As far as big skin care splurges go, LED treatments feel somewhat anticlimactic. They’re designed to penetrate deep into the skin to treat inflamed zits, calm redness from healing breakouts, and lessen the appearance of fine lines. But they lack the sensorial delivery of an especially luxurious cream or the gentle tingle of an acid peel. The first time I tried one, I questioned whether it was even doing anything other than silently bathing my face in different colors. It’s not that I particularly want light-based devices to suddenly heat up or sting me (if you experience either of those things, something is going very wrong), but the experience of feeling nothing at all takes some getting used to.
Persist, though, and you’ll be rewarded. Having tried multiple in-office LED sessions to counteract occasional breakouts or inflammation (administered by dermatologists and aestheticians), I’ve noticed that my skin looks calmer and clearer for a surprising amount of time with consistent treatment—weeks instead of days compared with topical facials. And there’s no downtime or posttreatment redness to contend with, which is always a bonus. Still, I’ve often wondered if at-home versions of these treatments could accurately duplicate these results. I’ve briefly flirted with a couple of handheld LED pens before, but you can tell just by looking at them that they’re not very practical for covering a large surface area when you get multiple surprise pimples. I’d rather spend 10 seconds dabbing on a zit cream.
None of this put a dent in my curiosity when Dr. Dennis Gross launched the DRx SpectraLite FaceWare Pro, a futuristic, hands-free acne mask that’s also said to treat fine lines and wrinkles (also the case for other acne topicals like prescription Retin-A). It’s not the first example in this category, but it’s the one that seemed most convincing to me. (This is the brand that changed my skin with its resurfacing Alpha Beta peels, one of the best products I’ve ever used.) I was all but sold, but the $ 435 price tag brought me to a screeching halt. As eye-catching as it was, could any mask really be worth that amount of money?
Rather than do my usual routine of agonizing endlessly over the answer, I consulted two third-party experts, Jessica Weiser, M.D., a dermatologist at New York Dermatology Group, and dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, M.D. I get the big question out of the way: Both confirmed that the device is indeed doing more than changing colors.
“The science behind this device is legitimate, and these types of light therapy are offered in many dermatology practices, including my own,” says Dr. Weiser, who points out that one big upside of LED treatments is that they work on all skin types and tones. “Additionally, LED and light therapy are thought to be safe during pregnancy and breastfeeding when acne treatments are extremely limited.”
This mask utilizes three versions of LED therapy. The FDA-cleared device sits comfortably atop your face, held in place by an adjustable strap and coated with a cushy layer of silicone. It’s a little heavier than I expected, but it doesn’t budge or slide once it’s on. Inside there are 100 red-mode LEDs and 62 blue ones; you can use them separately or together for a total of three treatments, depending on which benefits you want to focus on. The button sits at the top of your forehead, and each press activates a different mode. While you can certainly harness all the benefits by turning both sets of LEDs on, it’s helpful to know what each is meant to do.