Around this time last year, I experienced the worst breakout I've had since I was a teenager. Whiteheads, cystic zits, blackheads, and unidentifiable bumps under the skin — you name it, I was rocking it. After countless useless trips to my doctor, I finally booked an appointment with a dermatologist, who prescribed me medication to get my hormones in check and a brand-new skin-care routine, incorporating acids and retinol. Amazingly, my skin responded really well. My breakouts are now few and far between and so much more manageable than before, but I'm not immune to the odd breakout every now and then, and it tends to get worse before my period.
In my experience, topical treatments that claim to bring down the size and inflammation of monster zits fall short of their promises. Salicylic acid definitely helps, but if you're impatient like me, it might not be your best bet. So when the experts behind dermatologist-led skin-care brand Dr. Dennis Gross let slip that they'd be launching an LED tool, the SpotLite Acne Treatment Device, with the power to reduce acne size, redness, and inflammation, I was intrigued.
The wand-like device, which has been cleared by the FDA, harnesses the power of two LED lights and claims to "target and treat acne at all stages, even before it surfaces," by using the full spectrum of both light wavelengths. The blue light "penetrates just beneath skin’s surface to fight acne-causing bacteria," while the red light "goes deeper to heal skin, reducing inflammation and redness." The tool is meant to be used once daily, for three minutes at a time, and while it sounds pretty sci-fi, there's method to the madness.
"There is increasing interest in the anti-inflammatory and rejuvenating properties of LED treatment, and in acne, this form of phototherapy is being used more and more," explains Dr. Justine Hextall, consultant dermatologist at the Tarrant Street Clinic. "A lot of work has been done looking at the effects of blue light, and it's been shown to be antibacterial to P. acnes [acne-causing bacteria that live in pores and hair follicles] in the skin. Interestingly it's a mixture of blue light and red light that seems more effective. The red light seems to be anti-inflammatory, and it seems it's this combination of anti-inflammatory and antibacterial light that has more efficacy."
And get this: According to a clinical study conducted by Dr. Dennis Gross, 100% of participants reported some improvement in the reduction of acne when the tool was used once daily for two weeks. The thing is, no matter how huge, my pimples only really tend to stick around for three or four days maximum; it's the residual hyperpigmentation that takes time to fade. Regular exfoliation and retinoid use are efficient here, Dr. Hextall tells me. "LED is most effective as an adjunctive therapy in acne, so it is beneficial to combine it with topical treatment such as benzoyl peroxide and retinoid cream," she explains. "A light peel prior to LED treatment may also help." With that in mind, I chose not to abandon my trusty glycolic acid toner and my go-to retinol, and used them alongside the tool instead. Here's how it went...
I wake up with a cluster of zits on my right cheek (they always congregate here for some reason), so I give the whiteheads a squeeze (gross but necessary), wash my face with YourGoodSkin's Brightening Exfoliating Wash, pat my skin dry, and go straight for the tool, holding it to my face with one hand while checking the news on my phone with the other. It doesn't feel hot like I expected, it isn't heavy, and the bright-red light switches off after exactly three minutes, indicating that it's already worked its magic for that day. It doesn't reduce the swelling immediately but as I apply my trusty Medik8 beta Moisturise and follow with sunscreen, I can safely say the cluster appears just a tiny bit less red and angry — although I seem to have pressed too hard and have a slight ring on my cheek for a few seconds! I cover up the spots under a layer of foundation and don't give them much thought throughout the day. When I get home, I take my makeup off but nothing much has changed. The good news is that no spots have sprouted in that area, which is a total win for me, because they've been known to multiply at this time of the month.
I'm fast-forwarding to day three, because on day two when I wake up, there isn't much of a difference as the redness is still there slightly, and the zits have gone down in size but are still a little bumpy. Here, though, they're more or less completely flat, so there isn't any inflammation that needs deflating. I take this picture in the evening, a good 12 hours after using the tool as part of my morning routine. It's the result I'm after and I pop the tool back in its box, continuing to use retinol and glycolic acid alternately each evening to fade the marks.
I'm impressed by how the SpotLite inhibited any whiteheads from joining the party, but I'm pretty sure alternating between my retinol capsules and a splash of glycolic acid every night did most of the work. As Dr. Hextall explains, LED light works best in conjunction with a skin-care routine suited to acne-prone skin, so on a long-term basis I'd suggest using it alongside proven acne-busting ingredients like these. That said, if you've got an upcoming event and need to tackle an acne cluster fast, I'd recommend the tool as a quick fix — with a dot of full-coverage concealer for good measure.