Could This Skin-Care Tool Be Doing More Harm Than Good?

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ReneeRouleauMechanicalCleansingBrushes_Opener_Slide05Illustrated by Daniel Koppich.
It seems like almost everyone has added a mechanical cleansing brush to their skin-care routine, and they’ve certainly been getting a lot of buzz. However, for some of my clients that have added this device to their regimen, I have observed changes in their skin — and some have not been for the better.

On the other hand, I have seen great improvement with many of my client's skin (especially with thicker, oilier skin types.) Before flipping the “on” switch to your brush, read my tips to ensure that it’s not doing more harm than good.

Cleansing Brushes Exfoliate The Skin
Though they're largely promoted as cleansing tools to be used twice a day, these are actually exfoliating brushes. The bristles oscillate back and forth over the skin, and in the process, they lift dry or dead skin cells, and remove dirt and makeup. And, though it's necessary for clear, even-toned skin, physical exfoliation can be aggressive on the skin — a facial scrub is also considered a physical exfoliator, but most people know that using it twice a day would be too aggressive.

When you combine it with other exfoliating products like acid serums, at-home peels, and professional chemical peels, using the brush twice a day can simply be too much.
ReneeRouleauMechanicalCleansingBrushes_Opener_Slide02Illustrated by Daniel Koppich.
Too Much Exfoliation Can Cause Dryness
Exfoliating is a vital part of any skin-care routine, but exfoliating too aggressively, and too often, can cause dryness and disrupt the skin’s protective lipid barrier. This allows moisture to seep out of the cells more easily, causing them to dehydrate. When some of my aging, dry-skin clients whom I see monthly introduced a mechanical cleansing brush into their routine, they began complaining of chronic dryness and irritation that didn't respond well to topical moisturizers.

I had already had my clients set up on a very thorough exfoliation routine, but once they added in the brush, their skin was getting too much exfoliation. To keep skin healthy and hydrated, these brushes should not be used daily. In fact, mechanical cleansing brushes, just like facial scrubs, acids, enzymes, wash cloths — or whatever form you use to exfoliate — can cause skin damage and premature aging if used too frequently. It’s best to use a physical exfoliator three times a week.
ReneeRouleauMechanicalCleansingBrushes_Opener_Slide03Illustrated by Daniel Koppich.
Too Much Exfoliation Can Cause Chronic Inflammation
Exfoliating too aggressively and too often can create inflammation, even if it's not visible, setting off a response to create free radicals. A major cause of aging (other than, you know, your age) is chronic and prolonged inflammation, which is associated with tissue destruction, active inflammation, and attempts at healing. This 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).
ReneeRouleauMechanicalCleansingBrushes_Opener_Slide04Illustrated by Daniel Koppich.
Too Much Exfoliation Can Cause Skin Discoloration

It's important to use caution when using physical exfoliants like a mechanical cleansing brush, wash clothes, or facial scrubs, because too much pressure may stimulate melanin cells and make hyperpigmentation worse. I’ve seen it happen, especially on the cheek area where people are more likely to apply firmer pressure when using the brush. For skin that is extremely reactive to stimulation, you need to treat your skin gently to avoid post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. And, you can suppress melanin activity with ingredients like topical vitamin C.
ReneeRouleauMechanicalCleansingBrushes_Opener_Slide01Illustrated by Daniel Koppich.
Clean Skin Is Good — To A Certain Point

While you do want your skin hygienically clean, you don’t want it squeaky clean like your kitchen floor. There's 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-exfoliating. This is also why I suggest using non-drying, sulfate-free cleansers, especially with a brush.
ReneeRouleauMechanicalCleansingBrushes_Opener_Slide06Illustrated by Daniel Koppich.
What's The Right Amount Of Exfoliation?

I suggest using an alcohol-free glycolic acid serum applied to the skin every other night. Then, on the opposite nights, give your skin a break from exfoliation by using a skin-type appropriate serum to nourish and hydrate the new cells. Always use a moisturizer over the serum to seal the benefits into the skin. I also recommend using a gentle facial scrub or your mechanical brush two to three 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 a mechanical cleansing brush will lift them. They both work differently, but both are beneficial and can give amazing results when used in a skin-care routine.

When it comes to acne-prone skin types, I find that acid exfoliators (especially ones with salicylic acid) do a better job at exfoliating deeper within the pore. Physical brushing can be too stimulating for those with sensitivity, and actually increase breakouts.

Bottom line: If you like using a mechanical brush, and you find that you’re getting great results with no irritation, redness, peeling, breakouts, increased discoloration, or dryness (even when using it twice a day), there’s no reason to forgo using it. The rule here is to always listen to your skin to avoid any unnecessary irritation or problems. Everyone responds differently, so use your best judgment, but consider this good food for thought.

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