Beating DRM to Extend the Life of an Anti-Aging Therapy Light Mask

It’s becoming more common to see DRM cropping up in an increasing number of hardware products nowadays. Quite often, its used to prevent the use of unauthorized consumables and some may argue that it helps prevent counterfeiting and help shore up revenues. But it’s a totally different matter when DRM is used to severely limit the operational life of a product. When [travis] wrote in about the run time limitation on an “Illumimask” light therapy device, we first had to look up what that device was. Apparently, these are anti-acne or anti-aging light therapy masks that use red and blue LEDs to kill skin bacteria, stimulate skin cells and reduce blemishes. While these claims most likely may not hold water, the device itself is cheap enough not to hurt you at $30 a pop.

The trouble is, it is limited to 30 daily uses of 15 minutes each, totaling just 7 1/2 hours, effectively lasting you a month. At the end of which, you just discard the device and get a new one. That seems like a ridiculous waste of a perfectly fine, functional device whose LED’s can last at least 30,000 to 40,000 hours. [travis]’s wife [Bebefuzz] was obviously pissed at this situation. So she did a simple hack to bypass the microcontroller that imposed the goofy restrictions. In [travis]’s own words “Not a crazy-technical hack…. but a very functional one to bypass a manufacturer’s ‘WTF'”. It involved soldering a slide switch across the circuit terminals that the micro-controller uses to monitor the LED current (likely). Unfortunately, this also breaks the 15 minute timer measurement, so she now has to manually switch off the device at the end of the 15 minute therapy cycle.

To check out more DRM hacks, check out these we covered earlier, from Coffee Makers to 3D printer filaments to Cat Litter boxes and even furniture.

89 thoughts on “Beating DRM to Extend the Life of an Anti-Aging Therapy Light Mask

        1. No, you are wrong. He is referring to peaks in the red section of the spectrum. There are lines where skin has shown more absorption. Red is a color defined by a range, but it is made up of several nanometer lines of intensity.

      1. Yes, Yes, all these studies ‘look promising’ with their just baaaaaarely signfificant p=0.049 significance and their miniscule number of participants and their non-existent double-blinding.
        Yet, as soon as you try to reproduce the findings with a good study design, you invariably fail.
        There are no meta-studies or even Cochrane-reviews that would show any effect.

        It definitely is snake oil. I’m so not sorry.
        BTW: Homeopathy is bogus, too.

          1. Easy solution: Actually bother to get to know your crazy-ass potential wife, and then don’t wife her if she’s so insane as to believe that shit. Your pocketbook and an averted mid-life catastrophe will thank you.

    1. this isn’t DRM because here’s the definition of DRM!

      If people keep calling this stuff DRM it will become known as DRM… oh wait…

      I’m bored of repeating myself… still annoys me tho :-$

    2. It isn’t DRM because there isn’t any digital content to which any rights apply or that could be managed.

      It’s Planned Obsolescence: the product is designed to “break” before it actually does so.

        1. There’s no _content_ to which IP laws would apply, and DRM is about managing intellectual property rights. If it was playing “Happy Birthday” by blinking morse code with the LEDs, then the term DRM would apply.

          There is no DRM here. It’s just a device that is designed to break.

    1. And another thought, Which demographic has their face flesh exposed to red and blue leds from hours on end in dark serene basements and attics? Why isn’t geekdom a beacon of clear skinned smoothness? A dominion of dermatological impeccability? A fortress for facial finesse?

      1. Disclaimer: “For effective results, mask must be worn during any situation where superficial judgement is a risk.”
        And I ask you, what other demographic might be prone to blinky LED masked dating?

  1. this thing looks a load of shite. but there is some method in the madness, my bro and dad both have(had) bad eczema and light use of a proper uv-tubed sunbed would clear it right up, only took a few mins every other evening, not even enough use to get a tan. I have no doubt uv light could help other skin conditions, but red and blue lights so it looks uv?

          1. I have also a green one which is likely to do that. At least it would light a cigarette and set ESD foam on fire. I doubt bacteria would survive that :-) But I would not use it on the skin.

    1. Not totally “shite”. Placebo is a known healing factor. Check out studies and you’re amazed how much for example nursing “style” affects to healing ratios or pain amount. Placebo is an effect, not just a “drug”.

      Actually if owner of this mask feels that it’s doing it’s job then I think it’s a win-win for customer and seller. Everybody’s happy.

      So I wouldn’t call placebo shite, it has it’s power and many times placebo can be more effective than actual real drug!

      1. > So I wouldn’t call placebo shite, it has it’s power and many times placebo can be more effective than actual real drug!

        The reason we do human trials for drugs is to determine if the drug is more effective than a placebo. By design, all drugs are more effective than a placebo.

        You can criticize that statement by saying pharma companies push through some really shady research, but the idea of drug testing is predicated on the idea that effective drugs are more effective than a placebo.

      2. Scientific studies show that placebo is more effective than some of the most dangerous prescribed drugs.
        The drugs that the psyche-hat-trick profession uses, by significant margins aren’t as good as sugar.

  2. Almost certainly a scam and probably not worth the effort or the energy put into it.
    Perhaps protecting simpletons from spending a fortune on such rubbish by hacking their unit would be a just cause. The owner would feel better with his placebo device and the company producing this shyte will loose money and hopefully go bust.

  3. “It involved soldering a slide switch across the circuit terminals that the micro-controller uses to monitor the LED current (likely).”

    No. The mask appears to use low side switching for the LEDs as you can see that the other lead from the mask wire goes directly to the battery pack. What this mod does is just bypass it and force the LEDs to always be on when the switch is on.

    A cleaner hack for this would be to exploit the reset and test terminal that the linked article also mentions. Put in something to auto reset the mask every time and then you can keep the 15 minute timer + use the normal switches. More effort than this switch though and considering the ease, may not be worth it.

  4. When are these people going to learn? DRM is just a puzzle, and people love to solve puzzles. If the strength of your business model relies on DRM staying unbroken, then your business model is crap.

    1. True just look at companies who choose to put DRM in injet printer carts.
      If it get broken they might loose money they thought they were going to make on over poriced carts but if it can’t be easily broken or purposefully works poorly with thrid party carts then the product quickly developes a bad reputation and people may start avioding the brand all together.

      1. – I’d bet if you venn diagram the target market/consumers of this device, and people who would/could modify a device like this, there would not be much of any overlap. I’d say the company is pretty safe with this.

  5. China is the number one knockoff nation, and also the top scoring nation in international math and science testing and has been for a long time.. Good luck making budgeted DRM have an affect on protecting domestic product revenue..

    1. though there’s an asterisk next to that “top scoring nation in international math and science testing” bit they don’t count the tests scores of the whole nations school population like the USA. they only count the best scores from a handful of a hand full of schools in the largest of cities.

  6. For $30 US, I can build a unit based around either an ATTiny or an 08M2 Picaxe and a handful of real UV LEDs that can do all or more than this junk can. Won’t have the shiny plastic case this one has, but the functionality will be the same (of course nothing is an easy mark to hit). I’m not even Chinese.

  7. I’m suprised at you people! Haven’t you given any thought to the consequences of an UNLIMITED ANTI AGEING DEVICE? Do you want your Granny walking around looking young and hot? Or someone MY age attracting your daughters, younger sisters or Grand Daughters attention? Heck, I’d settle for your step mom.
    Um, where do you buy this thing again?

  8. They do this in hospitals too – they remove the safeguards on the MRI machines to speed things up and get more patients through.

    Dr Smith’s report: “The patient had a shadow on his lung but now he’s laminated to the wall I guess we can say he’s cured! Yay science.”

    1. This isn’t removing the safeguards…this is removing the limitation on how many times you can use it before being “forced” to buy a new one. Its snakeoil science with a dash of greed thrown in on top.

  9. This is a thing? People actually pay money for those?

    I have a new invention! Give me all the money in your pocket, and you will lose weight*

    *Amount of weight lost will be equal to the weight of the money transferred from you to me.

    1. Ok, granted that it does seem to be effective…limiting it to 30 uses is like selling a car that can only be run until the gas tank runs dry, with no way of refilling it. At least with the car you could tell by the lack of a filler cap. This, as stated above does not fall under DRM and that wonderful POS of legislation called the DMCA, and should be illegal, unless the customer is forewarned.

    2. Thanks for the link Hendi.
      It seems those calling this product “snake oil” may have done so inaccurately.
      There may be a legitimate reason why the manufacturer limits the number of treatments to 30. It may be a requirement imposed by having it listed as a 510K medical device (though I don’t know this to be the case).

      1. “A 510(k) is a premarketing submission made to FDA to demonstrate that the device to be marketed is as safe and effective, that is, substantially equivalent (SE), to a legally marketed device that is not subject to premarket approval (PMA).”

        Does it blow your head off and does it work in the same way as some other thing does not!

    3. Ah yes, a consultation report filed and approved by a body that also “approves” homeopathic treatments for commercial availability should be all one needs to know! Right? And if this report shows some study without any meaningful citations or raw data, it is even better!

      What I got from that report is that A. the instructions are better than the results and B. it will not melt your face off. That is just about the maximum of factual information about this thing you can honestly distill from it. There is no correlation to results and treatment, no control group, nothing that would make this even smell like a document that proves the claims to be valid.

      If this is what it takes to convince somebody that this shit much be legit, then we have bigger problems than snake-oil salesmen.

        1. The problem is that random documents are being thrown around like they lend some authority to these fraudulent superficial gimmicks. Even if this thing had any significant result, either good or bad, this is not the report to cite. That is just linking the first relevant Google hit one has quickly skimmed over in order to hide ones nativity or support ones wishful thoughts/odd views on reality.
          This sort of “reasoning” simply will not do.

  10. I wonder if that thing does more than turn on the LED and “DRM” thing…. there are so many test points on that PCB. What would a “try me” point do? Could it bypass the limit for showroom demo ?

  11. 14 leds, battery box, cheap plastic mask, kickstarter campaign, $50 price tag, 60 days of ¨treatment¨ claim , batteries not included, I make loadsa money… to think I´ve wasted my time all these years when all the time I could have made a fortune with a few leds…. of course its a SCAM!

    SCAM! SCAM! SCAM! SCAMETY SCAM! There I feel better now.

    Oh and BTW surely one of those gold test pads on the board must allow you to reset the 30 day crap.

      1. Any method that will allow you to waste more batteries/energy on this obvious scam is still pointless, whether it be this hack or shorting two pads on that cheap crap (or POOP!) PCB.

    1. Even if such a device had unlimited uses, surely you’d still say “bull”? I mean surely this led array does not expose a persons face to radically more and exotic light frequencies than a typical workday behind an led TFT panel in a room with led lighting with various devices with a multitude of leds in them?
      If LEDs in the visual range had any noticeable effect on the skin at that level at all, good or bad, we would have known by now, surely!
      The 30 uses thing only shows you that the scammers have thought about their scam.

  12. Their main target audience are upper middle class under educated women and they fool them using people in doctors coats and false claims and the wonderful placebo effect that keeps head on and those magnet bracelets on the market
    Putting in software limitation (what we should be calling it) is an easy way to make more money on your lighted welders mask, don’t blame them for the software limitations blame them for selling this in the first place
    This scam is as old as the lightbulb and claimed to cure everything from stress to cancer

  13. This idea of premature artificial end of life needs to be killed with fire, sadly its getting worse. All you can do is warn people around you away from brands that practice this. Even though this example is a cheap mask, its getting endemic at all levels.

    I have a $60,000 when new portable cmm (measurement) arm on the bench next to me at the moment I bought cheap, its been apart for some board level repairs because it was a non working unit, and we have it figured out, working and talking to a computer via rs232 and its working to measure co-ordinates within 0.1mm , but because its been disassembled it needs the encoder alignment compensations adjusting to their new positions. Once this is made, it should support 0.01mm point accuracy.
    Only problem, the arm company no longer supports this older model arm and their only solution is for me to buy a supported model. Apparently helping me with information is akin to giving a crack addict heroin according to one memorable conversation to their helpline.

    Having no support is not normally a big hurdle, but in this case all the options to adjust the configurations are hidden behind a vendor held strong password and I cant even find a 3rd party service to recalibrate it, only verify it as they also do not have this.
    I contacted the makers (Hexagon) asking for the credentials so I could get a 3rd party alignment done on the arm as they no longer support it, and they flat out refused. Go buy a new one is their answer to everything.
    I know of some large companies who have replaced their older cmm arms because of the same reason, Ive been encouraging some friends in industry who work as buyers and consultants who have ran into this to change brands away from hexagon products as a result. I figure if I can only cost them 10 sales or so, it will be a $600,000 lesson in how not to be unethical asses. Yes there are other options, but we cannot discuss them here because of t&c limitations and not to invite legal issues to HaD.

    So forget its just a face mask, how would you feel if you had a perfectly serviceable machine refused to start because the manufacturers turned off the drm servers or it needed its config altering to compensate in some way. And think of all that waste, the energy to recycle it, the general impact and cost to human society, all for a increase in bottom line. Its just not right, but we can only vote on the practice with our buying power and influence.

  14. Not that I agree with this kind of practices, but I can at least imagine some legit reason for such a limitation in this particular case… Maybe it is an hygiene kind of thing. If the product sits in direct contact with skin or can overtime become dirty, then it might be reasonable to trow it away if cleaning it is too much of a trouble. If the goal is to kill bacteria, even if it doesn’t (how could it, with just regular LED), then at least avoiding becoming a breeding ground for bacteria should keep the appearances up. Otherwise after a while you certainly will have less healthy skin due to contamination.

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