growth factors, and peptides that are less likely to create irritation if they’re absorbed more readily into the skin.”

Both Czech and Colbert warn against microneedling at all if you have acne, rosacea, or broken capillaries — and overuse in general. Bowe recommends twice weekly treatments, but San Franciscan skin-care guru Kristina Holey is much more conservative, topping out at three times per year and only for in-office treatments. “I have worked with a lot of clients who have come in with severe dermatitis from at-home needling devices. I would never recommend using them. In office, I would always start at a very moderate level and you can probably see some results.” At home or in office, too much too quickly can disrupt the water barrier of the skin, causing dryness and hyperpigmentation — the opposite of what you’re after.

The Overachieving Face Roller That Does It All

In this age of multitasking, where your phone is a camera, wallet, and a flotation device, why ever do just one thing when you can do it all at once? When it’s time to quiet my deep-seated American need for achievement, I reach for the GloPro Microneedling Regeneration Tool. This microneedling device (used just like a regular microneedler in horizontal, vertical, and diagonal strokes section by section over the face) not only boasts 540 diminutive stainless-steel needles, it also vibrates while glowing fiery red with collagen-stimulating LED lights, restoring volume to uneven texture and increasing the absorption of my skin-care products by (according to BeautyBio’s claims) 200 times. The red spectrum LED light is “complementary, but an independent variable,” says Colbert, which means that this tool is not more effective than using a vibrating face massager, microneedler, and LED mask separately, but it tackles all of these tasks and their benefits at once. “That is really important in American culture,” says Engelman, “because we don’t have that much free time.” If you could work out and sleep at the same time, wouldn’t you? I’m drinking that glowing red Kool-Aid.

The Basic Stone Scraper That Is Anything But

I’ve long ignored the gua sha because it seems both overly simple in design and overly complicated to use. But simplicity can be deceiving. Though the gua sha is Chinese in origin, I’ve come to think of it as the Swedish deep tissue of face massagers. This scraping device was created to work the fascia, lifting muscles, opening blockages, and stimulating lymphatic drainage. When moved upward and out over my well-oiled face, neck, and décolletage, it worked through and released serious muscle tension in my neck and face — better than any other tool, helping to enhance circulation for brighter, better-looking skin overall. Holey has sworn by gua sha for years — not as a treatment to give, but to receive herself. “You can be more specific with the gua sha stone — you can work into the muscles in a different way,” says Holey. And she’s found that “you can have more visual results.”

Holey recommends Studio Britta’s Britta Plug as a guide for usage. “I send my clients there.” Plug’s Instagram page is filled with mini and at-length tutorials for every area of the face, skin grievance, and time allowance. With Plug’s lead, I reach for my tool of choice: Shiffa’s FaSha Crystal Clear Quartz Tool featuring one rounded edge for large muscle groups, one inverted curve for cheekbone shaping, a small crease for carving out the jawline, and a serrated edge for extra deep massage — and it has become the surprise favorite in my skin-care lineup.

The Vibrating Massager That Chilled Me Out Like CBD

Like a strong dose of CBD, this 24-karat gold, vibrating, T-shaped bar dreamed up by organic-makeup guru Jillian Dempsey releases tension in your face, and is designed to leave your skin lifted, toned, contoured, and revived. Because I’ve only used the tool for such a short period of time, I can really only speak to the brightening effects of that instant blood rush to the skin. So, too, this little wonder not only helped me realize that I clench my teeth while I sleep, it offered a solution: instant release of jaw tension. I rev this puppy up as soon as I’ve applied my skin care, morning and night, to just get those good vibrations all over my face, starting at my neck, moving upward and outward all the way up into my hairline to release tension and boost my circulation and lymphatic system. Holding it on the inner corners of my eyebrows makes for an incredible release for sinus tension. If the directions didn’t explicitly tell me to not use it over makeup, I would be pulling it out at Cipriani, too. In fact, for its ease of use and ability to deliver instant relaxation, I couldn’t care less if it provided actual skin-care benefits, but it apparently does. According to Bowe, applying vibrational energy on the skin with slight pressure “can theoretically stimulate collagen production and act as a wakeup call for your cells.” In other words, you’ll not only feel like a California wellness guru, you’ll look like one too.

This is the tool I take with me on trips and now use daily. Whether or not it’s the most effective design is beside the point because, according to Engelman, “the best tool is the one you use.”

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What to Roll on Your Face (If Anything)