The answer is yes—as long as you’re willing to commit. The newest laser and light devices soften lines, firm skin, and clear up spots, but before you get turned on, read our expert-vetted, real-women-tested guide.
If you think you can flip a switch to get smoother, brighter skin, well… you kinda can. Some of the newest anti-aging innovations offer the same technology that’s available in dermatologists’ offices—LED lights, lasers, electrical currents—in a lower-strength form you use in your own bathroom. And doctors say they can deliver similar results, if you’re up for putting in the time. “With these gadgets, it can take months of diligent use before you see a difference in your skin, whereas a similar office procedure may do the same after only one or two sessions,” says Ellen Marmur, M.D., an associate clinical professor of dermatology at New York City’s Mount Sinai School of Medicine.
Of course, those one or two sessions can cost you thousands of dollars, while most at-home tools range from $200 to $500. Still, these machines aren’t cheap, so are they worth it? “If your skin is sensitive to ingredients like retinoids, a device offers a gentler alternative,” says Marmur. “Plus, it can boost the effectiveness of your anti-aging products.” We asked a slew of women, all over 35, to try out the latest models for several months, then report back. Here are the FDA-approved gadgets that our testers and top dermatologists say truly work.
Smooths wrinkles: LightStim for Wrinkles, $249
What it does: LEDs (light-emitting diodes) beam painless wavelengths into the skin. “This revs up your skin’s collagen production, which over time reduces wrinkles and prevents new ones from forming,” says Fredric Brandt, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist in New York City and Miami. “Plus, it’s safe and gentle on all skin tones.”
How to use it: After cleansing, hold the wand on each section of skin you want to treat for three minutes per area. Depending on how much skin you plan to cover, the full shebang takes 10 to 20 minutes, five times a week. You’ll see results after eight weeks, at which point you can cut back usage to twice a week.
What to expect: “The light felt warm and relaxing,” says Felicia, 48, who has olive skin and saw a big improvement on her forehead lines and brown spots. “By two weeks in, my skin looked so good I stopped wearing foundation.”
The bottom line: LightStim can fade fine lines and moderate sun spots, “but if you have heavy-duty sun damage or wrinkles, you’ll see better results from a professional laser treatment,” says Brandt. “However, I like that you can use this device with anti-agers like retinol or glycolic acid post-treatment, and it won’t cause extra irritation.”
Fades spots and lines: Tria Age-Defying Laser, $495
What it does: It sounds right out of a James Bond movie: A diode laser boosts collagen and elastin to smooth wrinkles, though devotees say it also makes their skin soft and even-toned (currently, the Tria is FDA-cleared only to treat lines). “It’s modeled after the fractionated lasers that doctors use, which trigger the skin’s healing response,” says Macrene Alexiades-Armenakas, M.D., Ph.D., an associate clinical professor of dermatology at Yale University School of Medicine.
How to use it: On clean skin, place the tool on one cheek; continually glide it over the area until the buzzer beeps, then do the same on your other cheek, forehead, and chin. The device has three levels (you gradually work up to level 3), so depending on which one you use, it can take up to 10 minutes to treat your whole face. Do this five nights a week for 12 weeks, then repeat the cycle later on if new spots or lines appear.
What to expect: “The zapping felt like hot pinpricks, but it was tolerable,” says Elizabeth, 45, who wanted to get rid of brown spots on her fair skin. “When I first used the Tria, my entire face looked sunburnt afterward, though the redness subsided after about an hour.” Within two weeks, Elizabeth said her skin looked even and luminous, “and by the end of the three months, my crow’s-feet were much softer, too.”
The bottom line: “Because the Tria causes temporary skin inflammation, don’t use a retinoid or a glycolic acid product on the same nights that you do the treatment,” says Alexiades-Armenakas. “It’ll also make skin more sensitive to the sun, so you must wear a broad-spectrum, SPF 30 sunscreen every day.”
Firms slack skin: NuFace Mini Facial Toning Device, $199
What it does: Like a personal trainer for your face, this massaging gadget tones skin so it gets smoother and tighter by emitting low-level electrical currents.
How to use it: Apply the face gel that comes in the kit (it helps the currents penetrate skin), then slowly roll the metal spheres in an upward motion over each area you want to tighten. The entire treatment takes only a few minutes, but you have to do it five times a week for eight weeks, then two to three times a week to keep up the results.
What to expect: “It’s like a cold, slightly tingly massage,” says 44-year-old Wendi, who used NuFace on her jawline, neck, cheeks, and forehead. “I saw immediate tightening after the first use, and over the eight weeks, my skin became much firmer. I got a lot of ‘Wow, you look amazing!’ remarks from friends, and a few even told me I looked much younger.”
The bottom line: While the skin-tightening effect is legit, it’s also short-lived. “The microcurrents cause minor swelling that makes skin look plump and lifted, but the effect starts to fade after a few hours,” explains Marmur. “So long as you’re using the device five days a week you’ll keep seeing results, but there’s no long-term benefit—though the massaging action improves circulation and gives skin a healthy glow.”
Clears up adult acne: Quasar Baby Blue, $349
What it does: This wand waves its magic on pimples, releasing gentle blue LED light that destroys acne-causing bacteria and shrinks a zit in as little as a few days.
How to use it: On just-washed skin, glide the device over breakout-prone areas using circular motions. Treat each area for four minutes, three to five days a week for eight weeks. Then, to stay pimple-free, use it one to three days a week.
What to expect: After trying every over-the-counter product to nix her chin and jaw acne, Lauren, 36, said this little machine cleared up her skin in just 48 hours. “I’ve been using it a few times a week for two months now, and I haven’t had a single breakout,” she says.
The bottom line: “This device is the same technology that we use in-office to treat persistent acne,” says Marmur. “It really does the job without drying out your skin the way some products can.”