Do acne-zapping gadgets REALLY work? I tried, I tested… and now here’s my verdict on 4 of the latest light- and heat-based devices

woman with pimple

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.

TRIA Skin Clarifying System Do acne zapping gadgets REALLY work? I tried, I tested... and now heres my verdict on 4 of the latest light  and heat based devicesThe gadget: TRIA Skin Clarifying System ($295; available at

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.

Zeno Hot Spot Do acne zapping gadgets REALLY work? I tried, I tested... and now heres my verdict on 4 of the latest light  and heat based devicesThe 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).

Tanda Zap Do acne zapping gadgets REALLY work? I tried, I tested... and now heres my verdict on 4 of the latest light  and heat based devicesThe gadget: Tända ZAP ($49; available at, 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.

Zeno Heat Treat Do acne zapping gadgets REALLY work? I tried, I tested... and now heres my verdict on 4 of the latest light  and heat based devicesThe 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!)


Wednesday, August 24/2011 at 2:43 pm

Thanks for this! I’ve been wondering about these acne gadgets for years.


Wednesday, August 24/2011 at 3:37 pm

god i love beauty editor! a little bright spot (no pun intended, given the subject matter of this post) in my otherwise totally arduous and inordinately tedious workday.


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Saturday, August 27/2011 at 12:05 pm

Aww thanks guys!


Wednesday, August 24/2011 at 4:42 pm

Hm. Sounds like none of them can compete with my prescription Benzaclin for bad cysts or OTC benzoyl peroxide/cortisone/polysporin. For the others, I find the old aspirin mask works perfectly. I’m still dubious.


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Saturday, August 27/2011 at 12:09 pm

The TRIA would have an effect on cystic acne (I found it did a great job of bringing down inflammation of a monster underground zit) but the others no, they’re for regular pimples. Still a good alternative to meds – I know benzoyl peroxide works for some but I don’t like it because it’s incredibly drying and also generates free radicals (yikes!). Cortisone injections are great but not a regular therapy as they can scar. I’m allergic to Polysporin.


Tuesday, March 5/2013 at 11:18 am

I found the zeno hot spot does help with cystic acne. sometimes better than others, and i usually need to do 2 back to back sessions as soon as i feel it. but it definitely reduces severity and duration. does anyone know why it only lasts 80 times?


Nu Glow
Wednesday, August 24/2011 at 4:50 pm

I have been using Proactiv for years and have found the most success with them. I never had any luck with gadgets as far as clearing up acne goes.


Thursday, August 25/2011 at 12:20 pm

I am really interested in a product that’s like this but a bit more wallet-friendly (it vibrates or something) and its called the Neutrogena Wave, I know that Vanessa Hudgens endorsed it for a while… Has anyone tried it? I’d really appreciate any feedback :)

Huge fan, hyper-hair-colour-aware Thomas xx


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Saturday, August 27/2011 at 12:11 pm

I haven’t tried it but there are some reviews on
Doesn’t sound like it’s a miracle worker or anything for acne… the Clarisonic would give you a much deeper clean.


Thursday, August 25/2011 at 2:55 pm

I’ve tried both the Tanda and the Tria and have found that the Tria did make a difference — but it took a while to do the different quadrants on my face and the battery died pretty quickly. You need to keep charging it throughout the week, unlike say an electric toothbrush that you only need to plug in every once in a while. Plus I’m pretty sure the cartridge is going to need to be replaced way too fast. That being said areas that looked like they were about to break out were quickly calmed after using the Tria and I’ll probably foot the bill for a new cartridge. The Tanda Zap wasn’t hot enough and I didn’t notice any results but I didn’t stick with it too long. Thomas, the Neutrogena Wave didn’t do a thing for me — besides make my face tingle because it had menthol in it. If you want something similar try the Clarisonic but make sure you go easy on it as I found the bristles a little hard on my skin. Michelle I love that you’re always honest — so helpful in a beauty blogger!


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Saturday, August 27/2011 at 12:14 pm

Sounds like we had the exact same experience! Yes the TRIA upkeep is a bit too time-intensive for me to stick with it on a regular basis (although I probably would benefit)… it just takes so long to both charge it and cover your face. (This is probably why in Canada they’re selling it as a 5 min treatment time total.) I will still use it on an as-needed basis to calm down specific areas… it totally prevented an underground pimple from surfacing so for that I think it’s awesome!


Thursday, August 25/2011 at 3:19 pm

I was testing the Zeno Hot Spot, and was super impressed with the results, until about my 8th or 10th use— The batteries died! It may be the cheapest of the bunch, but this little bugger sucks up battery life quick, so unless you’ve got rechargables handy, it adds up.
That said, it really does work!


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Saturday, August 27/2011 at 12:15 pm

Oh no! I really wish this one called ThermaClear was still around – it was the most durable and didn’t require replacement. Probably why it’s not on the market anymore… just not profitable! Oh well..;jsessionid=BSS1FNGQZWVVMCV0KRTQX0Q?brandId=ThermaClear&list=list


Thursday, August 25/2011 at 4:18 pm

I have an older Zeno MD, and I LOVE IT. It’s too bad that Zeno realized they could make more money if they stopped offering Zenos with replaceable tips (per use, the HotSpot is more than twice the cost of the older Zeno with the tips) When Zeno finally stops producing my tips, I will cry….and then I suppose I will fork over the money for a Zeno HotSpot. It really does work.

Since I loved the regular Zeno so much, I tried the Zeno Heat Treat…same experience as yours. The device died the 2nd use out of the box, and to date, after 4 phone calls, no one from Zeno ever called me back. However, I do love the Blemish Prevention gel! I agree with you, the texture can get a little slimy, but that’s mostly correctable by using only a teensy-weensy bit. I take cod liver oil, but the Heat Treat Blemish Prevention takes care of any PMS little bumps. You can buy the Blemish Prevention gel separately at Amazon, and also at Walmart (I’ve bought it in store). It lasts forever, and is super gentle. I haven’t experienced any dryness or redness, just no bumps.


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Saturday, August 27/2011 at 12:17 pm

Yep, it’s not very environmentally friendly to produce a device you have to throw out…. and I think even the concept of replacement cartridges is a bit scammy. (See my comment above re: ThermaClear – that was the best of these devices but sadly no longer available.)

Good to know the gel works well for you!


Tuesday, January 14/2014 at 1:04 am

I know this is an old article, but I really had to comment. I take oral steroids every day for Addison’s Disease, and this causes me terrible acne around my mouth and chin. I have really dry skin and never had acne when I was younger. However, I started taking the steroids about a decade ago, and it has been a terrible problem. Even when my dermatologist prescribed medication, it did very little to control the breakouts. I tried every over-the-counter remedy I could find, including the Zeno. I used the HotSpot, which was the first product that ever worked for me. Now I use the Heat Treat every day, and it’s like a miracle. If I’m sick and miss a couple of days, I always break out after a week or so. I actually got my hands on and read the results of the independent testing done. That’s what convinced me to fork over the $40. I will say that the equipment does sometimes have problems. I bought mine at Wal-Mart, as well as one for my daughter and son. We have had some that didn’t work out of the box, but Wal-Mart exchanges them with no question. Additionally, you have to replace the batteries about every 2 weeks. Even when they don’t seem dead, they lose their effectiveness fairly quickly. I’ve had the same Zeno for a couple of years and it’s the second one I’ve had. They do quit eventually, like all electronic devices. Even with the cost of the batteries, it’s well worth the money, mostly because it works. I was worried about the salicylic acid drying my skin, but it doesn’t. I’ve recommended this to lots of people, and they’ve all had the same experience: once you get a device that works, you can’t live without it.


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