Is a Portable Zit Zapper on the Way?


A new handheld laser device is being developed that will erase acne by cutting off circulation to blemishes, without destroying the protective layer of skin on top of them.

Hand held devices that purport to remove pimples with heat or electricity in just seconds are nothing new. Hand held devices that actually remove pimples a safe, portable laser treatment in just seconds may be on the way soon.

University of Michigan professor Dr. Mohammed Islam, who teaches both electrical engineering and internal medicine and who was a well-known high-tech entrepreneur in Texas before joining the Michigan faculty, has announced the develop of a device about the size of a DVD that generates laser light with components that already available “off the shelf.” Dr. Islam’s objective was to create a device that is compact and economical and that could actually enter the marketplace for everyday use with minimum manufacturing time.

How the Hand-Held Laser Device Works

Dr. Islam’s invention emits laser light at a wavelength of 1708 nanometers. This is a longer and “milder” wavelength of light than is used in blue light treatments for killing bacteria, red light treatments for shrinking oil glands, or most of the ablative lasers that literally burn away acne-prone tissue.

As Islam and his colleagues reported in the August 2011 edition of Lasers in Surgery and Medicine, the advantage of using this wavelength is that it is absorbed by fat, rather than by hemoglobin or water. It can reach deeper under the skin to cut off circulation to blemishes, without destroying the protective layer of skin on top of them. The topmost layer of skin acts as a natural bandage while tissue is rejuvenated beneath it.

What is the advantage of this new approach?

Dr. Islam’s invention is a totally different approach than is used by the “zit zappers” you can buy on Amazon and in some department stores. The older devices that build up heat or that release a sudden burst of electricity may, or may not, leave the topmost layer of skin intact. The problem is that they work from the outside in rather than from the inside out.

The products on the market now may kill acne bacteria in seconds, but that’s only a small part of the healing process. The inflammation that makes bulging pimples red and tender is generated by the immune system in the skin, not by the acne bacteria themselves. Acne bacteria no longer send out chemical trigger for new inflammation, but within a few hours to a few days of treatment with other heat or electrical devices, the immune system generates still more inflammation to clear out dead skin.

Dr. Islam’s device relies on fiber optics to deliver a pinpoint of light to treat the skin. Using fiber optics allows eight times greater intensity of laser light than a traditional laser lamp, without the need for elaborate precautions to protect the eyes and adjacent skin.

Getting to the Bottom of Acne

Dr. Islam also experimented with lasers tuned to emit light at 1320 nanometers, 1450 nanometers, and 1540 nanometers. These wavelengths of invisible infrared light also reached down into the skin to destroy the fats being used to make sebum in the sebaceous glands at the base of acne-prone pores. The longer wavelength of light, Islam and colleagues determined, reaches the deepest oil-producing glands that are involved in the most treatment-resistant acne.

The longer wavelengths of light used in this new device also have longer-lasting effects than earlier versions of portable laser treatment. They do not, however, reach more than 1.65 mm (about 1/20 of an inch) into the skin and will not themselves cause scarring or deep tissue injury. And because the laser light does not destroy the surface of the skin, treatment does not leave clear dividing lines between treated and untreated skin.

Licensed for Production

Dr. Islam’s team has licensed their laser treatment device to a Michigan start-up company, Omni Sciences. Islam is its new president, and the company receives support from the University of Michigan. We’ll be letting you know right here just as soon as the Omni hand held laser treatment unit is available for consumers.

So, should you use a Zeno Hot Spot or similar device in the meantime?

We don’t think so. We think you’re probably better off using “pimple emergency” treatments that take about 24 hours to work.

One approach is to go your dermatologist and to ask for an injection of prednisone or some other steroid that will shrink a pimple overnight. All this does is to shrink the pimple to the contour of the skin, but that is enough to enable you to conceal it with makeup. Steroid shots into pimples are not usually covered by insurance and they are not cheap.

Moreover, injecting the same location in the skin multiple times can cause permanent fading of skin pigment. You may have a permanent light or white spot where you once had pimples. It is usually best to leave this treatment for major “pimple emergencies” such as weddings and proms.

Another approach to “pimple emergencies” requires 24 to 48 hours advance preparation. You can treat your pimple with any product that contains at least 10% tea tree oil. There are not that many products that actually contain 10% tea tree oil, so it’s best to keep a bottle of 100% tea tree oil on hand.

Just dab tea tree oil with a clean cotton swab directly on the pimple and allow to try. It will kill bacteria slowly, but it will relieve redness and swelling quickly. If you have a 48-hour head start on your pimple emergency, tea tree oil will usually give you enough pimple relief that you can conceal the blemish with makeup.

Even Dr. Islam’s new device won’t give you instant results. If you are 20 or younger, you might get clear skin where you had pimples in about a week. If you are 50 or older, it might take as long as a month.

The hand held laser treatment device is only for mild to moderate acne vulgaris. It won’t treat rosacea (in fact, it would almost surely make it worse) and it won’t treat cysts. For everyday whiteheads, blackheads, and pimples, however, the Omni Sciences laser therapy unit promises to be the top of the line of medication-free acne treatment.

{ 2 comments... read them below or add one }

    How do you know this will not treat cysts? Some people see this development as a possible treatment for Sebaceous Prominence. Can anybody with some scientific expertise could give their opinion?

    i have a question I am looking for a handheld laser removal for acne scars I have tried everything but never lasor does it really work I am very skeptical and don’t wanna spend 1000s of dollars on treatment I getting married this year and want my face pretty I am very self conscious and it is safe

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