Review: Zeno Hot Spot Blemish Clearing Device

What? A post on a skincare gadget that’s not listed in the Skeptic Files category? Say it ain’t so, Joe!

Indeed, Joe, it is so, because This. Gadget. Works.

I’ve been fortunate in that since I really started to pay attention to my skin cleansing routine, I’ve seen a big decrease in the number of acne blemishes I get. At this point I have maybe one or two a year. I still get whiteheads from clogged pores, but those are harmless and easily remedied. I’m talking here about the painful, red, swollen bumps caused by your bacterial friend and mine, P. acnes. On the one hand, this is great! On the other, it’s made it difficult for me to review this product, which I picked up several months ago on sale at CVS.

I think we’ve already had the “what causes acne?” discussion, but the Sparknotes version is this: oils and dead skin cells plug up a pore, and the sebum that collects behind the plug is like a big old Golden Corral buffet for P. acnes bacteria. They grow and multiply and secrete chemicals that stretch and damage the wall of the pore, all of which causes redness, inflammation, infection, and pain. Yay, Mother Nature. Thanks a lot for that one.

Getting rid of an acne blemish requires killing the bacteria that are happily noshing on your sebum. (Sorry, guys.) Benzoyl peroxide is the gold standard in terms of chemical weaponry, because it both kills the bacteria (by adding oxygen that disables the bacteria, which are anaerobic) and helps the surface layers of skin dry up and peel off, which makes it easier for the pore to open and stay open. Antibiotics can also be used, and recently there have been developments in using light in or near the ultraviolet spectrum to kill P. acnes.

Or, you can use this little gizmo and cook ’em.

The Zeno works by delivering concentrated heat to the pimple, thus killing the bacteria. Because the heat can penetrate only so far into the skin, it may not be able to kill all of the bacteria at once, so it may take multiple treatments (spaced several hours apart) to nuke the pimple completely. But if your experience is like mine, you will have immediate relief from pain and significant reduction in redness and swelling within the first hour after treatment.

In my particular case, the Zeno zapped my zit with one zot. (Sorry. Couldn’t help it.) One treatment was all it took. The blemish wasn’t large, and I caught it early, but one treatment did the job.

The Zeno Hot Spot is very simple to use — actually, a little too simple, because you can very easily accidentally turn it on without even realizing it. You turn it on by touching (or, apparently, waving your hand in the general vicinity of) the small flat rectangular plate on the front side. The four lights to the left of the plate blink to a) tell you it’s on, and 2) tell you how many charges your Zeno has remaining. It comes with 80, and then you have to buy a replacement pack. Press the metal tip lightly against your blemish (you’ll figure out the right amount of pressure to use), and you’ll feel it getting hot. It is totally silent other than a beep every 30 seconds, and a series of beeps at the end of the treatment cycle, which is 2 1/2 minutes.

Let me be very clear about something — it gets hot. HOT. I mean, you’re not going to burn your fingers on it or anything, but it’s uncomfortably warm. Plus, you’re holding it in one place on your face for 2 1/2 minutes, and that one place is already inflamed and painful. So yeah, not the most fun treatment ever. However, it works, so I’m willing to put up with the pain.

Plus, it kind of looks like one of the minions from Despicable Me, don’t you think? Cute.

(Minion photo from Universal Pictures/Illumination Entertainment.)


Zeno Hot Spot Blemish Clearing Device: $39.99 (but is often on sale; I got mine for 20% off at CVS)

Provenance: Purchased.

Price/Value Ratio (gadgets: poor/fair/good/excellent): Good, if you get it on sale. Otherwise, fair.

Purchase again? Yes, I’ll refill/recharge when necessary. Hopefully that won’t be for a long time!

(Have you used this product? Love it? Hate it? Want it? Let us know in the comments!)

Review: Clarisonic Skin Cleansing Brush

clarisonic 1The holidays are coming up, and I can’t think of a single better beauty purchase to find sitting under the tree, stuffed in your stocking, wrapped in gold foil, pinned to your Yule log, or tied up with a “Happy Winter Solstice!” bow on it than a Clarisonic. I bought mine last year around this time and it is still the best beauty purchase I’ve ever made. Yes, it cost me $200, but I haven’t regretted one copper penny of it. Not one.

The Clarisonic is the equivalent of a sonic toothbrush for your skin. It uses sonic vibrations to help loosen and remove dirt, makeup, and surface oils from your face. The inside of the brush (inside the black circle) rotates back and forth, very very fast, in tiny arcs. The bristles do not actually scrub your face (more on this in a minute); the sound waves loosen the debris and the bristles of the brush help sweep them away.

When the Clarisonic first came out, many people were upset because it didn’t seem to exfoliate as well as they had expected. This is because that’s not what it’s for. That’s what I meant when I said the bristles do not scrub your skin. This is not like taking a carpet cleaner to your face, which a) is good, and b) is what some people evidently expected from looking at the product. You are not supposed to scrub at your face with this piece of equipment; you move it around your face slowly with very-light-to-no pressure and it does all the work.

It comes from the factory with some pre-set timings; the default is a one-minute cleansing cycle in which 20 seconds are spent on the forehead, 20 seconds on the nose and chin, and 10 on each cheek. The handset beeps to tell you when it’s time to move on to the next area. You can change these settings, although I’ve seen tax forms that were more intuitive than the directions for this process. It comes with one of three different brush heads: normal, sensitive (what I use), and delicate (which the company says is safe for people with rosacea, but I’ll let someone else talk about that!). The brush heads should be replaced every 3 months. They cost $25 each, but now these are starting to be marketed in multi-packs at a discount, so that’s all to the good.

The box includes some sample size cleansers, but I wasn’t a fan of them so I use it with my regular cleanser and it works just fine. From the first time I used it, I was really taken aback by how clean my skin looked. I mean, I had thought my skin was clean before, but it reached heights of cleanliness that may even have transcended godliness, not just been next to it. I use it either once or twice a day; overuse makes my skin a little sensitive, so every now and again I give it a rest.

Since I bought mine, they have come out with some smaller models that run about $150, so you can get one for slightly less than I paid, but there’s no question that this is a significant outlay of funds. However, think of the two or three facials you won’t be needing, and it suddenly becomes a good investment. If you ask Santa for one, tell him he should get it at a store with a good return policy (like Sephora) so that you won’t have any trouble taking it back if you find it’s not for you.


Clarisonic Skin Cleansing Brush: $145-$225

Provenance: Purchased

Price/Value Ratio (high-end: poor/fair/good/excellent): Excellent (albeit spendy).

Purchase again? Absolutely, though I hope I never need to!

(Have you used this product? Love it? Hate it? Want it? Let us know in the comments!)

Things I Wonder About: Lancôme Ôscillation Micro-Vibrating Foundation


Really, Lancôme? Do we really, really need this?

What you can’t see in the still photo to the left is that the applicator vibrates. Yes. You heard me correctly. Because a “micro-vibrating” applicator is better than … well, one that just sits there in your hand, I guess.

Now, if you tell me that “yes, we really do need this, because it actually is five billion times better than any other application method,” then maybe I’ll try it out, especially if you send me one.

According to the product hype:

The first micro-vibrating mineral foundation. See a pixel-precise complexion with 14-hour wear. Never messy. Never so simple. Feel newborn skin: Every day, micro-massagers work with gentle minerals to revitalize skin, making it smoother, softer and visibly healthier, even after makeup removal.

How to use: Simply push the button and let the velvety cushion applicator glide effortlessly across skin for perfect coverage. 7,000 micro-vibrations per minute break down the featherweight mineral powder for seamless blendability.

Safe for all skin types, even sensitive. Talc-free, oil-free, fragrance-free. 0.28 oz.

It’s also SPF 21, and retails for $48. For fuller detail (with animation!), see Lancôme’s website.

I’m a huge fan of the Clarisonic (review coming as part of November’s skincare focus), and of the Sonicare toothbrush, but the whole vibrating mascara thing pretty much didn’t do anything for me, so I’m a bit skeptical.

However, Voxy is never afraid to admit when she is wrong, so … who wants to convince me?

Review: Garnier Nutritioniste Skin Renew Anti-Puff Eye Roller

garnier rollerball

Voxy : rollerballs ::

A. fish : bicycle

B. Paris Hilton : endowed professorship

C. Charlie Brown : football

That would be C … always getting my hopes up, only to have them yanked away at the last minute. I suppose that in this situation, that makes Garnier Lucy. (Admit it, you were hoping it was going to work out to be B somehow.)

This is an intriguing little product. The point behind the rollerball as a de-puffing agent is this: most undereye puffiness is just simple edema — the accumulation of fluids in the eye area, usually during sleep, when you are (presumably) horizontal and gravity isn’t helping your circulatory system keep those fluids moving. Gentle massage of the area on rising can help start moving those fluids along. The rollerball is a cunning little mechanism to make that massage easier. Applying cool things to the area (the stereotypical cucumber slices, or a washcloth soaked in cool water) will also help reduce swelling and puffiness. And it’s a funny thing — that rollerball does always feel unusually cold. I’m sure there is some science that explains that. The metal of the rollerball always seems much colder on my skin than, say, a spoon, or a spatula, or a can of hairspray. Not that I go around rubbing spatulas on my face as a general rule — only for the purposes of Scientific Experiment, of course.

So that’s the hoopla with the rollerball. Of course, there’s also some product inside that nifty packaging, and it’s a thin, light lotion (thick ones won’t work with a rollerball delivery system) containing, among other things, caffeine, a much-lauded de-puffing ingredient.

My take on this is that the rollerball is very cool (both figuratively and literally), but the product itself is not much to write home about. I prefer a more emollient cream, and in the few weeks I used this I didn’t notice any difference in either overall hydration or dark circles, both of which the product claims to improve. The directions also say to only roll the ball over your skin “one to two times,” but if I’m waking up with clamshells for eyelids after a salty Chinese food late-night binge, I want a bit more massage than that.

So in the end, I’m not sold on the product inside the package. However, I do really like the idea of a cool, soothing rollerball massage. I have some empty rollerball vials that were meant to hold perfume oils, and I think I’m going to fill one with toner, maybe add a bit of glycerin, chuck it in the fridge, and give it a go.


Garnier Nutritioniste Skin Renew Anti-Puff Eye Roller: about $13

Provenance: Purchased

Price/Value Ratio (drugstore: poor/fair/good/excellent): fair

Purchase again? No

(Have you used this product? Love it? Hate it? Want it? Let us know in the comments!)

Estée Lauder’s Virtual Makeover Tool: Ur Doin’ It Rite

Estee_lauderDo you remember a few years ago, when the whole “virtual makeover” thing hit the streets harder than a hungover Real Housewife of Atlanta after an all-night party? You uploaded your picture and then told the website to apply various shades of makeup, haircolor, hairstyles, etc., and almost without exception the results looked like you had put on a cheap, ill-fitting wig, smeared dirt on your eyelids, rubbed a child’s watercolor palette somewhere in the general vicinity of your face, and then slept on the whole business? My favorite incarnation of this is the “HairMixer” application on Facebook, where I discovered that a) I can’t pull off Paris Hilton’s hair (much as I might want to), and b) I look disturbingly good with Anderson Cooper’s hair. I’m not really sure what that says about my foxaliciousness, but I’m pretty sure it’s nothing good.

Overall, I’d have to give these sites a pretty firm thumbs-down. They’re fun to play with, certainly, but their accuracy leaves much to be desired.

Just when you hoped thought this trend was going the way of the dodo (which I believe involves a left turn at Albuquerque), Estée Lauder has decided to dip its pedicured toe in the water with the Let’s Play Makeover tool, and I’m surprised and pleased to say that this is the best virtual makeover tool I’ve used (although I wish the name didn’t make me feel so much like a six-year-old).

The basic idea is the same as all of the similar sites: upload a photo, and then do things to it. However, the folks at Estée Lauder have taken remarkable care to allow you to actually map the products onto your face correctly, so that your lipstick doesn’t end up on your chin and you are still recognizable under what you’re wearing. It’s very sophisticated; I’m impressed. For best results, you should use a photo of yourself in which you are facing the camera straight-on, with good lighting and no makeup. They recommend that the photo be reasonably high-resolution; although they say not to, I used a picture taken with my webcam and it was just fine.

In order to get greater precision, they do ask you to map more points on your face than other sites do, but since this helps yield better results, it’s a worthy investment of an extra two minutes. The best part, though, is the number of options you get. You choose your skin tone in terms of both light-to-dark and warm-to-cool, specify the amount of coverage you want from a foundation, can tell the computer how you like your eyeshadow applied (lid only, lid and crease, or lid, crease, and brow bone), and can control how much of each product is applied to your face. It’s exceptionally elegant. Of course the selections you make also offer to let you buy the products in question with one click of a button, but you can’t blame them for trying to sell product!

You can save the looks you make, clear your look and start over, or apply one of their “one-click” looks, which are pre-loaded assortments of products that reflect current trends. Of the two currently on the website, one of them was horrendous on me, but the other was surprisingly good.

Now whenever you play with something like this, you have to keep in mind two things: a) if you go to the store and buy the product that looked great on you in the mockup, there’s no guarantee that it will look exactly the same, since you are both dealing with a photo taken of you in particular lighting, etc., and looking at the colors through your computer display’s gamma settings; and b) finding the right products does not relieve you of the obligation of applying them with some modicum of skill if you want to approach the mockup. But there is one thing in particular for which I think this tool is exceptionally useful: testing out possible colors in The Quest for the Perfect Red Lipstick. Although I wouldn’t rely on this for exact shades, you can see whether in general you look better in reds that tilt orange or those that tilt blue.