You might think that all of America's going through a worst-case pre-prom scenario: Suddenly, everyone from your 52-year-old aunt to Jessica Simpson has been going on about their skin problems. Specifically acne, blemishes, pimples and zits.
In response, companies are targeting the greasy-nosed in some unconventional ways. And keep reading. One involves chocolate.
But first, the Zeno. The Zeno is a literal zit zapper, the kind of pimple-killing gadget that adolescents of yore have dreamt of but assumed would only be available in the 21st century.
"I've always kind of fought the occasional acne problem, always had the 'onesies,' 'twosies' at the same time," said Robert Conrad, CEO of Houston-based Tyrell Inc., which produces Zeno. "But once I got one at the absolutely wrong time, when I had to give a presentation before the board of directors and I got the 'north star,' right in the middle of the forehead. It was a monster.
After giving himself first-degree burns trying to tackle the zit with a hot rag, Conrad became inspired to create the Zeno, a grey handheld device the size of a cell phone that kills acne-causing bacteria without burning the surrounding skin.
The FDA has given the Zeno the green light for over-the-counter use, and the company's own trials found that 90 percent of the people who used it improved or had their acne completely resolve itself within 24 hours.
"We've all tried the benzoyl peroxide and different products," Conrad said. "We wake up in the morning and our pillow's dirty because it rubbed off, and the pimple's bigger. What we're doing that's different is targeting the bacteria, not drying out the area."
And the small size, easy to slip into a pocket, is a plus, he added.
"It was even better than I was hoping for," Conrad said. "And it's pretty spectacular design was to make it only easy to use but also to transport -- you never know when that pimple's going to happen. To me it always happens at lunchtime."
Anecdotal evidence and an unscientific test run seem to show that Zeno does seem to help reduce zits within a day or two.
There are downsides, however. For one, there's the price, a whopping $225 -- enough to keep the average teenager in Clearasil for years.
And then there's somewhat limited range of use. Zeno has to be used against emerging mild and moderate acne, but is ineffective against whiteheads, blackheads and severe acne cysts.
"The key is you want to use this at first sign of the pimple," Conrad said. "We all know when one's coming up, you know when it's going to be a whopper. But it's not for a whitehead, where you've got to extract the core anyway and the damage is done. You use it where there's no core you need to get out of there."
Dr. Vicki Levine, assistant professor of dermatology at New York University Medical Center, said using heat to reduce an inflammation is a time-tested method, but questioned Zeno's long-term effectiveness.
"It probably helps a little bit for an individual pimple, but I wouldn't use that for your only treatment for acne," she said. "That won't prevent the pimple from forming, it may help the pimple from forming in day or two."
Chocoholics might instead want to turn to Scott Vincent Borba's acne-reducing chocolate ($8 a bar exclusively at Nordstrom.com), which is made with his drinkable powder of walnut-husk extract, pomegranate extract and green-tea extract.
And it doesn't stop at chocolate. Jennifer Love Hewitt is said to be a Borba jelly bean fan ($25 a pound), Haylie and Hilary Duff are said to enjoy Borba's gummi bears ($25 a pound) and Eva Longoria likes Borba's aqua-less crystalline packets ($28 for a 7-day pack).
The chocolate's been featured heavily in various media lately, notably for turning a supposedly acne-causing food into a pimple preventative, but also for turning pimple popping from an unpleasant task into something much more enjoyable.
"You have to drink water and eat to survive, so why not benefit with the habits you need to survive?" Borba said. "What does the normal population do? The biggest things are the potato-chip area and candy area, like gummi bears, jelly beans and chocolate, so we decide to take our powder and infuse a little but of our powder candy bars with all the benefits."
Borba says people can achieve skin clarity by eating the candy along with his other skin products.
"People like to indulge, and it's OK for them to indulge, with half the carbs and an organic delivery system with multiple benefits. It's a no-brainer," he said.
Borba's chocolates will soon be making an even larger appearance on a major retailer's shelves, and the powder is being used in cocktails in at least one L.A. nightspot and a health club.
The chocolate might not be as rich as a nice, fatty bar of Belgian dark, but it's tasty and hardly tastes like a diet candy. The aqua-less crystalline packets, when mixed with water, turn into a pink liquid that tastes vaguely of pomegranate. It was impossible to tell from a short, unofficial experiment whether Borba did the trick.
But once again Levine was skeptical, saying that it would take a sound scientific study to prove Borba's candy has benefits.
"I would say buyer beware," she said. "Certainly you hear about pomegranate being used generally because it's supposed to contain antioxidants, but I don't know anything about it being used for acne."
Instead, she recommended the traditional methods: good hygiene and the tested medications, like benzoyl peroxide and prescription medications both topical and oral.
And much of the public's fascination with newfangled acne fighters might stem from the fact that most people don't know how to use the more traditional tools correctly.
"You want to wash your face so you don't dry it out so much," she said. "If you wash your face a lot with dry soap, you may not be able to use the medicines. And people always think that if they're not better after a week or two using appropriate medicines that they're not effective, when it takes 12 weeks for most acne medications to be effective. In the first week or so, don't expect to be better."
And use acne medication liberally, she said.
"People always think from watching commercials that they should just put acne medication on the pimples that they have, when in reality you have to put it on in the areas where you tend to the get the most pimples, because they're mainly meant to prevent the formation of pimples."
In severe cases of acne, a dermatologist will prescribe oral antibiotics in combination with topical treatments such as benzoyl peroxide or retinoid creams. Some women are prescribed birth-control medication, which controls acne.
Then there's the dermatological equivalent of nukes, Accutane, which can be used when acne bacteria proves to be resistant or when other treatments have failed.
"The big gun is Accutane, another retinoid taken orally and related to vitamin A, the strongest treatment for acne on the market," Levine said.
"In a certain percentage of people it cures the acne, but it would force babies to be aborted and there are lots of restrictions on it now, and there are lots of questions about whether it is linked to depression."
And, for extreme cases that have to be fixed right away, there is an overnight solution.
"An injection of cortisone right into the pimple," Levine said. "It's reserved for hard acne cysts, not run-of-the-mill pimples, and it might help in a day or two. But whether or not it'd work in a day or two, I wouldn't use that for a humane form of treatment. No, the average person with average acne problems will probably have to learn to wait."