Last year, my mother underwent open-heart surgery to have an aortic valve replaced. Due to complications from the surgery, she needed a pacemaker inserted the following week. Since experiencing these operations, we both learned first-hand just how many resulting limitations there would be not only within her diet and lifestyle, but within her beauty routine, too. The latter was not something we anticipated.
After speaking with her cardiologist and coagulation specialist that she checks in with regularly, we realized she shouldn’t be ingesting collagen or using products with vitamin K, as they can impact her INR levels (International Normalized Ratio) of her blood. Also, because of the electromagnetic qualities that her pacemaker has, she is unable to use a large majority of various types of skin-care devices due to the risk of offsetting the frequency of her pacemaker, and thus her heartbeat. This includes everything from electrofrequency wands to toning devices.
All of this, we would soon learn, was just the tip of the iceberg — and it’s not unique to my mother. Anyone with a heart condition, even if they don’t use a pacemaker, will likely need to take extra caution with the products and tools they’re using in their daily beauty routines. Since these rules can be confusing, I asked experts to spell out exactly how to navigate skin care when you have a heart condition.
Meet the experts:
Be aware that certain skin-care devices can interfere with pacemakers.
According to Rita V. Linkner MD, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of RVL Skincare, “The continual daily use of low energy electrofrequency tools could have the potential of interacting with embedded pacemakers. Patients should always alert their doctors when they start new meds or have a cardiac device implanted as certain radio frequency lasers are contraindicated in these patients.” Amar Shere, MD, cardiology fellow at SSM Health at St. Louis University Hospital, echoes this sentiment, telling Allure that using microcurrent devices are “generally safe for most of the population, however people with heart conditions with pacemakers and Implantable Cardioverter-Defibrillators (ICDs) should be cautious. The electrical current stimulation from the treatment can potentially interfere with the electrical signal of the cardiac device and its ability to function appropriately.”
Even seemingly gentler tools and supplements can cause unexpected complications.
As for surface level damage, Dr. Linkner says even non-electrical skin tools (think gua sha or face rollers) can cause bruising for people taking certain medications. “Using face tools [agressively] could precipitate that tendency and should be done with caution, she explains. “People with heart conditions are commonly placed on meds that work to keep the blood thin like aspirin or warfarin. These meds oftentimes make the skin more readily bruised and can be affected by diet and supplements.”
Read your labels carefully.
It’s best to consult your doctor first before implementing any product into your skin-care routine, regardless of the type of heart condition you have or its severity; even commonly-used ingredients can have surprising effects for those with heart issues. Stephanie Saucier MD, a cardiologist based in Hartford, Connecticut, tells Allure that urea — a humectant often found in body lotions that binds to water and pulls it into the skin — can release formaldehyde and can trigger heart palpitations and therefore should use should be minimized and avoided. Additionally, “parabens are estrogenic and can mimic estrogen in the body which, based on individual risk, may need to be avoided from a cardiac standpoint.”
If you are on a blood thinning medication, an ingredient that may be generally good for the body at large cause damage, and vitamin K is a prime example. Dr. Shere notes that for heart-healthy people, “vitamin K has been more recently utilized to help improve the overall appearance of aging skin, [and] helps with many functions in the body such as wound healing, normal blood clotting, maintaining healthy bones, and maintaining healthy skin and hair.” But for those on blood thinners, the vitamin can could potentially reduce the medication’s effectiveness. It’s commonly found in eye creams formulated to target dark circles or serums that address dark spots.