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Galvanic skincare devices among latest at-home treatment systems

Q. Do galvanic skincare devices work? What do they do to the skin?

A. Galvanic skin devices generate low-voltage DC current. Galvanic current is produced when electrons flow from a higher potential to a lower potential. For example, alkaline batteries generate galvanic current by the flow of electrons from one metal to another. Galvanic current has been used for years by aestheticians in anti-aging skin treatments to change the electric potential of the skin.

Zoe Diana Drlos, M.D.
One of the newest developments in home skincare devices is the home galvanic spa. This is a handheld device that is rubbed over the skin with a coupling moisturizing gel to deliver low-voltage current. The theory is that there are electrical channels in the skin that can be modified. Several studies have demonstrated enhanced skin moisturization when topical moisturizer application was supplemented with galvanic current.

Q. What is the mitochondrial theory of aging?

A. The mitochondrial theory of aging was first introduced by Cadenas and Davies in 2000. It holds that it is the accumulation of defects in key metabolic pathways that leads to less mitochondrial energy production and aging.

This theory is based on the observation that the speed of mental calculations, reflexes and physical movement decreases with age. Aging cells no longer function optimally due to decreased energy production. It is supplemented by the fact that mitochondrial DNA encodes for the polypeptides of the electron transport chain, and damage to this DNA slows transport.

Since all mitochondrial DNA is maternally derived, it may be that the ability to age gracefully is derived from female family members.

Q. Are the salon-applied spray tans safe?

A. A currently popular safe salon procedure is the spray tan. The salon spray tan uses the same technology as at-home self-tanning cream preparations. The solution contains dihydroxyacetone and is sprayed from a nozzle in an enclosed booth. The spray is somewhat messy and stains everything around, but it produces very even, total-body skin darkening. The streaking found with hand application of self-tanning creams is minimized.

Dihydroxyacetone is a sugar that links to the stratum corneum protein through glycation to produce a brown stain from melanoidins. The brown color is slowly removed over two weeks as the stratum corneum sloughs. The skin discoloration caused by dihydroxyacetone produces minimal sun protection and should be considered a cosmetic procedure.

It is safe unless an allergy to dihydroxyacetone exists. If a patient is dihydroxyacetone-allergic, no self-tanning products can be used, as they all contain higher or lower levels of dihydroxyacetone.

Zoe Diana Draelos, M.D., is a Dermatology Times editorial adviser and consulting professor of dermatology, Duke University School of Medicine, Durham, N.C. Questions may be submitted via e-mail to

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