Are Cleansing Brushes Really Worth The Money?

Ever since the dawn of cleansing brushes, there has been a lot of argument in the beauty community as to whether they're really worth it. Such debate is important: These brushes are serious investments, and the claims many people make about them either clearing up or worsening acne are enough to sway you in one direction or another. In an effort to (hopefully) settle the score, we recruited Caroline Hirons, a London-based aesthetician who is opposed to using them, and Joanna Vargas, an NYC-based celebrity facialist who is so passionate about them that she recently became an ambassador for one of the newest versions, Philips PureRadiance. Here are their thoughts. Let us know who convinced you in the comments below.
Joanna Vargas: Pro-Brush
I’m a big believer in using technology to our advantage, probably more so than most facialists. I really want to modernize beauty and get everybody out of the dark ages of just relying on peels to keep skin clean. That sense of cookie-cutter beauty doesn’t work for everybody — there is not one solution for every face. That’s why I love to bring technology into the game: There’s a lot that can take your skin to the next level in a non-invasive and more personalized way. Oddly enough, the beauty community is resistant to using technology. But, in my opinion, it’s selling short what you can do for your client — and at the end of the day, the result is what counts.
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Cleansing brushes are an amazing tool because they do two things. They help keep pores clean on a daily basis so you need fewer extractions, which will open up the door for you to have more fun with your routine and have facials that aren't just steam, cleanse, massage, and mask. And, they’re good for circulation, which is poor in a lot of people. I think they're good tools for lymphatic drainage. Most people struggle with puffing or clogging, and the lymphatic system plays a role in your skin being free of breakouts and having a real vibrancy.
I’ve been using them both personally and in my spa services for years now, and my clients regularly comment that their pores have shrunk. You know why that is? Their pores are clean. Pores are really noticeable when they have little bits of sebum or dirt in them, and if you use a brush at night, you won’t see them anymore. I have all my aestheticians do it twice per service during my Oxygen Purifying Facial — once at the beginning, and once under the steam — because that kind of deep cleanse helps prepare the pores for extraction, which means we have to spend less time squeezing out blackheads.
Another really amazing change for my clients came this summer, when they were using the brush before bed to get all the sunscreen out of their pores. A lot of people break out in the summer because the sunscreen is just sitting there and it’s hard to get off. There was a huge texture change in their skin, too. The brush is so soft that you don’t realize you’re doing a gentle daily exfoliation, which is healthy. And, this makes products penetrate better so you get more mileage out of your skin care. It’s old-school to say that daily exfoliation is bad — our technology has come a long way.
When I first started doing facials with the Philips brush, some people expressed concerns about it being harsh. So, I’d let them feel it on the insides of their wrists or backs of their hands. The brush head is so soft — once you feel it for yourself, you understand. If you’re shopping for any cleansing brush, I’d absolutely recommend you test it this way.
But, the thing I like most about the Philips brush is that the cleansing cycle doesn’t feel like it lasts 20 years. It's quick and effective in taking off eye makeup. Another key benefit is that it rotates. With that motion, it releases the drainage, and also when you’re stimulating the system, you bring in nutrients.
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The reason people have what seems to be incurable acne is that their lymph nodes are clogged. I’m certified in lymphatic drainage massage for the face. If you feel how soft this brush is, it gives you the perfect lymphatic massage, so if you’re interested in getting rid of acne, you have to have that stimulation in order for your skin to clean itself better. As far as utilizing a tool when you have acne: Would I go over an infectious open wound with anything? No, you shouldn’t touch it at all. But, you can go around it and do the clogged areas.
For normal skin, use it when you cleanse at night to get off to get off that sunscreen that hopefully everybody is wearing every day, get off pollution, and go to bed with a clean palette. Sleep is the body's time to repair itself, so you want to make sure you follow your cleanse with a nourishing serum.
Caroline Hirons: Anti-Brush
I discovered cleansing brushes when they first launched about five years ago. Obviously, the Clarisonic was my first one, around 2009. I used it the way it was recommended, and I developed adult acne within two weeks. And, I’m not the only person this has happened to — clients and readers have said the same thing. In fairness, I developed food allergies at the same time, which I know had something to do with the adult acne, but the brush didn’t help matters — in fact, I think it made them worse.
The brushes cause too much stimulation, especially when people use them incorrectly (which nine out of 10 do) — they do it in circles, like they’re brushing their teeth. I’m very much of the thinking that most tools should be used by professionals. The only people I know who use it right work on the shop floor and have been trained by reps from the brand. The information is not being properly conveyed to the client. For example, people remove their makeup with it! A cleansing brush will not properly take off your makeup — it will just push it further into your pores, which is rather disgusting.
Funnily enough, I think it works in the companies' favor when people don’t use them correctly. If you overuse the brush, they'll tell you to buy another one, but in the “sensitive” or “acne” formula. People will purchase the cleansers that come with them, which are quite honestly not very good, and then they’ll realize their skin is dried out. They’ll panic, they’ll go back to their normal cleanser, and their complexion will erupt again. Let’s call a spade a spade: How many different brushes can you have, and how does it make a difference when they all have the same setting?
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But, people do have one thing right: The number-one reason for poor skin comes from not cleansing properly. My best advice is to stop rushing. If it's 10 times faster for you to take off your makeup than to put it on, you’re doing it wrong. If you can give yourself five minutes, you will notice a difference in your skin. And then, the circular motions. The only circular muscles on the face are on the eyes and the lips. One thing gets printed in a magazine, and 20 years later, it’s being regurgitated as beauty’s top tips.
Another thing: Get out of the shower! We tend to make the water too warm for a good facial wash. Go to the sink, grab a cleansing balm or oil, apply it straight onto dry skin, and do a quick massage for makeup removal. Then, put a face cloth into tepid water, wring it dry, and drag it across your skin without pulling. Rinse it out, and then put on a teeny bit more of a balm or a thicker cream for massage. Then, give your face a little pummeling using your hands.
I think we’ll start to see a lot more people with inflammation and broken capillaries in the future, and a lot of that will come from the over-cleansing. That’s why I don’t recommend cleansing brushes to my clients. I have no vendetta, but when I’m asked my opinion, I give an honest one.
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