The Tanda Zap ($49) is an at-home device made by Syneron Beauty, which uses blue LED light to combat acne. According to Tanda’s website, blue light therapy has been clinically and scientifically proven for the treatment and prevention of mild to moderate inflammatory acne. The device is a triple threat, employing not just blue LED light to kill acne bacteria but also a sonic vibration which supposedly stimulates microcirculation to reduce swelling and inflammation while added heat agitates skin, enabling pores to open, thereby allowing the blue light to reach more bacteria. Additionally, the Zap supposedly uses an LED wavelength that prevents future breakouts. The Tanda Zap was awarded New Beauty Magazine’s 2011 Beauty Choice Awards Best At-Home Beauty Device for Acne and when I received the device (being an X-files fan), I thought to myself “I Want to Believe.”

Unfortunately, like the X-Files, many things about the Tanda Zap remain unresolved. I can’t attest to the benefits, if any, of sonic vibration and heat on acne relief. I just don’t see how agitating already inflamed skin with heat can be a good thing. Moreover, I’ve previously stated that sonic vibration must be at a certain frequency in order to be effective. I’ll concede that the Zap’s sonic vibration may stimulate microcirculation but why would you want to do that with acne bacteria? There’s no way to know whether the sonic frequency reduces swelling and inflammation. In spas, steam - or vapor resulting from water reaching its boiling point - is used to soften skin and “open pores.” I can’t see how this device generates enough heat to open up pores – even with the sonic frequency. Syneron Beauty does not cite any clinical evidence for use of sonic vibration and heat to combat acne, so I’m inclined to write it off as bells and whistles thrown in.

However, research on the clinical efficacy of blue light for treating mild to moderate acne does exist. According to Tanda, the Zap device is clinically proven to clear or fade acne blemishes within 24 hours and Syneron Beauty cites a 2011 Clinical Efficacy publication (which is strangely still pending), but I was able to dig up the Abstract and it appears to back the 24-hour claim, but without access to the details in the publication, it’s difficult to be certain. That said, a 2009 publication for the Tanda Clear, by the same authors for the pending Zap publication, has certain caveats to the 24-hour claim.

What’s interesting here is that, based on the information Syneron Beauty provides on its website, the Tanda Clear+ and the Tanda Zap are identical devices technology-wise and both are recommended for mild to moderate acne. However, the Tanda Clear+ has a larger surface area, is rechargeable and retails for $195. The Zap runs on three triple-A batteries (more on that later), is indicated for use as a spot treatment, and retails for $49.

Acne manifests on skin in different forms (comedones, papules, pustules and cysts) and the Zap is not effective on all types of acne, a distinction which Tanda doesn’t make clear (with the exception of cystic acne that I noted on the actual box but could not find on the website). The 2009 study’s results revealed most of the reduction of signs of acne were achieved for comedones (aka blackheads) and papules (raised, red bumps). However, the device is virtually ineffective on pustules (resemble blisters). Per the study, the reduction of pustules was not statistically significant. This was consistent with my experience using the Zap.

Further, Tanda seem to be taking liberties by stating that the device prevents acne. The study’s findings suggested that the reduction of comedones and papules may support the reduction of early signs of acne and, therefore, may support the prevention of new outbreaks.

As a licensed esthetician, I know that acne is one of the hardest nuts to crack. The causes for acne vary widely and can change throughout one’s lifetime. Hence, like the reviews for Proactiv, the reviews for the Zap are all over the map. What was bizarre to me was that the chief complaint about the device was battery life; one positive reviewer is using three new triple-A batteries each week! Many reviewers eventually gave up on the Zap and purchased the more expensive, rechargeable Tanda Clear+. Whenever I read such things, I can’t help but wonder if that is a process put into place by design. Reviewers who did have positive results with the Zap seemed to be zapping their faces into oblivion, doubling up on the treatments to obtain results. At two plus minutes per zap, that’s extremely time consuming!

Those who suffer from mild acne or the occasional pimple (providing it’s not a pustule) may find the Tanda Zap may work for them. I found it to be most effective when used immediately upon the onset of a pimple. Unfortunately, this tip is not in the manual that accompanies the actual device but I found it on the 'how to' video online (the website has a seriously annoying kink - it simultaneously plays two videos). I also think the Zap can reduce the time it takes for lesions to heal.

Sunil’s final verdict regarding blue light was that is a potential way to fight mild to moderate acne with no adverse side effects but results do vary from person to person. Note, the caveat here is that results didn’t seem to change when it came to fighting bad acne. He also noted that by using blue light in conjunction with classic acne treatments such as retinoic acid, benzoyl peroxide, and salicylic acid, individuals may be able to see better results. Good advice.