Cleansing Brushes: How Do They Work?

Dermatologists weigh in on skin-cleaning devices.

Medically Reviewed by Mohiba Tareen, MD on June 01, 2015
3 min read

Power tools make home improvement projects easier, but can the same be said of your skin care routine? In recent years several motorized cleansing brushes have appeared on the market with promises of a deeper cleaning and more radiant skin.

"For many of my patients, the cleansing brushes are great," says Papri Sarkar, MD, a dermatologist in Brookline, MA. "Cleansing is one of the most crucial steps in a skin care regimen," she says, so a device that can make cleansing more effective can be a powerful tool for healthy skin.

The brushes typically use a battery-operated motor that moves the brush head in a repetitive motion. "Some use circular motion and others move back and forth, but it’s the repetitive motion of the bristles combined with cleanser that makes them work," says dermatologist Neal B. Schultz, MD, founder of

The motor and bristles enable these tools to clean dirt and makeup from skin and exfoliate more effectively than washing by hand, but Sarkar says the tools have more compelling benefits.

"Since they deliver constant pressure and many have timers, these brushes are a more standardized way to clean than just using your hands," she says. Another perk: The brushes exfoliate so well that any skin care products you apply after washing are absorbed more easily.

The amped-up cleansing is especially effective for those with acne, Sarkar says. But sensitive or aging skin may need a more gentle approach: "If your skin is red or irritated, a brush may not work for you."

Schultz warns that overuse is a common problem. "It’s even possible to have first-degree burns from too-aggressive cleansing," he says.

The brushes range in price from about $20 to $200, so what’s the difference? They may use different bristles or have a more powerful motor, but the $200 brushes are not necessarily 10 times as effective as the $20 options, Schultz says.

Look for a cleansing brush with bristles rather than an oscillating head, Sarkar says, because the brushes tend to be less abrasive than those models with flat pads. "I like the Clarisonic," she says. "The sonic technology is great for cleansing, and the brush is the most effective and gentle I’ve tried so far."

Sarkar shares her tips for using a cleansing brush.

Remove makeup first. If you wear a heavy layer of foundation, the brush can’t clean as well. In some cases, washing with makeup on can cause irritation and breakouts. Use makeup remover or a cleansing towelette first.

Use a gentle cleanser. Look for something that's right for your skin type and lathers for the best clean. Avoid scrubs with abrasive particles.

Do maintenance. Change the brush heads according to the brush’s instructions. A buildup of dirt and bacteria could cause breakouts.

Limit yourself. Since the brush exfoliates, using it more than daily might be too harsh for your skin. Save it for evening cleansing so you can rinse the day’s dirt, sweat, oil, and makeup down the drain.

Know when to stop. At the first sign of redness or irritation, turn the device off. Give your skin a few days to recover before testing to see if you can tolerate the brush once or twice a week.

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