These gadgets truly deliver younger, healthier gorgeous-skin results right at home
We're living in a DIY age. And cutting-edge technology is helping us foster that can-do attitude, making us more enthusiastic about scaling back on office visits and treating our skin at home instead. Devices that approximate what dermatologists and aestheticians use are more popular than ever. In fact, sales of laser or light-therapy skin-care gadgets boomed by 84 percent from April 2015 to March 2016 compared with the previous year, according to NPD Group, a company that tracks consumer spending. "Patients today are very knowledgeable and are empowered to treat themselves," says Christine Choi Kim, M.D., a dermatologist in Santa Monica, California.
But are the gadgets, which typically cost $100 to $500, worth the investment of your money and your time? The short answer: Yes. Many work—quite well, in some cases—but it depends on the device, your expectations, and your patience for the sometimes tedious and daily treatments required. Keep in mind that home devices make sacrifices for safety; they're less powerful, so the results are not as significant and take longer than professional procedures. But derms say the gadgets, used in tandem with an effective skin-care regimen, are ideal if you want better acne-clearing or antiaging results than topicals alone can deliver and you aren't ready to drop thousands at the doctor's office. "They're starter treatments," says DavidJ. Goldberg, M.D., a dermatologist and laser expert in New York City. "Or if you've already begun in-office treatments, you can use them between visits for maintenance." Here, the gadgets our experts can get behind.
Best for acne: LED light devices
These are different from the LEDs in your Ikea lamp. More than 15 years of studies, including initial research from NASA, show that lights emitting specific wavelengths can penetrate skin. And unlike the sun's villainous UV wavelengths that damage skin, these rays are a force for good. Blue LEDs at 415 to 444 nanometers destroy P. acnes bacteria that contribute to inflammatory acne, helping to clear skin. Red LEDs at 633 nm, which hit deeper layers of skin, may also target some P. acnes and calm inflammation, Dr. Goldberg says. Red LEDs and infrared light are also touted for their collagen-boosting benefits, but the more aggressive in-office resurfacing lasers may net you better results in treating signs of aging.
The best home LED devices typically have 10 to 20 LEDs bulbs. That's nothing compared with the thousands on the screens you sit in front of at a derm's office, but that's how the home devices are made relatively affordable. And when used more often—for instance, daily for 10 minutes as opposed to weekly or monthly—they can elicit similar results, Dr. Goldberg says. Though tedious, holding a flashlight-like hand piece up to your face is not painful or difficult, so it may be a small price to pay for clear skin when topicals aren't cutting it. (And, yikes, it might be super acne—which is a thing.)
"The efficacy of these devices is established, and they do work very well for many," says Michael H. Gold, M.D., a dermatologist in Nashville who has published research on DIY blue-light therapy. And while it may take a few weeks to see significant results, some zits will start to disappear after only a few treatments.
Know that not every LED device is effective. "The LEDs may not be powerful enough, even if you use them every night for hours," Dr. Goldberg says. So be sure to choose those with larger treatment heads that sport multiple bulbs, such as the Baby Quasar ClearRayz ($249, babyquasar.com) or the LightStim for Acne ($169, lightstim.com), which emit blue and red light to target bacteria and to temper redness and inflammation.
Best for antiaging: Tria diode laser
The Tria Age-Defying Laser ($495, triabeauty.com) is in a league of its own. It's the only at-home gadget with diode laser technology, and the results it gets in treating signs of aging are equally singular. "It stimulates collagen to smooth out fine lines and helps fade pigmentation," Dr. Kim says. It also leaves skin more radiant. "It's like a mini Fraxel," says Elizabeth Tanzi, M.D., a dermatologist in ChevyChase, Maryland, referring to the in-office fractionated lasers that both derms and patients have been obsessed with, thanks to the devices' ability to erase wrinkles and improve skin with relatively little downtime. The Tria uses the same technology: Its beams of light energy bypass the top layer of skin and create microscopic injuries in your collagen layer. This jump-starts the repair processes, including the building of new collagen. Over time, wrinkles, brown spots, surface roughness, and sun damage fade and are replaced with healthier skin.
Company-sponsored research reports that 76 percent of users saw a reduction in fine lines, and 87 percent said their skin looked more radiant and youthful. Dr. Tanzi says: "You could even see a better response than from prescription retinoids," which are held up as the gold standard in at-home antiaging. The Tria is particularly beneficial around the eye area, she says, where topical retinoids can be especially irritating. (Wondering how many skin care products you actually need? We have the scoop from derms.)
But it can take weeks of regular treatments to see results. While you might notice that your skin looks brighter after about two weeks, the full effect requires 10 minutes a night five nights a week for 12 weeks. Dr. Tanzi says many women get tired of the effort involved and give up. But there are some upsides when you compare the lower intensity of the treatment with that of Fraxel. Although using the Tria laser does feel like multiple pinpricks on your skin, it's bearable and you look pink for only an hour or so; if used at night, you're good to glow the next morning. Fraxel, on the other hand, involves numbing cream and five days of sunburned and flaky skin. The Tria is also a lot less expensive, even at $495; a Fraxel session runs upward of $1,000, and most doctors recommend three to five.
Best for an instant glow: Home micro-dermabrasion
Although not nearly as high-tech as laser or light devices, today's home microdermabrasion options, such as the Silk'n ReVit Diamond Microdermabrasion System ($99, silkn.com) and PMD Personal Microderm devices (from $159, getpmd.com) mimic professional machines in that they feature an exfoliating tip or disk plus suction.
That combo is especially good at lifting dry, dull, and pigmented cells from the skin's surface, which speeds cell turnover to deliver smoother, softer skin and a rosy even-toned glow instantly, something that light and laser gadgets don't typically do. It also helps fine lines look less noticeable and clears the way for topicals to penetrate and more effectively clean out pores.
"You can find some pretty decent devices," Dr. Tanzi says. One consideration: If you have sensitive skin or are prone to redness, the devices could tear up skin and leave you with a web of broken capillaries. People of all other skin types should use them only twice a week for a few minutes, Dr. Goldberg says. Seriously. "Users run into problems because they see a little glow and love it, and then they get more aggressive," he says. But frequent treatments and more pressure on the tip can mean red, raw skin, so resist the urge to overdo it. Always liberally slather on moisturizer afterward and you'll be rewarded handsomely. Or, rather, beautifully.
THE TRIED AND TRUE: These classic devices continue to deliver a clearer and brighter complexion.
Battery-powered cleansing brushes whisk away the grime that not only leaves skin looking dull but also increases the production of free radicals that can age skin. Try those from Clarisonic (from $129, clarisonic.com), which come with interchangeable brush heads, or Foreo (from $39, foreo.com), which sport gentle silicone bristles. (Try these face cleansers that will make your face feel super fresh and clean.)
Facial steamers are relaxing, yes, but they also soften skin's top layer so that it's easier to exfoliate and help prep blackheads and whiteheads for extraction and treatment products. Plus, the steam adds hydration that you can then seal in with your moisturizer. Steer clear, however, if you're prone to redness or have rosacea. Try the professional-esque Dr. Dennis Gross Steamer Solutions ($139, drdennisgross.com).