For about eight years, the Electro-Acuscope, a device the size of a large briefcase that emits a low-level electrical current, has been quietly used by physical therapists, acupuncturists, MDs and other health professionals largely to treat pain and athletic injuries.
But recently, L.A. medical doctors, acupuncturists, cosmetologists and physical therapists report they are seeing growing numbers of clients, including more than a few celebrities, who ask for facial treatments with the Electro-Acuscope and similar machines. Though the treatments, which are frequently billed as "non-surgical face lifts," are dismissed by some medical professionals as only temporary solutions to the physical effects of aging, other practitioners are recommending the procedures for both facial rejuvenation and overall health benefits.
Several times a week, actress Cloris Leachman travels to Laurel Canyon for such treatment, which she claims reduces her wrinkles, increases calmness and boosts her energy so dramatically that her major problem is "suffering from overthrill."
Typically, Leachman is treated at her physical therapist's office with one of three similar machines: the Electro-Acuscope, the Myopulse or the Myopulse Renaissance, which was developed specifically for the face. Whatever device is used, two probes are generally placed at various points on the client's skin.
As Los Angeles acupuncturist Steven Rosenblatt explains the process, "All of our bodily processes are based on electrical activity.
"These instruments read information from electrical points on a patient's skin," says Rosenblatt, who was the first staff acupuncturist at the UCLA School of Medicine and tested all three instruments before they were labeled by the FDA in 1983. "The machine gets the information and gives a numerical value to it. Then it corrects the body's 'short circuits' by feeding electricity back in if it's needed. By emitting the proper amount of low-level electrical current though the probes, the machine corrects electrical imbalances, and stimulates the body's healing properties."
One of the effects, Rosenblatt adds, is that stimulating nerves in the face causes capillaries to expand, increasing blood circulation to the area, carrying more oxygen to surrounding tissues that speeds the elimination of toxins, making the skin look better and promoting healing if there is inflammation.
Leachman says she feels no pain in her sessions, only a mild tingling sensation if that. In fact, the star of television's "Facts of Life" insists she has such a good time during the treatments that "we laugh so hard in there that they pound on the walls."
"People tell me I look 10 to 15 years younger, maybe even 11 to 16 years younger and I myself don't feel so bad," Leachman exults. The 61-year-old actress best known as Mary Tyler Moore's next-door neighbor Phyllis, says she has had two to three treatments a week for the last four months, mostly to achieve an overall sense of well-being. But Leachman is not discounting the cosmetic effect of the treatments.
Owns Two Machines
Leachman now owns two machines (the Electro-Acuscope and the Renaissance machine, which sell for about $7,000 each) and says she's considering investing another $7,000 in the Myopulse as well. Actress Susan Blakely and her husband, producer Steve Jaffe, say they lease an Electro-Acuscope and use it regularly for deep relaxation and muscle regeneration. And 60-year-old hair care expert Vidal Sassoon is considering purchasing a device; he says he's been treated with the Electro-Acuscope repeatedly by his physician for "pulled shoulder muscles and anything for an arthritic nature" as often as every other day when he's in pain.
5,000 Devices Sold
All three instruments are distributed by Electro-Medical Inc. in Fountain Valley. According to founder Jerry Fisher, about 5,000 of the devices have been sold around the world since they went on the market in 1980.
Not all health professionals, however, welcome the machines to the medical market. Dr. Stephen Genender, a Los Angeles board-certified plastic surgeon, believes whatever rejuvenating result is achieved with Electro-Acuscopes and similar instruments is temporary at best.
"The face becomes swollen either from electrical stimulation or from a needle as in acupuncture or from a low-energy laser," he says. "All these things plump up wrinkles. They're gimmicks. They give the appearance of having a regeneration. After the initial swelling goes down, you're pretty well back to where you started. The saving grace of all these procedures is they don't cause any amount of permanent harm."