AS WE HAVE drifted in and out of various states of isolation over the past 20 months — with human contact feeling perilous, verboten, or just plain gross in varying degrees — I’ve noticed an uptick in a certain kind of ad served to me on social media. These tech devices designed to aid in personal care, machines made to improve the quality of one’s life, are what I have come to think of as self-care robots. And once I relented to that first interest-signaling click, I opened the floodgates to an endless deluge.
The drivers of this trend are obvious. Contact with other humans still comes with risk right now, and we are all on edge. So what better time to deploy technology to do the soothing, care-driven jobs that we need more than ever? These devices are beautifully designed, and as with many a start-up, they have well-crafted logos. And since these companies are geared toward wellness, there’s lots of relaxing white space and plenty of peaceful images on the landing pages of their sites. The devices themselves seem to have taken a page from the Apple design book — sleek, smooth, and in very considered packaging. The effect is a reassuring whisper: I am going to make your life better.
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The question, of course, is can they? (The bigger question is: Can any thing ever do that? But for the sake of space, let’s stick to the robots.) There are many of them, and I have now tried a few. I’ve tried enough, in fact, that when I imagined myself trying them all at the same time, I could picture myself nearly engulfed, a tech mummy almost entirely cocooned from the outside world.
The first of these products I tried is the Omnilux, an LED face mask. I began using LED lights a number of years ago at the salon where I go for facials. My facialist swears by them, telling me that the military uses them to treat wounded soldiers. I looked this up and learned that these lights were originally developed by NASA to grow plants in space, after which, indeed, they were found to aid wound healing. They are also very effective in treating rosacea (which I have) and spurring collagen production (which I want more of). However, a tanning bed is not something that most of us have at home. Cue the Omnilux, which advertises spa-level treatment in home-sized packaging.
These lights were originally developed by NASA to grow plants in space, after which, indeed, they were found to aid wound healing.
This is a product with a bit of a cult following. Our visuals director, a veritable expert in skincare, oohed approvingly when I mentioned the mask to her. “I use mine all the time,” she told me, her skin glowing. The mask is easy to use, requiring only that the control module is charged in advance. You can then walk around freely while using the mask, which secures around your head with Velcro bands. Not that you would do such a thing. While the mask does technically have eye holes, once it is strapped to your face and illuminated, you can’t really see much due to the otherworldly glow it emits. For me, the whole situation evokes a scene in a movie where a door is opened to reveal the field where aliens have landed — the glow is that bright. With my eyes closed, I imagine I am basking in the warm summer sun somewhere, rather than locked down in an apartment in New York City with my children, whose schools have closed yet again.
Because the mask requires that I stop moving, I use the treatment as an opportunity to rest. After strapping it onto my face, I lie down, close my eyes, and tee up a podcast. But cut off visually from the world, I find the experience usually lulls me into a state of light sleep, like a good massage will do. I awaken when the lights turn themselves off; unstrapping the mask, my skin is slightly red, probably because I have strapped the mask on too tightly. In any case, the red fades quickly. What it leaves behind is the glow of skin that has been cared for. There is, I hope, newly produced collagen pumping into all the places where it is needed. And I know for sure the treatment has given me something perhaps even more valuable: a few minutes of peace.
Skye Parrott Photographer
Skye Parrott is the executive editor of Departures. A magazine editor, photographer, writer, and creative consultant, she was previously a founder of the arts and culture journal Dossier, and editor in chief for the relaunch of Playgirl as a modern, feminist publication.
Ahonen & Lamberg Illustrator
Ahonen & Lamberg is a multidisciplinary design studio based in Paris. Founded in 2006 by Finnish designers Anna Ahonen and Katariina Lamberg, the studio concentrates on art direction, creative consultancy, and graphic design.