4 of the Best New Acne-Fighting Gadgets

I tested the latest light- and heat-based devices for treating blemishes.
Michelle Villett
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I tested the latest light- and heat-based devices for treating blemishes.

Everyone knows by now that I spread the holy gospel of cod liver oil for any skin-related concern, primarily for (but not limited to) breakouts. But let's just say you want to supplement your, uh, supplements. Is it worth splurging on one of those new, high-tech acne gadgets?

There are so many on the market lately—and they certainly sound like a great deal since they're at-home versions of services for which your dermatologist would charge upwards of $100 per sesh. Plus, if you're like me and not down with taking oral or topical medications (many of which come with worrisome side effects), the fact that these devices are drug-free is a compelling benefit.

SO... shouldja invest? Here are four of the newest and the results of my test-drives.

The gadget: TRIA Skin Clarifying System ($295; available at triabeauty.com)


The promise: The only at-home system that uses the exact level of blue light as professional treatments, the TRIA promises fewer breakouts and improved skin clarity in as little as one week's time, with full results visible in eight weeks.

The test-drive: The blue light is warm but completely painless, switching on when the device is in contact with your skin and turning off when you move it away. But the treatment time is where things get interesting. Canadian customers get boxes with instructions that say to use it all over your face, every day, for just five minutes... whereas in the U.S., because of an FDA regulation relating to how the clinical trials were performed, customers are instructed to use it for five minutes daily in each quadrant of your face (their kits come with actual stickers you can put on your skin as guides). Since my press sample was a U.S. package, I was spending loads more time with the treatment, which is why...

The verdict: It definitely helped spots heal up more quickly and reduced inflammation. On two occasions, I used this bad boy to nip a brewing pimple in the bud, concentrating my five-minute treatment time just in the affected areas. I don't think my results would have been quite as dramatic if I had used it all over my face—but that's probably a good maintenance method for preventing acne if you already know that blue light works for you. Just know that it's not a cure, so you would need to keep up with regular treatments. I don't love that you have to buy replacement cartridges (they're $40 each and last 300 minutes), but I suppose that's still less pricey than doing blue light at the dermatologist's office.

The gadget: Zeno Hot Spot ($44.99; available at Shoppers)


The promise: Visible blemish clearing within just one hour and an elimination or significant reduction of 90 percent of blemishes within 24 hours.

The test-drive: This guy uses heat to destroy bacteria. You touch the tip of the device to the blemish and hold it there for 2 1/2 minutes. It's hot, but it's not that hot... so unless your skin is extremely sensitive, the heat is quite tolerable. You get the best results if you use it at the very first sign of a blemish brewing under your skin, and can safely repeat treatments two to three times over 24 hours.

The verdict: It's a simple concept, but it really works (and tellingly, is the only device of the four that derms have actually recommended when I've done interviews for acne stories in magazines). I think it's a great back-up device for anyone who gets the odd random spot and doesn't want to use a potentially drying anti-acne skincare regimen. Don't try this with deep cystic pimples, blackheads or whiteheads though—it won't have any effect. And if you've got, say, more than three or four spots on your face at any given time, I think there are better treatments to get the situation under control. Annoyingly, you have to keep re-purchasing the device since each one gives you 80 uses (they don't sell replacement cartridges).

The gadget: Tända ZAP ($49; available at tandazap.com, Shoppers, Sephora, The Shopping Channel)


The promise: The first product to combine three acne-fighting technologies—blue light, sonic vibration and warming—to clear or fade blemishes in 24 hours.

The test-drive: The ZAP works in the same way as the Zeno Hot Spot. You place the tip over your blemish and hold it there for two minutes, repeating up to two or three times per day. I found the vibrations very gentle and the same with the heat—it's not as intense as Zeno's.

The verdict: And that's probably why I don't feel like this one is quite as effective as either the TRIA or the Zeno Hot Spot. I understand the appeal of a three-in-one type of device, but it seems to me that both the heat and the blue light are weaker than what can be found in other, single-benefit systems. (And I really don't get the concept of vibrations.) One selling point is that it gives you 1,000 treatments compared to Zeno's 80, which is really impressive... but it also consumes batteries like you wouldn't believe.

The gadget: Zeno Heat Treat ($49.99; available at Shoppers)


The promise: The first preventative acne-clearing system, it kills 99.9 percent of acne-causing bacteria in one hour.

The test-drive: This is a two-step treatment, but let's just be clear (ha!): I only got to step one, which is the application of an acne medication. There was no test drive of step two because my device was defective and didn't turn on, despite a fresh pair of batteries. Apparently I'm not alone because if you search the reviews online, dozens of people have either had the same experience or had their gadget quit on them mid-treatment, never to recover. Anyway, the topical is a one percent salicylic acid gel; although it's non-comedogenic, oil- and paraben-free, I found the texture to be quite slippery and silicone-y (translation: did not love). In theory, the device is supposed to vibrate with "soothing" heat to encourage penetration of the salicylic acid deep into the clogged pores.

The verdict: Obviously I can't say definitively how well this works, but I'm skeptical of a device that is defective straight out of the box. As I mentioned, I'm not sold on the idea of vibration as means of promoting absorption. I'd just as soon see you use something like a Clarisonic to give you a good exfoliation before applying a topical product (since dead skin cells can inhibit penetration). My guess is that anyone who is seeing results from this system is probably experiencing them mainly from the salicylic acid. One good thing is that the device (if it does work for you) has unlimited life, although you'd need to re-purchase the gel. But I'd probably stick with the Hot Spot over this one.

So talk to me:

Have you tried any of these devices?
What were YOUR results?
Do you think these gadgets have merit—or will you stick to professional treatments? (If so then you MUST share what works for you. C'mon, spill!)