Does heat therapy work?
In recent years, heat therapy devices like Zeno™, No! No! Skin™, and ThermaClear™ have hit the market, claiming to help heal acne lesions quickly by killing acne bacteria. The devices are marketed for mild, inflammatory acne (little red zits) only, and are designed to treat pimples that are already present. They do nothing for prevention, and tend to leave users chasing pimples around their face at up to 50 cents per "zap." Even so, if these devices worked, they would be great tools to have. Unfortunately, we're looking at a big "If." Science on these devices is incomplete at best, and based on our own admittedly unscientific trial here at acne.org, they simply do not work.
The medical concept behind these devices is that heat causes cells to produce heat-shock proteins, which then kill acne bacteria, hastening the healing of an acne lesion. Much of the science behind these devices comes from a single unpublished study which employs subjective analysis, and presents only two subject pictures.1 A more recent study showed heat-killed acne bacteria was still able to elicit an inflammatory response.2 Much more research is required before we even begin to know whether such devices have the potential to fulfill their promises.
Keep in mind that my own experience is subjective and unblinded as well. I tried both the Zeno and ThermaClear devices on my own skin and on the skin of several colleagues and friends over a period of several months. Neither of these devices worked. Quite the contrary, the Zeno device often left red marks on the skin which made lesions look more apparent, and appeared to do nothing to heal the lesions more quickly. The ThermaClear, with its shorter treatment time, did not leave red marks, but did nothing."
The bottom line
Since the beginning of civilization, salesmen have produced "miracle devices" which claim to heal just about every disease known to man. When something seems too good to be true, it usually is. When you consider the paucity of science behind these products, and also consider the cost of the devices combined with the cost of "replacement tips," a healthy dose of skepticism is in order.
- Bruce S, et. al. Significant Efficacy and Safety of Low Level Intermittent Heat in Patients with Mild to Moderate Acne. Suzanne Bruce and Associates, Tyrell Inc., Synergos Inc.
- Lyte P, et al. "Heat killed Propionibacterium acnes is capable of inducing inflammatory responses in skin." Experimental Dermatology. 2009; 18(12): 1070-1072.