When the term diathermy is used in beauty culture it usually refers to ‘surgical diathermy.’ Diathermy treatments of this type – also known a thermolysis – were used from the 1930s onwards in beauty culture as an alternative to electrolysis for the permanent removal of superfluous hair, spider veins (telangiectasia), acne, warts, moles and other skin blemishes.
High-frequency currents have also been used in beauty treatments to warm the face and body as with ‘medical diathermy’. The first use of diathermy in this manner in beauty culture, was Elizabeth Arden’s Vienna Youth Mask. Introduced in 1928, it was claimed to have a rejuvenating effect by stimulating the circulation of blood through the facial tissues.
Other salons followed Arden’s lead and facial treatments incorporating diathermal heat became quite common in the 1930s, in part because the machines could also be used to remove hair through thermolysis.
Treatment begins by cleansing the face, which is then dried with tissue and the mask applied. The chin electrode is first fixed in place by an adjustable rubber strap. In similar manner, double cheek electrode bands and the forehead electrode band is fixed. The cables, which are heavily insulated, are then attached and circuits closed. The resulting sensation is a pleasant, deep-reaching warmth; the consequence of a 10 minutes controlled application is a thorough enduring stimulation of skin and sub-cutaneous tissues. This intensive stimulus is not to be achieved by massage, or any available lotion, and is under full control of the operator. (The Hairdresser and Beauty Trade, 1936)
Mention should also be made of indirect high-frequency treatments, also known as a Viennese massage. These combined a facial massage with a high-frequency current to heat the skin under the therapist’s fingers.
Although there are some salons today that offer warming diathermy treatments as a ‘circulation booster’ during a facial, these are not typical. A more common and more recent use of ‘medical diathermy’ in beauty culture has been in cellulite treatments. Although it is generally combined with other procedures rather than used in isolation, the deep heat produced by diathermy has been claimed to enhance collagen production; increase blood circulation through vasodilation; improve lymphatic drainage of trapped fatty deposits; and even break down fat cells.