Shine Tries It: LightStim Rosacea light

Shine editors road-test unusual products and unbelievable promises to find out what lives up to the hype and what doesn't. Warning: Don't try any of this at home until we do.

My complexion has never been worse than it is right now. Sure, in my teens and 20s I had pimples, but something very different started happening in my 30s – I started developing Rosacea.

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Rosacea (pronounced roh-ZAY-sha) “is a common but poorly understood disorder of the facial skin” that “affects adults between the ages of 30 and 60…and is more common in women,” according to the National Rosacea Association and the National Institutes of Health, respectively. 

Poorly understood is right: No dermatologist I have ever seen has found a way to get rid of it.

In my case, Rosacea has turned my cheeks and forehead perma-red. It looks like I’m wearing uneven blush, 24-7. It sometimes takes the form of blotches on my neck. It is most apparent when I cry.

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One dermatologist I saw about it compared it to a drunk's red nose and cheeks. Not a good look. He gave me topical treatments that did absolutely nothing.

My second dermatologist, the disarmingly handsome Dr. Liu, suggested I try LED light therapy. I could come into his office a couple of times of week for expensive sessions, or, he suggested, I could buy my own LED light, the LightStim. It cost $319 before tax and came with a 90-day money back guarantee.

I’ve dropped $100 on a dress or a pair of shoes yet I balked for months at spending $300 on something that could actually improve my appearance. Eventually I caved – my skin wasn’t getting any better and the testimonials on the website were convincing. And theoretically, I could get my money back.

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The lightweight LightStim Rosacea light looks straight out of the future. Its blue and red LED bulbs are colorful and very b-r-i-g-h-t. Like, turn-my-apartment-into-a-disco-if-shined-against-the-wall bright.

I followed its instructions faithfully. Wash and dry your face daily and hold the LightStim against your trouble spots for five minutes at a time. Since my face is pretty much one big trouble spot, I narrowed down my treatment areas to four points along my cheeks and two on my forehead. That’s 30 minutes a day dedicated to LightStiming.

One of the first things I noticed about my new instrument was that its lights heated up after, say, seven minutes of use. Heat is the enemy of Rosacea. You’re supposed to stay out of the sun and steer clear of hot water with this condition. How could anything that heats up after seven minutes be helping me?

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About two months into it, I called the info line to ask about the heat factor and the fact that I wasn’t seeing results. The customer service rep suggested I turn the LightStim off and let it cool down whenever it heated up. Um, ok.

Then the rep put me on hold for a long time. When he returned to the line, he explained that he had spoken to a company honcho who was LightStiming his chest at that very moment! Said exec was surprised I wasn’t seeing results and suggested using a serum on my face in combination with my LightStim routine. Feeling like I was being suckered into shelling out for yet another product, I passed on the suggested serum, though to be fair, the company’s website did state, “for best results we urge you to see a knowledgeable skin care specialist for advice on products to be used in conjunction with your Rosacea Light.”

I really wanted the LightStim to work. I used it every night and even took it on a trip to New Orleans. My sister and a friend were intrigued and somewhat horrified when I whipped it out of my suitcase. “Does it hurt?” "No, it doesn't hurt." “Look! It’s leaving marks on your face!” "Those are just depression marks from the bulbs, kinda like when sheets crease your face."

I returned the LightStim Rosacea light two-and-a-half months after purchasing it. There was no significant improvement in my skin and I looked just as blotchy as before.

The woman who processed my return told me I was the first person she knew of that was unsatisfied with the product. Good for them. Bad for me.

Since the original writing this article, LightStim has suspended selling the Rosacea light to the public. It can still be purchased via third party websites or through your skin care professional. No money-back guarantee there though.

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