Facial Irons

Over the years a number of hand-held beauty devices have claimed to be able to ‘erase lines and wrinkles’. The earliest mechanical forms – such as rollers and patters – simulated the effects of massage, while later electrical models added vibrational massage and heat. Some of these devices were used alone but many were combined with skin firming or wrinkle removing creams.

See also: Massage, Wrinkles and Double Chins and Patters

The principle on which all of these beauty aids rests was the same as that given for massage, that is, they had a revitalising effect on the facial muscles, nerves and blood circulation which improved facial contours and reduced lines and wrinkles. Some also claimed to be able to remove wrinkles through the direct action of heat. Introduced in the 1930s, these ‘Facial Irons’ or ‘Wrinkle Irons’ were used to literally ‘iron out wrinkles’.

Varady Facial Iron

The Varady Facial Iron – patented in the United States in 1931 (USD85676) – is a good example of this type of device. Although the patent was lodged by Michael Varady it was advertised as being the invention of Armin Varady, Master of the Great Varady Beauty Studios that operated in Budapest, Paris and Vienna for over thirteen years. This is likely to be a fabrication as I can find no trace of either Michael or Armin Varady, or the Beauty Studios, outside of the United States.

Drawings from the 1931 Varady Patent

Above: Drawings from the 1931 Varady Patent. The patent is only for the design, covering the look of the device not its workings.

In America, the Varady Facial Iron was sold mainly through department stores. It was used in conjunction with Varady Wrinkle Cream – said to come from the ‘flowered hills of Transylvania’ – the idea being that the warmth of the iron would help the cream to penetrate the skin – a not uncommon belief of the time.

It might be thought that the iron would contain a heating element but the warmth was provided by a blue light bulb. This may have been used as blue light was believed to have penetrating, nerve soothing and astringent actions, all of which would supposedly help combat wrinkles. It may also have been a cost-saving measure.

See also: Red Light, Blue Light

As with facial massage movements, the iron was stroked across the face using upward and outward movements for a session of about twenty minutes. As its shape was similar to a clothes iron it could get into the corners around the nose and eyes where wrinkles were likely to be more prominent.

New magic from Vienna—in the shape of this miraculous little Varady Facial Iron—that, it is claimed, will actually iron out wrinkles!
The Varady Facial Iron is a tested electric applicator, under whose gentle warmth and stimulation the famous Varady Wrinkle Cream penetrates to the very depths of the skin structure and the delicate tissues beneath—and wrinkles actually vanish! Self treatment with these two wonder-working products brings back natural color, restores youthful texture, and makes your face look as young as it makes you feel.
The Varady Facial Iron, in a compact set, containing a supply of Varady Wrinkle Cream, Cleansing Lotion, and Astringent is $10.

(Varady advertisement, 1931)

The idea that wrinkles could be ironed out of the skin like wrinkles in clothing is of course preposterous. However, it is possible that these devices may have temporarily reduce the appearance of wrinkles as the underlying blood vessels dilated in response to the warmth. In turn, this may have resulted in greater fluid loss from the blood vessels and a temporary skin plumping.

The Varady Facial Iron was not the only one of these devices to appear in the 1930s and it seems that a number of similar products were used in Europe, Britain and the United States.

A beauty treatment by Brooklyn is sheer unadulterated excitement. In the first place, she examines your skin. After a preliminary clean-up she flutters a gossamer gauze handkerchief over your face and then puts it under the infra-red lamp to bring up its true texture for her inspection. Only then, when she knows the horrid worst about it, will she choose her creams and arrange her treatment. This is beauty treatment with intelligence. Other highlights in the two hours she devotes to you are a prolonged flat-ironing (the iron is deliciously called the “Hand of Isis” and is used for pale, lifeless skins), a brisk patting with the champagne tonic—and then at the very last moment, when you are all made up and powdered and your hat slanted to its exactly right angle, five minutes under the rose ray—the final touch of beatitude.

(English Harper’s Bazaar, 1933)

Occasional references to similar pieces of equipment appear through until the late 1950s.

Penetron Treatment Kit

Released by Lilly Daché in 1959, the kit was made up of the Penetron device containing a heating element which provided ‘vital heat’ to ‘deep feed skin cells’ and Penetron Cream that contained Cetiol- 5, claimed to be necessary for the skin to absorb vitamins. Like earlier devices it may have caused some vasodilation of blood vessels and some temporary plumping of the skin.

From Lilly Daché comes a new device which sends infra rays deep into the muscles of the face when smoothed lightly over the companion cream that comes with it. Called Penetron, this small rounded object snuggles into the palm of the hand, is plugged into any electric outlet and when passed lightly but firmly over the face and neck, reaches every contour, opens the pores, and activates the muscles.

(Lilly Daché, 1959)

Modern facial irons

Although not common, an Internet search indicates that facial irons are still available today. Some combine heat with muscle stimulation so are part facial iron and part electrical muscle stimulator (EMS).

Another type uses high frequency currents to generate a considerable amount of heat in the dermis. This denatures the collagen proteins and produces oedema which temporarily fills out the skin. Following the procedure, if all goes well, new collagen is laid down and the skin firms, reducing the appearance of wrinkles. Although these appliances are sometimes referred to as facial irons, they look nothing like the devices of old.

Radio frequency device

Above: Radio frequency device used to heat the dermis.

Like skin needling, which uses a spiked roller to damage the dermis and firm the skin through collagen production, both procedures are potentially dangerous.

Updated: 14th July 2017