It’s one of the very few innovations in skincare devices. It made Ophra’s list of favourite things. And yet, many experts caution about its use. I’m talking about the Clarisonic (although, everything in this post is true for its many clones as well). What is it, and why is it so controversial?
What is Clarisonic?
Put it simply, the Clarisonic is an electric toothbrush for skin. Developed utilizing the same technology previously used to cleanse teeth, it features a soft and gentle brush that oscillates back and forth over the skin at sonic speed. According to a 2006 study (done by the makers of Clarisonic), “the net result is the inelastic comedones become loosened and detached from the infundibular wall and are then cleared from the acroinfundibulum,” which is just a fancy way of saying it can dislodge impurities in the pores. The brush can also remove dirt, makeup, and dead skin’s cells.
A cleansing or an exfoliating system?
Clarisonic is marketed as a cleansing, rather than an exfoliating, tool. That’s probably why they recommend using this device twice a day, in the morning and at night. They’re trying to make you change your cleansing habits, and replacing your usual cleanser with their brush. But while the Clarisonic can cleanse skin well, it also removes dead skin cells, which is what an exfoliant does. And exfoliating too often, especially if you have dry or sensitive skin, can do more harm than good to the skin.
Why overexfoliation is bad for skin
Exfoliation has many benefits for the skin. By removing the superficial layer of dead skin cells from its surface, you expose the newer, brighter, smoother, and even-toned skin underneath. It also makes fines lines and wrinkles appear smaller. As a result, skin looks younger and healthier. That’s not all. Exfoliation also allows skincare products to better penetrate into the skin, enhancing their efficacy. Plus, keeping skin and pores clean also helps prevent breakouts.
But those dead cells are there for a reason. They protect the red and raw skin underneath that’s not ready to come to the surface yet. If you remove too much of this protective layer, you’ll be exposing it, and that can be very painful! Even if you don’t reach raw skin, overexfoliation can disrupt the skin’s protective barrier, allowing moisture to escape from the skin, causing dryness. Or worse. When this barrier is damaged, skin is more prone to both irritations and infections.
How often should you use the Clarisonic?
The Clarisonic should be used as an exfoliating device. And not everyone can exfoliate skin manually daily. If you have pretty thick skin, you may be able to use this device twice a day without experiencing any side effects. But if your skin is normal, dry, or sensitive, then using it 2 or 3 times a week may be best. For some people, though, even that is too much. It’s all about experimenting to find out what frequency is right for you.
Problem is, this stuff is too expensive for experimentation. You don’t want to splurge on it only to discover it’s too harsh for your skin! Oh, and be careful what you use it with too. If you use it with a AHAs or BHA based exfoliant (whether during the cleansing process or afterwards), you may be getting too much exfoliation as well. Pay attention to how your skin responds and discontinue use at first sign of imitation.
Can anyone use the Clarisonic?
The brand of course says yes. Their website features several studies claiming the device is gentle and safe for use for everyone, including those affected with mild to moderate acne and rosacea. However, these studies were all commissioned by Clarisonic, and were conducted on a small group of people. Only 14, for example, took part in the rosacea study. Also, they don’t provide much information on how the Clarisonic was used or how the results were measured, making it impossible to accurately review the findings.
Experts, though, are cautious. Dr Leslie Baumann, for instance, believes that, while people with thicker skin can safely use the Clarisonic, “anyone with sensitive skin – and acne-prone skin is indeed sensitive – should actually avoid these vigorous scrubbing products, which can exacerbate inflammation. Rosacea and the tendency to experience skin allergies are further indications that you should not be using an abrasive exfoliant or a vigorous cleansing brush. Similarly, anyone with very dry skin should avoid exfoliating, which may compromise an already impaired skin barrier and worsen dryness.”
Is the Clarisonic the best way to cleanse and exfoliate skin?
Let’s say your skin is not too dry or sensitive, and can take being exfoliated regularly with the Clarisonic. Should you invest in it? The cheapest model costs $99.00, while the brush heads, which must be cleaned and replaced regularly, $25.00. That may be worth it if studies showed it worked better than AHAs, such as Glycolic Acid, or Salicylic Acid. But, as far as I know, no such study has been performed yet.
Clarisonic has, however, commissioned a study to test the cleansing ability of its device. The results showed that the Clarisonic Brush removes 6 times more makeup than manual cleansing. That’s both impressive and scary! It makes you wonder how much makeup we have trapped in our skin. Well, if you feel the urge of giving your dirty face a good scrub to remove it all, don’t. You don’t need to.
The Clarisonic Brush removes 6 times more makeup than manual cleansing indeed. But manual cleansing, according to the study, simply means removing makeup by hand with only water! Everyone who has ever used makeup knows that many products, especially longlasting and waterproof ones, are best removed with oil-based rather than water-based makeup removers. And none of us would dream to take makeup off with water alone! It’s just not that effective. Any cleanser would remove makeup better than water only. And was the Clarisonic tested against other cleansers and makeup removers? Of course not! Makes you think, doesn’t it?
The Bottom Line
This post is pretty negative, but I don’t think the Clarisonic is bad. Not for everyone anyway. Like other exfoliants, it can remove dead skin cells, revealing the brighter, younger-looking skin underneath, and enhancing the penetration of skincare products. But does it do it better than other exfoliants and cleansers on the market? We don’t know. What’s certain is that using it often, especially if you have dry or sensitive skin, can lead to dryness and irritations. If you’re not sure it’ll work for you, try a cheaper option, like Olay Pro-X Advanced Cleansing System, which is only $30. Personally, until I see scientific studies confirming it works better than other exfoliants, I’ll stick to glycolic acid.