How to Think like a Facialist about Skin Devices and Layering Treatments

Written by: Jean Godfrey-June


Published on: February 20, 2024


Should you use microcurrent or red light? Facial massage or cryotherapy? And does any of it work? Top aesthetician Kristina Holey says that at-home skin devices really can make an enormous difference in your skin—especially when used strategically with powerful skin-care treatments. (Spoiler alert: If you use retinol, you’re going to want red light.)

Holey is an expert not just in skin but in the composition of products and ingredients as well: She started out as an engineer, switched to cosmetic chemistry, and slowly evolved into one of the most sought-after aestheticians on the planet, famous for the unique, totally holistic approach that she now practices mostly virtually from her office in West Marin, California. As the director of skin health at Marie Veronique, she consults on everything from what products might be right for your skin to how your diet might be affecting your complexion.

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“I try everything, and the world of at-home skin devices is super interesting,” says Holey. “I know most dermatologists say don’t waste your time, but I think they’re amazing, and I’ve seen them have significant impacts on the skin.”

To really optimize skin, Holey says, you need to implement a strategy on a daily basis. To that end, her clients go through extensive intake process, including food journaling, lifestyle assessment, and more. But even without an appointment with Holey, you can take advantage of her incredible tips on how to combine active skin-care ingredients with the devices she’s seen really work.

Red Light and Retinol for Amazing Skin

Perhaps Holey’s favorite combination, red-light treatments can work synergistically with retinol to deliver more-powerful results. “LED, near-infrared, and red lights are stimulating to the skin,” she says. “They can support the production of collagen, support circulation and drainage. Plus, they can give you some instant gratification—skin brightening.”

Retinol—despite the redness and irritation it can cause in some people—is soothing, Holey explains. “I’m surprised it’s not discussed more,” she says. “Retinol is the opposite of stimulating—it works to help make sure everything is functioning optimally, that dying and dead cells get the memo to move on out. Much of retinol’s youth-boosting effects are actually in helping calm irritation. That’s one of the reasons it also works so well for breakouts—retinol is a regulator, not a stimulator.”

The redness people can get from retinols and retinoic acid is typically a problem of too much too fast, Holey says. “Retinol can accelerate cellular turnover at a rate that’s not appropriate for your skin, which can disrupt the barrier function, causing peeling and redness. This is why it’s best for people to work up slowly to using a retinol.”

Combining retinol with a stimulating therapy gives your skin the best of both worlds, Holey says. She’s tried many red and LED lights and likes most of them. “The tech is similar,” she says. “If you want multiple therapies plus red light, I think the TheraFace is the best device—you can just do so much with it, especially if you get the heat and cold rings, too.”


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That said, if straight-up red-light devices are all you need, Holey loves the LYMA, which combines LED red light with near-infrared light. “There are great long-term benefits, but with the LYMA I also notice a shift in skin tone almost immediately,” says Holey, who also likes wearable red-light devices. “Again, they all work; it’s just a question of what you like.”

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“Retinol is not photostable—it’s an ingredient for the dark,” says Holey. “Cleanse, use the light next, then put on the retinol and go to bed.” Holey says that Marie Veronique conducted ocular safety tests for its Multi-Retinol Night Emulsion, so it can be used all the way up to the lash line and all the way around the eye. “We were able to discontinue our eye cream,” she says. “It’s great to be able to use just one product.”

Red Light and Vitamin C for Even More

You can also use red light to help enhance the penetration of antioxidants and hydrating ingredients. “Vitamin C is a great support for people using retinol,” says Holey. “And good for everyone else, of course.”

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Smooth on your vitamin C in the morning before you use the red light. “A good vitamin C topical or serum is metabolized slowly by the skin, and the light can help it penetrate,” says Holey. “For the quickest routine, layer vitamin C first, follow with a red light like the LYMA, and put on a great mineral sunscreen as your last step.”

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If you have more time, Holey loves an extended morning routine with the TheraFace: “You can use the vibrating, massaging attachments while you do the red light,” she says. “There’s a flat one and a pointy-tip one, and so you can start with vitamin C and hydration and then massage to wake up the muscles. Do a lifting and draining choreography, then set it on gentle for an eye treatment, then smooth on sunscreen and you’re good to go. I love that it can do so many things.”

Red Light and Peptides for Multiple Issues

As with vitamin C, Holey says red light should help enhance the penetration of peptides in a serum. Peptides are fine to use day or night; the goop peptide serum addresses wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, texture, firmness, elasticity, radiance, barrier support, and more. Work it in all over the face and then apply red light (the red light should be used only once a day, but the serum is okay to use twice).

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Red Light and Soothing Moisture for Recovery

For post-peel (or post-ultradrying-ski-trip), Holey combines red light with calming oils and moisturizer. “Do oil or balm first, then moisturizer, then red light and ideally some cryo,” says Holey. “The idea is to gently help the barrier get back intact.”

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Blue Light for Breakouts?

Both the Dr. Dennis Gross mask and the TheraFace have blue-light settings. Holey says they’re most helpful for very traditional teenage-type breakouts and not so useful for more adult hormonal problem areas. “For that, targeted red light—hold it over the problem area—can help as a spot heals,” she says. “Combined with retinol, you can slowly get to a better place.”

Microcurrent and Serum for Instant Results

Holey likes both the ZIIP and the NuFACE. “You really see impact short-term with these devices,” she says. “The effects are not long-lasting, but for the dedicated user, microcurrents offer great temporary results that can mimic the look achieved by fillers. They’re amazing for something special like a party. That said, I think any sort of stimulation around the eyes can help with drainage and fascia, and that could be more long-term in theory.”

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A hydrating serum with antioxidants is Holey’s first layer (this would go under the microcurrent gel that the devices need to work). Marie Veronique makes a mask that actually serves as both the serum and the microcurrent gel—genius. “It enhances hydration, and the vitamin C derivatives can help counter the impact of the small amount of heat microcurrent brings to the skin. Or you could use the microcurrent attachment on the TheraFace, then the cold ring.”

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Holey says using the TheraFace cryo attachment after almost any treatment enhances the treatment’s results. “It’s nice to do in the morning to prep the face and after any heat—microcurrent and red. It helps close up pores and seal everything in.”