When it comes to beauty treatments there are a lot of terms that get thrown around, which can lead to some confusion whether it be for consumers, beauty business owners, or even for some practitioners who may be starting out. Now that the terms microcurrent and electrical muscle stimulation have become more common, I thought this would be the perfect time to address any confusion around the terms, especially for home use.
I have been fortunate enough to try out a slew of microcurrent devices including ones made by brands ZIIP, FOREO, and NuFace. While there is something about each one of them that I really like, the newly launched Spectra Sculpt has quickly become one of my absolute favorites. The main reason is that I don’t have to do any work to use the device. I simply place it on my head like a headband and for 15 minutes I go about my business doing other things while it’s in use. Another difference in Spectra Sculpt is that it uses a slightly different calibration of electricity, referred to as quantum electrical muscle stimulation (EMS), that delivers solely beauty benefits rather than therapeutic benefits that some other devices deliver to users.
Since electricity can be administered into the body in varying measurements that each have their own benefits, I turned to the founder of Spectra Sculpt, who is certified by Harvard University for Cellular Biology, studied Quantum Mechanics at the University of Georgetown, and who studied AstroPhysics in Zurich, to explain the nuanced differences in the electrical outputs and to finally clarify if there is in fact a difference between microcurrent and electrical muscle stimulation after all. While she would prefer to remain behind the scenes, the below commentary is directly from her.
What Is Microcurrent?
Microcurrent is not a specialty, but rather a prefix for a unit used to calculate the strength and has a factor of 10-6. Units can be calculated as low as pico, nano, micro, milli, amper, etc. The units represent the flow of electrons through a circuit. Volt is the electromotive force or pressure that creates current flow in a circuit. Ohm represents the resistance in the opposition to current flow by an electric component in the circuit, and lastly, watt represents the power of work performed by a circuit. These components are like a recipe that creates the actual current, its performance, and how it affects all of it, whether it is applied to the body, lightbulbs, or any other electrical appliances used in our daily life.
Using low strength electrical current has been used for therapeutic purposes to help speed up any injuries and wound healing. It stimulates the cells, specifically, the organelles mitochondria, to produce the maximum possible amount that this organelle can produce on ATP (adenosine triphosphate). ATP is a molecule containing adenosine and has 3 phosphates behind it. By creating energy this molecule is triggered to shoot away its last phosphate, which creates energy that is used to keep the body alive and to maintain all its functions. Therefore, the effect will only be temporary and lasts as long as the impulse is given followed by a few hours afterward.
Electrical current has found its way for beauty purposes to help rejuvenate and tighten loose skin tissue that has been damaged by environmental damages as well as years of gravitational pulling. To get significant results, the above-mentioned mitochondria need to be stressed over its maximum which will trigger a cellular division and in the end, the cell will end up inhabiting more of the mitochondria organelle. The result is a continuous loop of a quicker cellular division long after treatment resulting where your cellular function basically becomes younger and behaves like it did in your 20s.
The same effect can be seen in sports. While the first few weeks are exhausting, over time the area that is used for workout or weightlifting will get stronger, the skin gets tighter and the overall body becomes healthier, which will not diminish even if a few days have been skipped for training. By continuously signaling muscle fibers and cells that more energy is needed than usual (aging more slower production due to environmental damages), the body produces more mitochondria to meet the needs of the body’s NEW regular energy demand.
Mitochondria generates its own gradient voltage across its membrane. ATP cannot be stored in the body therefore the organelle must function consistently all the time. This generates up to 4.25 watts. A healthy person can produce 1200 watts per day!!!
It is in this case, it is understandable that any therapeutic usage for a stronger current is not advisable as in this specific moment in time the focus lies on treating any injury or support to heal, and not advisable to stress the tissue in this instance to go into mitosis/cellular division which needs quite an amount of energy to generate—this would be counter-productive.
It is important to understand that the prefix unit micro has a range of up to 1000. Most beauty devices sold contain between 300 – 350, sometimes up to 400 µa. Since these are very mathematical details, it is not easy to let customers know what they get from the device nor to make it easy for them to understand. This has triggered certain marketing phrases such as “true microcurrent,” which cannot exist. I would speculate that this is used to explain to the customer that this range of prefix/current is in the sweet spot of supporting cellular repair used for therapeutic purposes.
EMS Versus Microcurrent
EMS stands for electrical muscle stimulation and if the calculations are correct, it can be the same as microcurrent. As explained above micro is simply a unit and is in a range where it stimulates the muscles while the usual range mentioned above (300-350) will only stimulate the small, tiny muscles in the top layers and is too mild, even with any conductive agent to reach the actual facial muscles.
Of course, this varies from person to person, but this is also the reason why some people don’t see any results. A low-level microcurrent is a fantastic treatment to MAINTAIN beautiful glowing skin. While if there are already gravitational signs of aging the current would need to be a bit stronger to reach the deeper facial muscles, which will then signal the cells to go into mitosis/cellular division as mentioned above.
The only question here is how strong the setting is and how much is the “electrical muscle stimulation”. Usually, when a treatment is referred to EMS, the current is set to a higher microamp than what is used in regular microcurrent sold in the market.
In some cases, this can also be attributed to cultural differences as some cultures have established to explain to their customers in more detail how their muscles are electrically stimulated (EMS) and have started to use the term of the unit since these practices come from therapeutic purposes usually used by individuals who are trained to have a deeper understanding for certain details.
However, it is possible that some companies would call their devices EMS and would still be considered the regular understanding of microcurrent (range 300-350). Sadly, it is impossible to tell only if specifics are displayed. It is also important to understand that EMS covers a wide range depending on what kind of muscles are stimulated. Certain devices and machines can even go up to Tesla, which is also a unit. One tesla unit is defined as the field intensity generating one newton (N) of force per ampere. Muscles on the body, specifically skeletal muscles, can be quite large and need stronger stimulation to trigger any effect.
The popular machine sold under EMshape or Embody (which is a slightly different version of EMECULPT) operates with around 7, sometimes up to 10 Tesla. It is important to not use too much treatment per session as it can cause lactic acid.
However, if we are talking about facial muscles EMS would still be a microcurrent. But again the setting would be a stronger microcurrent than for any therapeutic wound healing use. This is a generalization, but these days it is almost impossible to tell how strong a current is if anything is sold solely under EMS.
The benefit of a stronger microcurrent is that it triggers the muscles to a point of cellular division (mitosis is the last stage of a cycle of cellular division). Rather than just tickling out its maximum, the sagging facial tissue can be shifted back and a stronger desired beauty effect can be achieved through the stronger current with the results lasting long after its use.
How Spectra Sculpt Is Different
Since each device can vary in terms of its electrical output, I wanted to get clarification from Spectra Sculpt’s founder on how her device, which uses quantum EMS, is different. Below is what she shared with me.
Quantum EMS is calibrated from a quantum mechanics standpoint rather than classical physics or engineering knowledge. It delivers all of the same benefits as microcurrent, but the effects last longer. As we age, our muscles stretch and become weak which results in sunken looking cheeks and lines on our foreheads from constant use. Spectra Sculpt is calibrated to mildly work the delicate facial muscles to counteract their lengthening—specifically it focuses on the muscles that are placed on the side to lift the face while leaving out any depressors that are located in the middle such as the depressor labii inferioris, depressor anguli oris, and the depressor supercilii.
Improvement in the skin can be seen in as little as two weeks with daily use (although most users say they see results in 3-4 weeks) and after 6-8 weeks, users can go into maintenance mode using the device 1-3 times per week. Significant improvement can be seen in diminished nasolabial folds, tighter jowls and jawline, uplifted mouth corner, reduced eye bags, and overall improvement in the periorbital eye area such as lifted eyelids and eyebrows in the outer corner of the eye. Refined skin texture such as less redness and reduced melasma. Overall, improvement in blood flow and lymphatic drainage will result in less puffiness. However, it is not recommended to use the device for more than the 15-minute treatment cycle. While this is not harmful, the cells, organelles, and muscles need time to organize to build structure and replace new ones for old ones, which is known as mitosis (division).
Spectra Sculpt has three settings all of which have the same calibration running, but with different strengths. Some skin is very thick or has a larger fat layer (i.e. the skin for men), these users can run the treatment on a higher level, while others should work their way up from level one. Level three has the addition of sonic vibration that runs with 8000 ±10% RPM. Sonic vibrations will quickly improve lymphatic drainage and improve proper blood flow. Sonic vibration has an immediate effect but with regular use, arteries will adjust, and less puffiness will be overall present in the face. This is unlike other devices that may only offer one setting.
While EMS and microcurrent can be terms that are used interchangeably, it really comes down to the specifications of each manufacturer of the electrically based device and how they calibrated the electrical output. So, it is important to have a basic understanding of the differences especially if you want beauty benefits rather than therapeutic ones.
If you are interested in learning more about the use of electrical current for beauty, you can visit the website for more information.