As I approach my 32nd birthday in three months, I have skin care on my mind. I’m lucky for the most part: I’ve been spared any acne or too many wrinkles thus far, but I have a pale, freckled complexion that’s easily damaged by the sun. I love the self-care ritual of skin care (gently cleansing my skin, applying various serums or Korean face masks), but I’m also a journalist who’s hesitant to try any too-good-to-be-true elixirs or tools, especially if they are not backed by hard science or are overly expensive.
My preventative skin care exploration (and dozens of targeted Instagram advertisements) led me to the Solawave wand, an at-home red light therapy tool that promises to smooth fine lines, fade blemishes and reduce puffiness.
What is the Solawave?
The Solawave is a handheld skin care device, about the size of a Sharpie marker, that combines the following four facial treatments into one wand. The device is sold on Solawave’s website ($149) and other major retailers, like Amazon or Ulta and comes in three colors; rose gold, lilac and black.
- Red light therapy: The wand has several LED lights at its tip, which deliver red light that the brand says activates cells below the surface of your skin, rejuvenating your skin from within and decreasing fine lines and wrinkles.
- Microcurrent therapy: In addition to red light, the wand offers low-level microcurrents, which the brand says “painlessly stimulate deeper layers of your skin” and tones facial muscles, promoting healthy skin.
- Facial massage: The tool offers a low vibration as you move the wand across your skin, which Solawave says can reduce puffiness. The effect is a slight buzzing, similar to what your electric toothbrush feels like.
- Therapeutic warmth: The Solawave heats up as you use it, which the brand says can “help promote better penetration of topicals,” like serums.
Solawave instructs users to cleanse their face before use and apply a serum or topical with conductive properties (they sell a $32 activating serum, but I managed just fine with hyaluronic acid I already own). A hydrated face is key: the device will literally shut off if it’s not in contact with moist skin. From there, Solawave recommends gliding the wand in an upward and outward direction along your cheeks, jaw, neck, forehead and underneath your eye. Each session should last about five minutes and Solawave recommends using the device three times a week. To help you get every nook and cranny around your eyes and nose, the wand’s tip can rotate perpendicularly, like a razor.
The wand is easy to incorporate into any skin care routine. It doesn’t really feel like much on your skin when you’re using it, which is part of the appeal (no tingling or discomfort). But before I share more about my personal experience (and somewhat limited results), it’s best to first understand red light therapy: how and if it works and its limitations.
Does red light therapy work?
According to the doctors we spoke to and health resources like the Cleveland Clinic, the jury is still out on red light therapy’s efficacy. While there are some promising small clinical trials, the scientific community needs more data to definitively state that it works. According to the Cleveland Clinic’s fact sheet, “red light therapy is still an emerging treatment that’s generating a growing interest. But at this point in time, there’s not enough evidence to support most uses.”
Dr. Shoshana Marmon, a board-certified dermatologist and assistant professor at New York Medical College, asserted that “there are small trials that are showing good efficacy, and there are definitely a lot of trials that show safety.” For example, Marmon highlighted some successes, like red light therapy’s benefits in wound healing or treating acne or alopecia (hair loss). But based on the trials that have been published, Marmon doesn’t think there is “really robust clinical evidence from large-scale randomized trials.” Plus, she added, those small clinical trials might be sponsored by a red light therapy company, or they’re not placebo-controlled, or only made up of small groups of patients. When we reached out to Solawave, their team sent along a consumer perception study of 60 participants who used the product for 30 days and filled out self-assessments periodically throughout that period. After 30 days, 86% of the study’s participants reported that the device helped reduce the appearance of fine lines. 86% also saw a reduction in the visibility of pores, and 83% reported a reduction in puffiness.
Dr. Michele Green and Dr. Hadley King, both New York City dermatologists and Select experts across our skin and hair care coverage, agreed with Marmon’s assessment: “it would be nice to see more data proving the results,” said King. “If we don’t have that, then I might be more likely to recommend investing in a device that does have more data-proven results.” Green, who expressed serious skepticism of red light therapy, noted that more proven treatments, like botox, lasers or chemical peels might be a better way to see results. (Both King and Green do not offer red light therapy in their practices).
Red light therapy is frequently used in dermatologists’ offices, typically for hair regrowth. But, noted Dr. Danilo Del Campo, a board-certified dermatologist in Chicago, the devices used by dermatologists are a lot different than at-home tools, like the Solawave. For example, said Del Campo, if you were to hold an at-home device up to a sheet of paper, it might take two or three sheets until you won’t see any light shine through. Whereas dermatologists’ devices “have a lot more oomph.” So much so, noted Del Campo, that offices typically need 220-volt outlets because they use so much energy. (Paige Mueller, Solawave’s Head of Creative Development, confirmed that their device is not as strong as what one would experience in a dermatologist’s office).
Does the Solawave work?
I tried the Solawave 4-in-1 wand for almost a month, gliding the buzzing tool across my delightfully serum-smeared face for five minutes a day, three to five times a week, per the company’s instructions. Mueller affirmed that users should see results in 30 days. If they aren’t satisfied, the company offers a 30-day money back guarantee.
While I mostly enjoyed incorporating this new self-care ritual into my skin care routine, I cannot say for certain that I see results or any pronounced reduction in fine lines or wrinkles. I will say that my skin feels more hydrated, which is a rarity for me in the winter months.
One learning curve with the Solawave is that the device will sputter to a stop unless your face is adequately moisturized. To combat this issue, Solawave sells a $32 activating serum, but I eventually managed on my own using my usual hyaluronic acid. One promise of the wand is that its therapeutic warmth feature can “help promote better penetration of topicals, driving faster results while saving product and money.” I completely disagree with this assessment. If one were to rely on their own serums, they’re likely to use a lot more than they traditionally would to keep the tool buzzing. I certainly ran out of my beloved $40 bottle of La Roche-Posay hyaluronic serum.
Water would of course work, but if the point is to make the Solawave is to make the most out of any serums, shouldn’t one use them?
I do wonder if, in reporting this story and learning about red light therapy’s less-than-remarkable efficacy, I’ve tricked myself out of seeing results. (Just last night, someone complimented my skin and bought me dinner, which has to count for something). Who can say? I plan to keep using the wand and will update this article accordingly, if results do appear. Considering its convenience and ease, the wand is a fun way to pamper yourself while watching TV or sautéing onions with your other hand (though, I cannot recommend the latter if you don’t want to cry into your hyaluronic acid).
Is the Solawave worth it?
The Solawave is convenient, less expensive than pricier treatments you might find in a dermatologist’s office, and can be an aesthetically-pleasing addition to your bathroom shelf. I found it easy (and at first, extremely fun) to incorporate into my skin care routine. However, if you’re hoping to see real, tangible results, you may want to seek alternative treatments. In my experience, the five minute sessions felt boring though not unpleasant by the third or fourth try. Had I not been testing the device for this story, it likely would have met the same fate as my fancy gua sha: buried below my bathroom sink in a cemetery of half-used beauty products that I got bored of but felt guilty tossing in the garbage.
Whether or not the Solawave is worth it for you might be dependent upon your relationship to skin care, in general. Do you consider yourself a “no-nonsense” shopper who is willing to spend more for more scientifically-proven treatments and results? The Solawave is not for you. The dermatologists we spoke to recommended trying Botox, or retinoids instead. Or, are you someone who thinks of skin care as a fun self-care hobby and less of an immediate problem that needs solving? The Solawave might be worth the try, despite the need for more scientific evidence behind red light therapy.
If you’re still torn, Dr. Marmon put it this way: “if someone bought it for me as a gift would I turn it down? No, I’d be psyched,” she said. But, if, let’s say, her sister called her and asked Marmon if she should buy a Solawave or start using a retinoid, she would tell her to try a retinoid.
What is the difference between FDA-cleared and FDA-approved?
Devices like the Solawave don’t require “approval” from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use, like a more serious medical device would (like a pacemaker). Some moderate-risk devices are only eligible for FDA “clearance,” a useful qualifier that shoppers should look for but one Del Campo said is in turn used as a “marketing gimmick.” FDA–cleared devices “don’t have to undergo the scrutiny of their claims” or provide “rigorous evidence,” of their efficacy, he noted. Whereas FDA approval requires a review for safety and effectiveness by FDA experts.
We reached out to Solawave about FDA Clearance. Mueller stated that the 4-in-1 Skincare Wand has not yet received FDA clearance, but the company is patiently waiting (Mueller said that from what she has been told, the pandemic slowed down the clearance process). However, the company’s Bye Acne wand is, in factFDA-cleared. Mueller noted that with the ByeAcne, a new device that uses blue light therapy, which hits the surface of one’s skin, the company worked with a manufacturer “who had already had the ability for clearance on it,” whereas the company personally designed the 4-in-1 wand from scratch. “We’re very confident our 4-in-1 is absolutely safe for at-home use.”
Meet Our Experts
At Select, we work with experts who have specialized knowledge and authority based on relevant training and/or experience. We also take steps to ensure that all expert advice and recommendations are made independently and with no undisclosed financial conflicts of interest.
Why trust us?
Christina Colizza is an editor at Select and has been a product reviewer since 2018. She covers a range of self care and skin care topics like shampoos, eyebrow serums, moisturizers and more. She also writes and edits Select’s weekly New & Notable column, which highlights exciting product launches, major sales, what Select staffers are buying and some of the team’s latest recommendations and advice.