Is The Clarisonic Brush Harmful Or Helpful To The Skin?


Updated 3/21/16: Let me start by saying that I normally don’t do reviews of other skin care products. I generally use my blog as a place to share my expert skin tips and advice that I’ve learned from being an esthetician for over 25 years, but I leave product reviews for all of the great beauty bloggers out there.

However, my reason for doing a review on Clarisonic is because I have observed changes in my client’s skin that use the brush, and some of the changes have not been beneficial to the health of their skin. Since my goal is to offer helpful skin care tips to allow you to become a smarter skin care consumer, I feel that this is important information to share with all of you who currently use it, or are considering purchasing it. (NOTE: The same rules can apply for other brands that make rotating or sonic brushes.)

What is Clarisonic? Clarisonic is a skin care tool sold at specialty beauty stores that uses a soft, gentle brush that oscillates back and forth over the skin. It claims to “remove six times more makeup than cleansing by hand.” Yet to me, Clarisonic is really just an exfoliating tool to physically lift off dry skin cells and, in the process, remove dirt and makeup. Exfoliation is the action that the bristles create when rubbed over the skin. My problem with Clarisonic is not the brush itself, because the exfoliating benefits are very important, but I have a serious concern with how often they recommend using it. They say it’s gentle enough to use twice daily, but it is my belief that this is way too much when combining with other exfoliating products you are probably already using.

While it may feel gentle enough to use twice a day, you have to understand how exfoliation affects the skin. Clarisonic brush, facial scrubs, acids, enzymes, wash cloths or whatever form you gets yours in can cause skin damage and may lead to aging if used too frequently.

Skin Fact #1: Too much exfoliation can cause dryness. Exfoliating too aggressively and too often can cause dryness and disrupt the skin’s lipid barrier. This allows moisture to seep out of the cells more easily, causing them to get dehydrated. Many of my clients who I see monthly for facial treatments started complaining of dryness and irritation when their skin had been so perfectly hydrated and balanced with their Renée Rouleau skin care products. Come to find out, the dryness started to occur once they introduced the Clarisonic brush! I had already had my clients set up on a very thorough exfoliation routine, but once they added in the Clarisonic, their skin was getting too much exfoliation and that’s why the dryness and irritation occurred. Discontinuing use of Clarisonic, or cutting back its use to a few times a week returned their skin to a healthy, balanced and hydrated state.

Skin Fact #2: Too much exfoliation can cause chronic inflammation within the skin. Exfoliating too aggressively and too often can create inflammation (even if not visible) setting off a response to create free radicals. A major cause of aging is chronic and prolonged inflammation, associated with tissue destruction, active inflammation and attempts at healing which is why it’s essential to eat foods high in antioxidants and use skin care products with stable antioxidants, like Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate (vitamin C) found in our very popular Vitamin C & E Treatment.

Skin Fact #3: Skin trauma is good…occasionally. You do not want to exfoliate to the point of destroying healthy, living cells. When you give the skin trauma, the skin goes into repair mode and stimulates cellular regeneration. This can be very beneficial to the skin, but if you create trauma too often by over-exfoliating, then it’s continually setting up a cascade of free radical damage that triggers premature aging. This is the last thing that any skin needs that wants to stay looking young. However, professional chemical peels done a few times a year do cause trauma to the skin and this is beneficial for the stimulation of collagen. Your skin likes boosts (a little wake up call), just not all the time.

Skin Fact #4: Too much exfoliation might stimulate melanin activity resulting in increased skin discoloration. You must use caution with physical exfoliants like Clarisonic, wash cloths and facial scrubs. For skin that is extremely reactive to stimulation (skin of color and for those prone to severe discoloration) you need to treat your skin gently to avoid post-inflammatory hyper pigmentation resulting in increased skin discoloration.

Skin Fact #5: Clean skin is good…to a certain point. Since Clarisonic markets it as a cleansing tool to remove dirt and makeup, I’d like to make this point. You do want your skin hygienically clean, but not clean like you want your kitchen floor. There is a certain amount of good bacteria that the skin needs to keep it healthy and functioning well so you don’t want to strip it by over-using your Clarisonic brush. This is also why I suggest using non-drying, sulfate-free cleansers. See recommendations for gentle, sulfate-free gel cleansers.

What’s the right amount of exfoliation? I suggest using an alcohol-free acid serum (see my collection of AHA and BHA exfoliating acid serums) applied to the skin every other night. Then on the opposite nights, you want to give your skin a break from exfoliation (remember, you don’t want to over-exfoliate) by using a serum for your skin type to nourish and hydrate the new cells.  See my collection of specialty serums. Always use a moisturizer over the serum to seal the benefits into the skin.

I also recommend using a gentle facial scrub like Mint Buffing Beads OR your Clarisonic brush 2-3 times a week—and that’s it. The idea here is that using an acid serum will dissolve the dry skin cells while a physical exfoliant like a scrub or Clarisonic will lift off the dry skin cells. They both work differently but both are very beneficial for the health and clarity of the skin.

A professional chemical peel should be performed every other month and an at-home professional-strength peel (like Renée Rouleau Triple Berry Smoothing Peel) should be used once every 2-3 weeks.

Bottom Line: Many people really like using the Clarisonic brush and I’m certainly not telling you not to use it. I simply want to inform you that using it twice daily, combined with other exfoliating products, may be harming your skin’s overall health—and this is the last thing you want when caring for your skin.

And just for the record, I actually did purchase a Clarisonic brush and have used it on my skin. For me, it was too stimulating and caused some breakout activity (common in fair, sensitive skin types) so I’ll stick with mild facial scrubs for my physical exfoliation. But if you love it and it works well for your skin, then by all means, use it in moderation.

Read: Pillows: How They Can Be Harming (And Helping!) Your Skin
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Which skin care products are best for you? See our nine skin types or take the Skin Type Quiz and get products recommended.

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