Is Electricity the Secret to Great Skin?

When celebs need to de-puff, tighten and tone, they schedule a Melanie Simon electric facial. Can her Ziip at-home device do the same for you? We give it a test run.

When Melanie Simon. an aesthetician in Los Angeles, arrives to give facials to clients like Jennifer Aniston and Margot Robbie, she wears heels and looks as if she is attending whatever event she is prepping them for.

When she leaves, three hours later, her makeup is melting; her long curly hair is in a topknot; and her heels are in hand.

“I look like I’ve just been painting for hours,” Ms. Simon said.

A key feature of her grueling (for her) facials: a cocktail of various kinds of electricity administered by often tricky-to-use machines that de-puff, tighten and tone the skin.

You can’t try these facials. Ms. Simon says she is not accepting new clients (though one imagines an Oscar nominee may get special dispensation). But you can still get (some of) her results with her $495 at-home nanocurrent device — or so goes the (forgive this) buzz. Ms. Aniston and Ms. Robbie are just two of the actresses who have praised Ziip when talking about their beauty routines. (Ms. Simon said that these were not paid endorsements.)

“Sandra” — that would be Bullock — “told me it keeps her face from sliding down to the ground,” Ms. Simon said. She spoke as she was finishing a coffee before heading out to prep Ms. Aniston for the Golden Globes.

The gadget, which looks like a particularly nice computer mouse rimmed with gold, has also caught on with celebrity makeup artists. Jenn Streicher (clients: Emily Blunt, Elisabeth Moss) said via email that Ziip was her “personal secret weapon” because it “softens lines, decreases puffiness, and zaps blemishes before they even appear.”

Little wonder, then, that Violet Grey, the luxury beauty retailer in Los Angeles, sold out of its first Ziip shipment instantly. The device has sold out multiple times since and is consistently among the top 10-selling brands, said Carly Narva, the vice president for merchandising at Violet Grey.

At the beauty retailer Space NK, sales of beauty devices increased 45 percent last year, according to Noah Rosenblatt, the company’s president for North America. Ziip helped fuel this, and he said he knew customers like it because they return repeatedly to buy more of the conductive gel it requires (more of which shortly.)

Nordstrom won’t give figures but said that sales of the device were strong.

To use Ziip, you first slather on your choice of Ms. Simon’s gels, which double as treatment masks. (Yes, slather; she recommends nine pumps, and you may need more.) Then, via a mobile app that syncs with the device, you choose one of eight options, ranging from the two-minute Primer (for brightening) to the four-minute Instant Gratification (“lift/sculpt/awaken”) to the 12-minute Energize, which is said to “fill/lift/glow.”

A ninth treatment, Lymph and Lift, was introduced this month, as was a new gel, called Crystal. It contains the antioxidant glutathione, which Ms. Simon said makes skin glow.

Ms. Simon, who calls herself an “electrical aesthetician,” chose nanocurrent for her at-home device because, she said, it is the best type of electricity for turning the cells on in the body to do their job better. (In her facials, she also uses microcurrent and radio frequency.)

Using electricity to improve complexion is nothing radical; a microcurrent treatment is the centerpiece of the aesthetician Joanna Vargas’s Triple Crown Facial, which is the pre-red-carpet pick of her celebrity clients.

Websites of microcurrent practitioners nearly all seem to cite the same clinical study from the University of Washington saying the treatment increases collagen by 10 percent and elastin by 45 percent. However, the study does not appear in PubMed, one of the largest sources of peer-reviewed journal articles, and a spokeswoman for the University of Washington School of Medicine was unable to locate it.

(Radio frequency, though, is often used in dermatologist offices. It uses electrical energy to deliver heat, offering modest nonsurgical lifting through tissue tightening and collagen remodeling. It is also what is used by fat-melting treatments like TruSculpt.)

As for nanocurrent, Ms. Simon said it kicks up the production of ATP (adenosine triphosphate), the so-called energy messenger in living cells.

“ATP allows you to take the things that you eat and drink and breathe and convert them into usable things like elastin or collagen,” she said. ATP production declines with age, and the molecule has a shelf life of about three days — the body can’t store it long-term — hence the need for Ziip, which theoretically can help juice supply every few days.

S. Tyler Hollmig, the director of dermatologic surgery at the Dell Medical School at the University of Texas, said that ATP is frequently included in topical beauty products for reasons similar to Ziip’s but that it requires a leap of faith to conclude that just increasing ATP production will increase collagen and elastin production.

He also questioned whether it is just a lack of ATP that is “the rate-limiting step in each patient’s collagen assembly line.” Some of Ziip’s results, he suggested, may come from the moisturizing effect of the gels, as well as low-grade swelling of the skin, which tends to smooth out fine lines and hide blemishes. (Low-grade swelling, as it happens, is what actually powers the results of a lot of at-home devices, he said.)

You can’t use Ziip without a gel. At worst you would risk a burn, but more likely the device just wouldn’t pass energy properly. Ms. Simon’s gels are $50 to $129, and if you use the device three times a week, you will need a new bottle every two months. (The company sells subscriptions for this.)

If you’re about to spend $495 on a device, beauty is probably not an area where you economize; if it is, you could skip Ms. Simon’s conducting gels and just buy a plain one for about $9 from Amazon, Dr. Hollmig said. In fact, he wondered if customers may be better served using the device that way while using “more generally accepted dermatologic treatments” separately for individual skin concerns.

So is Ziip worth the $495?

I have the makeup skills of a jellyfish — I can never replicate at home what’s done to me at a beauty counter — so I appreciated that the device was idiot-proof. You follow along with Ms. Simon via an in-app video in which she tells you exactly how to position the device and how hard to press. You count vibrations before moving on. (It feels a little like holding the handle of an electric toothbrush against your skin, with the occasional mild shock.)

I did the Energize several times and thought my skin looked brighter, especially under my eyes. My boyfriend, even more of a skeptic of the beauty industrial complex than I am, was not as impressed. He delighted in jokingly asking, “Is it really you?” every time he saw me.

I’ll likely keep using it anyway. I felt better about the way my skin looked, and isn’t that the point?