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Could Heat Be the Cure For Your Acne?

By Megan Griffith

Reviewed for medical accuracy by Dr. Jaggi Rao,
MD, FRCPC Double board-certified dermatologist

“How would you like to have clear skin in just 24 hours?” the advertisements beckon. “Stop blemishes before they start!” site visitors are told. Acne heat treatment devices are heavily advertised and highly popular. But do they really work?

acne heat treatments
At-home acne heat treatments are much less effective than the heat treatments at a dermatologist’s office, and these usually only deflate pimples.


  • At-home acne heat treatment at best can deflate pimples, so these are not as prominent on the skin. It doesn’t get rid of them.
  • At-home acne heat treatment involves one or two “zaps” of the skin. The kind of radio-frequency heat treatment you get at the dermatologist’s office involves 400 or more individual applications of heat.
  • Heat treatment rejuvenates aged skin, but most teens and young adults don’t need it.
  • Acne heat treatment can make rosacea much, much worse—immediately.
  • A better alternative to acne heat treatment is a complete skin care system like Exposed Skin Care.

How Acne Heat Treatment Is Marketed to Teens

“You notice you have a big zit breaking out. And of course you do. That’s what happens when you have a big date, or school is starting tomorrow, or you need to have your photo taken for the school annual. A handheld acne treatment gadget like Zeno can dry out your skin faster than benzoyl peroxide gel, so you can have clear skin as soon as tomorrow. There is just nothing like it.”

Most home heat treatment devices need about a minute to power up to deliver a single charge of heat to the skin. The device does not have a way of knowing healthy skin, so you have to use it in front of a mirror to make sure it is placed over a pimple. With a quick blast of painful heat, the treatment is over in just a second, and the device can be powered up again to treat another pimple.

One teen reviewer of the Zeno acne heat treatment device commented that she likes to leave her acne clearing device on the low setting unless she is “feeling particularly masochistic, because it does cause pain when the heat makes contact with your skin.” She continues, “I used to keep it on high, like, all the time, but I got tired of bracing for the pain.”

But does the acne zapper really work?

The reviewer continues. “The thing I like about Thermoclear is that you don’t have to replace the head of the machine after every 30 uses like Zeno. The manual says you should replace it every six months, but I’ve had mine over a year and it still works OK. It leaves a little red spot, but it is totally flat so it is easier to conceal.”

If you have been using the same device for a year, it definitely does not cure acne. But the reviewer continues, “The whole thing costs $150, which is pretty steep. But if you live the United States, shipment is free, which is pretty cool.” The Zeno Hot Spot, incidentally, actually retails between US $39.99 (with free shipping) and US $199.99 (with shipping extra), depending on the site you visit.

How Acne Heat Treatment Is Marketed to Dermatologists

Just below the surface of the skin there is a strong but flexible network of fibers made of collagen1. When the skin is young, these fibers are wound into cords made of a triple helix of protein, held together by smaller chains of protein. As the skin ages, the skin makes about 1% less collagen every year. The cords of collagen that hold the skin in place gradually weaken. The skin forms sags and bags2, first around the eyes, and then on the chin and jaw line, and gradually over the entire face.

The cross-links between the weakening cords of collagen, however, multiply. They pull and twist the skin into wrinkles, and tighten the skin around pores. People who did not have acne as teens may get acne for the first time at the age of 30, 40, 50, or even later in life, along with sags, bags, and wrinkles.

Heat breaks down the cross-links between collagen fibers3, allowing them to spring back into their normal triple helical shape. Treating the skin with radio frequency (RF) generates heat in denser tissues beneath the skin, especially in fat, and encourages the formation of collagen closer to the surface of the  skin, strengthening skin and smoothing out the sags, bags, and wrinkles. Application of radio-frequency heat to the skin4 in combination with a gentle vacuum stimulates even more growth of the skin.

Most dermatologists apply over 400 radio-frequency pulses to the skin in each treatment. There have been instances in which operators set the machine too high and caused burns, but the only typical side effect is swelling and redness that subsides in 24 hours. The primary use of medical heat treatment5 is for lifting eyebrows and treating bags under the eyes. It is also used for neck lifts.

Does Heat Treatment Really Work for Acne?

The kind of heat treatment you might get at the dermatologist’s office really is not best suited for treating acne. A dermatologist is far more likely to recommend treatment using blue6 and red light. Blue light works by irradiating bacteria, not by heating the skin. Red light reduces sebum production, but not by “cooking” the skin.

The kind of heat treatment you can get with handheld acne heat treatment7 devices may temporarily shrink pimples. It will actually make whiteheads and blackheads harder to remove by shrinking the skin. This also means that it will not prevent whiteheads and blackheads from becoming pimples. Handheld heat treatment will interfere with the healing of moles, insect bites, ingrown hairs, nodules, or cysts. And it will make rosacea much worse.

Even if at-home acne heat treatment gives you the best possible results, you will still have a red spot where the pimple was for about two weeks. It may not be as noticeable, but it will not disappear, either. You will still need to use concealer if you want to hide the pimple.

There is a better way. Instead of trying to fix pimples after the fact, you can prevent pimples with a complete acne care system. By giving your skin the daily cleansing it needs, you keep pores from getting clogged. By using the right skin treatment serum, you can remove discolorations of the skin from old acne and open pores that are already clogged. Microdermabrasion can help you smooth out scars. Probiotics can help reduce inflammation in your skin so it does not get as red, even around pimples.

One of the best acne treatment systems provides everything you need for getting rid of acne and keeping it gone for good, for about 1/3 of the cost of an acne heat treatment unit. Try Exposed Skin Care.


  1. Shoulders MD, Raines RT. Collagen structure and stability. Annu Rev Biochem. 2009;78:929-58.
  2. An Overview of Your Skin | Cleveland Clinic [Internet]. Cleveland Clinic. 2019.
  3. Bozec L, Odlyha M. Thermal denaturation studies of collagen by microthermal analysis and atomic force microscopy. Biophys J. 2011 Jul 6;101(1):228-36.
  4. Dayan E, Chia C, Burns AJ, Theodorou S. Adjustable Depth Fractional Radiofrequency Combined With Bipolar Radiofrequency: A Minimally Invasive Combination Treatment for Skin Laxity. Aesthet Surg J. 2019 Apr;39(Supplement_3):S112-S119.
  5. Araújo AR, Soares VP, Silva FS, Moreira Tda S. Radiofrequency for the treatment of skin laxity: mith or truth. An Bras Dermatol. 2015 Sep-Oct;90(5):707-21.
  6. Dai T, Gupta A, Murray CK, Vrahas MS, Tegos GP, Hamblin MR. Blue light for infectious diseases: Propionibacterium acnes, Helicobacter pylori, and beyond? Drug Resist Updat. 2012 Aug;15(4):223-36.
  7. Joo Y, Kang H, Choi EH, Nelson JS, Jung B. Characterization of a new acne vulgaris treatment device combining light and thermal treatment methods. Skin Res Technol. 2012 Feb;18(1):15-21.
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