Is the Clarisonic Brush Harmful or Helpful to the Skin?

Updated 9/6/14: 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 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 and claims to remove six times more makeup than cleansing by hand.

Despite being promoted as a tool that “removes six times more makeup than cleansing by hand”, 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 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 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.

Read: A Safer Alternative for Treating Brown Spots on the Skin

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 Glycolic 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 a glycolic 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 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.

Read: Must-Have Skin Care Ingredients for Those Who Exfoliate Regularly

Which skin care products are best for you? See our nine skin types or take our Skin Type Quiz and get products recommended.

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Comments:

  1. Thank you for posting this… before I read this, I didn’t know that overexfoliation could be a contributor to inflammation

    Posted By: laura  | 

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  2. Renee

    Just wanted to say that I agree with you on the use of the Clarisonic. I used it once daily at first and found that I broke out into an inflamed rash. I used the cleansors that came with the product. Too much for my skin. Now I use it a few times a week and I don’t have problems.

    Posted By: Amy Linzey  | 

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  3. I agree with this review as well. I was also using the Clarisonic at night only and it actually made my acne flare up. I have since stop using it. I find gentle cleansing with a soft washcloth very effective. Thanks for doing this review!

    Posted By: Sharon  | 

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  4. I have been using my Clarisonic for two years and love it! It is the only tool (in conjunction with gentle, effective products, of course) that has really reduced my breakouts and improved the clarity of my skin. I use it twice a day on most days as it really helps take off my make-up at night, but there are days when I don’t feel like I need it at all and skip it completely, especially on days I use a scrub or something similar. I appreciate your insights into over-exfoliating – this is definitely something to keep in mind regardless of the type of exfoliator used. Thanks for your feedback! Another reminder that there is no cookie-cutter skin care solutions that fit everyone.

    Posted By: Marcelle  | 

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  5. I wonder if the Clarisonic can help keep pores a bit cleaner. The bristles are very fine, and they vibrate quickly. Might they help by wiggling into the pore somewhat and lifting out the crud?

    Posted By: David  | 

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  6. Renée Rouleau

    It depends on what size grain is used in the scrub. Smaller grained scrubs can provide similar exfoliation.

    Posted By: Renée Rouleau  | 

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  7. I have a Clarisonic and I love it. I thought it was too stimulating for me at first as well, but then I switched to the extra gentle brush head and was much happier. I found that using the Clarisonic twice daily was much more gentle on skin than using exfoliating products. Apparently I am a scrub junkie–I think I am too “enthusiastic” when it comes to using scrubs and I was doing more harm than good.

    Posted By: Brigette  | 

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  8. Great review Renee. I have the clarisonic and I cannot imagine using it twice daily – I don’t even use it daily.

    Posted By: Stephanie Lee  | 

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  9. I wish that I had run into this before purchasing and using the Clarisonic. I had hoped it would help tame my (mild) acne. Unfortunately using it twice a day only aggravated my skin and made the acne immensely worse. It seems very gentle when using it and makes my face feel very clean but has had a very adverse effect on the overall balance of my skin. I have friends in the skincare profession who use it daily and have amazing skin but unfortunately it just doesn’t work for me. I can’t imagine what would happen if I used it on one of the higher speed settings and not the default low time/speed…

    Posted By: Julie  | 

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  10. the brush really made my acne worse. i think it really depend on your skin type, i have naturally very thin skin.

    Posted By: cindy  | 

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  11. There are two problems for me with this brush. I have pretty thin combination skin and occational acne. The first problem is that it actually help spread bacteria, making my acne far worse than it was before. Second, even though I was using brush for sensitive skin, it was still far too abrasive for me. It made my skin really thin and dry on the outside, harder for the black and whiteheads to come out. I actually had a rash on my neck, from overexfoliation.

    Posted By: cindy  | 

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  12. I use the Clarisonic with my usual RR products . . . and it seems to help my skin. I only use it once a day (on most days . . . sometimes I skip days). Thanks for writing this post — I will be careful not to exfoliate (and see how my skin looks at my next facial :)!

    Thanks!

    Posted By: Amanda  | 

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  13. It is very true that over exfoliation leads to skin problems. The clarisonic should not be used in addition to exfoliations but INSTEAD, and only for the recommended ONE minute on low speed. Personally I have had great results with the clarisonic and have only been using for a week. It did cause mild irritation for the first few days, but has now subsided and my skin is now very soft and smooth. You must also use gentle cleansers, no SA, BP, and most importantly NO sodium lauryl sulfate. The clarisonic effectively brought my deep congestion to the surface and my breakouts only lasted a few days and cleared up beautifully without scarring. My blackheads are shrinking and have become easier to extract. I have had deep blackheads for five years and I am so happy they are finally going away! Be sure to moisturize after use because it can dry your skin out. I recommend using aloe in addition to an oil free moisturizer. I have an aloe plant and would say fresh aloe works much better than what you find in stores (be careful, most store bought aloe has alcohol in it, don’t use this kind!!)
    I would describe my skin type as combination, oily, congested, and sensitive. Some of the sensitivity may be caused by the harsh cleansers I used to use though.
    Good luck!

    Posted By: KL  | 

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  14. I just started using the Clarisonic. I’m glad I found this informative review. After using my Clarisonic for a couple of days my pores in my T-zone are actually looking oiler and LARGER! I used it 2x a day for the last few days (and, after reading this review, I will now go down to 2x a week). I find the Clarisonic does a better job removing my dry skin than manual exfoliators. I also had an easier time extracting oil from my pores after using the Clarisonic. I’m confused though as to why my pores look bigger right after using this device (granted, I’ve only been using it for a couple days)? I’m hoping it’s just because it was bringing all that deep down residue to the surface. Anyone know what’s going on here?

    Posted By: Kirsten  | 

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  15. I use my clarisonic with an oil cleanser and no other exfoliating products. Super happy with it, as it has brought gunk to the surface of my skin. Now I just need a facial to have them professionally extracted. I can completely see how my skin would be irritated if I used exfoliating products in addition to the clarisonic. I think because it is all i use, I have seen an improvement

    Posted By: Em  | 

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  16. Thank you for writing this article. I have been a Clarisonic user for years (twice daily) and wondered why my skin was flaking. I only use it in the morning and if I am having an exfoliation facial I will not use it for several days.
    Now, my skin is less broken out and not as dry.

    Posted By: Kristine  | 

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  17. Interesting article! I only use this when I wear heavy makeup. I think that’s alright is it?

    Posted By: Bee  | 

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    • Renée Rouleau

      Hi Bee, Whether you have makeup on or not, I would still suggest the frequency as indicated above.

      Posted By: Renée Rouleau  | 

      Reply
  18. I have really thin (thanks to overexfoliation in the past), dry, sensitive skin and it can only tolerate exfoliation once maybe twice a week. Ive found from paying attention to my skin that exfoliating with the clarisonic DELICATE brush once or twice a week is great for me. Skin can’t handle more than that.I sometimes use a honey/baking soda mask if my skin just needs lighter exfoliation. People that get irritated using the clarisonic should look into tring the delicate brush. It’s the softest brush, the sensitive isn’t like some think. Using it less is also a good idea or just with a less harsh cleanser. It’s a good product to have and if you splurged to get it, might as well take some time to tweak how you use it and get. Anyone with thin skin, exfoliate only when necessary and invest in rosehip seed oil! It’s amazing for thin, wrinkled, sun ravaged skin!!!

    Posted By: Deb  | 

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  19. The rash between my eyes and down by my mouth got so angry and sore I was getting really down, having always had very clear skin. I eventually went to a dermatologist. I have perioral dermatitis. I am 100% positive the Clarisonic caused this. It started shortly after I started using the Clarisonic. My face is slowly getting better but only with prescribed creams 3 times/day. I would be very reluctant to use it again. My friend gave it to me as a birthday gift because she loved hers so much. Awkward! Who would have thought it could cause skin complaints. For many they will find out after the damage is done, when they google it like we have !!!

    @ Kirsten, I just read your post and your symptoms (in the T-zone) are exactly the same as mine. It’s most common in young girls and looks like acne (either little white heads or just water bubbles).

    Posted By: Kirsten Jefferies  | 

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  20. Thanks for posting this article. It was very helpful. I have exactly the same problem with my Clarisonic. I bought it 3 weeks ago and used it every night. The first few days I felt great. My skin never felt so clean & smooth. But then comes the break-outs of rashes. I’ve had 4 patches of rashes on my cheeks now and all this time I was hesitant to stop because Clarisonic says that “it will get worse before it gets better.” I have very sensitive skin and eczema to begin with and these rashes feel itchy and irritating. They are definitely not acne break-outs but felt more like rashes from the abrasion of the brush. What do you recommend me do Renee? I think I should stop completely for the rashes to go away then maybe swap it to a more sensitive brush head and use it once a week? I have normal brush head now.

    Posted By: Melody  | 

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    • Renée Rouleau

      Hi Melody,
      The Clarisonic is clearly aggravating your skin. I do not suggest waiting it out, since you have a history of sensitive skin. If I were you, I would discontinue it immediately and let your skin heal up. If you want to expedite the healing, check out our Phytolipid Comfort Cream and Bio Calm Repair Masque as both of those will help repair the barrier that has been damaged in your skin. If you decide go back to it, use it no more than three times a week. You should be back to new in no time. -Renee

      Posted By: Renée Rouleau  | 

      Reply
  21. Renee,
    i just bought the Clarosonic because i thought it would make my skin radiant but after reading all this im scared. Im mid 40′s with pretty good, olive skin. My procedure is a fcial scrub in the morning(Clean and Clear Daily Pore), Neocutis Journee anti aging cream then Estee Lauder Day Wear Moisurizer. Evenings same pore scrub/cleanser, Neutrogen 3 in 1 daily stress exfoliant, estee lauder night repair serum and moisturizer. With Clarosonic is this too much exfoliating, and what do i get rid of? On top of this I do a silk peel once a month. I’m not sure what i should do?? What do you suggest

    Posted By: Michelle  | 

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    • Renée Rouleau

      Hi Michelle, I suggest using Clarisonic no more than three times a week. I then suggest using a gentle acid serum (like our BHA Clarifying Serum or AHA Smoothing Serum, depending on your skin type) for three nights on, three nights off, alternating with a regular hydrating, anti-aging serum. My line is based on nine skin types and you can choose your skin type here. http://www.reneerouleau.com/Prescription.aspx
      It will then suggest a good routine from my line that will give you the right amount of exfoliation, as well as address your other specific concerns. You can always email customer service if you need more assistance. Thanks, Renee

      Posted By: Renée Rouleau  | 

      Reply
  22. Hi, Rene I did a jessner peel on Thursday and I’m starting to peel, my question is can I use my clarisonic?

    Posted By: carolina  | 

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  23. Looks like I’m late to the party since this was first written in 2010! I’ve used the Clarisonic Mia, which has a timer, for several years. Incidentally, I started using it in late 2010. My skin was generally pretty good before using the Clarisonic, except for the occasional acne and T-zone oiliness – it was amazing afterwards! I use it every time I shower, so I’m using it about once a day for the last several years. I frequently receive compliments about how beautiful and youthful my skin looks (I’m suppose I’m young anyway, and it should look like this – 30 later this year). I never get blackheads anymore, and I have no extreme oiliness. I attribute the improvement mostly to the Clarisonic use since I still do get hormonal breakouts. I’m very pleased with my Clarisonic, but recently my mom was shocked at my daily use. She suggested I use it only a few times a week, but I’m not sold since I’ve had amazing results. I’m not sure if it’s genetics or the Clarisonic – but I’d bet on the latter since I haven’t always had such clear skin. I will, however, heed the exfoliating advice and not use exfoliator scrubs on days that I use my Clarisonic. Note that my daily skincare regiment includes serum, hydrating toner, moisturizer, SPF in the daytime and eye creams religiously, so maybe that helps as well. Thanks for the info!

    Posted By: Teresa  | 

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  24. I went from twice daily to only about 3 times a week with my Clarisonic. I’m oily, but, very fair/sensitive. I could not tolerate daily use.

    Posted By: Valerie C.  | 

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  25. Renee ,
    I use the Mario badescu kiwi facial scrub and have combination /oily skin And thinking of getting a Clarisonic . If I do what times are best to exfoliate with my scrub and use the Clarisonic ?

    Posted By: Marisol  | 

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    • Renée Rouleau

      For most skin types including combination/oily skin like yours, physical exfoliants, whether it’s a facial scrub or Clarisonic, should be used 3 nights a week. So you can choose with one you get better results with. If you want to learn more about Renee Rouleau skin types and finds yours, read here. https://www.reneerouleau.com/skin-types

      Posted By: Renée Rouleau  | 

      Reply

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