In different medical and aesthetic procedures, it is common to use a transparent, almost liquid and somewhat sticky product on the skin, which helps to slide the handpiece to spread the gel.
This product is the so-called conductive gel, which is used to improve the conductivity of the electrodes of medical-aesthetic devices when they come into contact with the skin.
It is used in medical procedures such as ultrasound and electrocardiograms, but it is also commonly used in aesthetic treatments with ultrasound such as radiofrequency or laser such as pulsed light (IPL).
Function of the conductive gel
The sound waves produced by ultrasound technology need a conductor to act effectively. And the conductive gel reduces the electrical resistance between the skin and the electrodes, thus improving signal transmission and therefore the accuracy of the results obtained.
This is very important in procedures such as ultrasound scans, otherwise it would be impossible to obtain good images.
It also avoids possible irritations caused by the rubbing of the electrodes.
Some conductive gels also have moisturizing properties that help keep the skin hydrated during the procedure. And although some professionals claim that it also improves the absorption of ingredients by the skin, this has not been scientifically proven.
Conductive gel characteristics
It generally has a liquid or gelatinous appearance and texture. It also has a neutral pH and is odorless. As it is viscous, it does not slide on the skin by itself.
The gel is applied to the skin just before starting the specific procedure. And although it sticks, it is easy to remove, because it is not greasy.
When the conductive gel is used in aesthetic radiofrequency treatments, the energy is better distributed and the skin resistance is reduced, since it is a barrier for the sound waves.
It is also used in laser treatments, such as intense pulsed light (IPL). In this case, the gel helps to improve light transmission through the skin and reduce heat on the skin surface.
When is the conductive gel used?
As mentioned above, the conductive gel is used in medical-aesthetic procedures. If we focus on aesthetic medicine, it is usually used with radiofrequency, although it is necessary to differentiate between bipolar and monopolar, and in monopolar between capacitive and resistive.
In bipolar radiofrequency, as the two electrodes are very close, if we use a conductive gel, which in principle would be ideal for transmitting electricity, a short circuit is produced between the electrodes, so that the energy will tend to flow through the gel instead of through the inside of the skin. So in these cases we use glycerin or some oil, as they are less conductive and, although they are a brake on the gel, we force more energy through the skin rather than through the gel.
In resistive monopolar radiofrequency, which is when the electrode has the metal directly in contact with the skin, we look for the best possible conduction, so not having another electrode nearby we can use conductive gel. In this case it would make no sense to use glycerin, oils or creams.
If we use glycerin, oils or creams, the resistive would work the same, but depending on the conductivity of the product used it could limit the energy flowing, so we would perceive it softer.
In the capacitive monopolar, the electrode is insulated, so there is no direct electrical conduction. This is done by capacitance, a kind of jumping of energy through an insulator, so that it interacts with the first layers of the skin. In this case, a cream is usually used whose function is to make it easier for the head to slide.
In summary, if it is bipolar radiofrequency, we use glycerin or oils; if it is resistive monopolar, conductive gel; and if it is capacitive monopolar, cream.
In laser treatments, such as hair removal, a gel similar to a conductive gel is used to ensure that the applicator can slide well and that there is no possibility of the crystal remaining slightly separated from the skin, because if this happens it can burn.
What is the conductive gel made of?
The conductive gel formula is very simple. The main ingredient is, mixed with a conductive compound, which is usually propylene glycol chloride (PEG) or ethylene glycol chloride (EG).
Depending on the manufacturer, some conductive gels also contain preservatives and colorants as ingredients to modify their appearance. Sometimes fragrances are also included.
Sometimes the conductive gel is confused with glycerin and vice versa. This is because glycerin is an element that is present in almost all cosmetics in the world and is sometimes also part of the composition of the conductive gel. However, as we have already mentioned, the use of one or the other element will depend on the technology used.