Over the years, facial cleansing brushes have waxed and waned in popularity. Ever since Clarisonic devices first came out—and quickly became the telltale sign of a true skincare devotee, we might add—many experts have gone back and forth about whether or not facial cleansing brushes really deserve a spot in our daily routines.
At the end of the day, the overwhelming conclusion is that it’s all about how you use a facial cleansing brush that determines how effective it really is. With that in mind, we chatted with dermatologists Tiffany Link, MD, and Dendy Engelman, MD, to learn everything there is to know about incorporating the popular tools into AM and PM regimens. Keep reading to uncover what they had to say on the topic.
Meet the Expert
What Are Facial Cleansing Brushes?
As with most skincare categories, there are many different kinds of facial cleansing brushes.
Oscillating Facial Cleansing Brushes
As Link points out, oscillating facial cleansing brushes are those that have heads that spin. These facial cleansing brushes are typically paired with nylon-bristled heads to gently scrub away any built-up makeup and grime from the day. The Clarisonic Mia Smart ($129) is a prime example of an oscillating facial cleansing brush. So is the Michael Todd Beauty Soniclear Petite Patented Antimicrobial Facial Sonic Skin Cleansing Brush ($119).
Ultrasonic Cleansing Brushes
Link says that the other most popular category of facial cleansing brushes is those that use ultrasonic vibrations to dislodge makeup, dirt, and debris from the skin. Generally speaking, ultrasonic cleansing brushes tend to have silicone bristles. The Therabody TheraFace PRO ($399), which comes with a variety of different attachments including a silicone cleansing brush head, is a great example. Another fan favorite is the Foreo LUNA 3 for Sensitive Skin ($199).
The Benefits of Facial Cleansing Brushes
Although some people think that facial cleansing brushes are just one more unnecessary thing to add to an already often over-complicated routine, they do come with their benefits. According to Engelman, facial cleansing brushes are an effective tool for deep exfoliation. In addition to effectively clearing skin of built-up dirt and makeup, she says that facial cleansing brushes can help buff away dead skin cells which, in turn, allows products to sink deeper into the skin for maximized penetration. In that way, facial cleansing brushes can take your current skincare regimen and make it that much more effective with just one more simple step.
Potential Side Effects of Facial Cleansing Brushes
As effective as facial cleansing brushes can be, they also come with their fair share of side effects. Namely, they can be too aggressive for some skin types. “When used too often, cleansing brushes can catalyze inflammation and dehydration by disrupting the skin’s natural moisture barrier,” Engelman warns. “There should always be a healthy amount of bacteria on our face, but if we exaggerate the scrub, this leaves our skin susceptible to free radical damage and premature aging.”
What’s more, since facial cleansing brushes help products sink deeper into the skin post-exfoliation, Link says that active ingredients can potentially become more irritating. “Certain types of acne can also be worsened by aggressive cleansing with brushes (mostly comedonal acne, like blackheads and whiteheads),” she adds. “If you are acne-prone, make sure to ask your dermatologist if using a cleansing brush is right for you.”
How to Pick the Right Facial Cleansing Brush for You
With all the benefits and risks in mind, it’s time to think about whether or not you want to add a facial cleansing brush to your routine—and if you do, which one is best for you.
When choosing a facial cleansing brush, Engelman says to pay close attention to your skin type and how it reacts to certain textures. “Bristle type should play a major role in choosing your brush,” she says. “Nylon bristles tend to be more abrasive, while silicone bristles have gentler penetration for sensitive skin or those with skin conditions.”
Facial cleansing brush types aside, Engelman says it’s important to pick a brush that’s easy to clean so that you can “ensure you aren't reapplying the residue you scrubbed off days before." From a hygienic standpoint, Link says that silicone facial cleansing brushes are the way to go. “Silicone brushes are easier to clean and more hygienic since the bristles are non-porous and are 35 times less likely to harbor bacteria in the bristles,” she says.
How Often Should You Use Your Facial Cleansing Brush?
As with many skincare trends, there’s a Goldilocks rule when it comes to using facial cleansing brushes. If you use one too much, Engelman says that you can risk irritating your skin and exacerbating breakouts; if you don’t use it enough, you won’t notice any major results. If you use it just enough, however, she says that your skin will not only look and feel smoother but the products you layer on top of it will work better, too. With that in mind, Engelman says that using a facial cleansing brush once or twice a week to remove dead skin cells is sufficient.
As Link sees it, though, it depends on your skincare goals. “If you have very oily skin, you may want to use it daily to remove the oil and debris,” she says. "If you have dry skin, one to two times a week may be enough to cleanse while preserving your moisture. If you are over 50, cleansing more often (four to seven times per week) makes more sense since our skin cells turn over less often, giving our skin a [duller] appearance. More frequent exfoliation of that dead layer of skin can give us a more glowing and youthful appearance.”
What Cleansers Should You Use With Your Facial Cleansing Brush?
Since facial cleansing brushes enhance the overall cleansing experience, Engelman and Link agree that the gentler the cleanser, the better.
“You can use any cleanser with a facial cleansing brush except those that contain exfoliating beads, as the exfoliants will be too harsh for your skin when used with the rubbing motion of the brush,” Engelman adds. Additionally, Link doesn’t recommend using cleansers with chemical exfoliants, like salicylic acid or alpha hydroxy acids. “These products can damage your brush, and the increased penetration of these acids can lead to inflammation and redness, so use with caution,” she warns.
When Should You Clean (or Toss) Your Facial Cleansing Brush?
Facial cleansing brushes are designed to whisk dirt and bacteria away from the skin with each use. As such, they should be thoroughly cleaned after each use to prevent the transfer of bacteria back onto the skin when you use your device next.
“For nylon brushes, I recommend unscrewing and removing brush head, then using a couple of drops of standard soap and a dedicated toothbrush to softly cleanse the bristles and the in-betweens,” Link says. “Make sure to rinse soap residue thoroughly and completely dry before your next use. Try to keep your brush out of constant water, to allow it to dry in between uses. Fungus and bacteria love nothing more than a warm, wet environment to grow in.”
Continuing on the nylon angle, Engelman suggests swapping the head every two to three months to prevent long-term bacteria from building up (much like a toothbrush head).
The Final Takeaway
All in all, if you’re going to add a facial cleansing brush to your routine, Engelman and Link agree that silicone options are the gentler, safer choice. “If you are going to be a daily user, silicone may be a better choice as this is gentler on the skin and silicone is a hardier substance that will last much longer than nylon,” Link says. “If weekly or bi-weekly deep cleansing is more your speed, either will do.”