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Fact vs fiction: Do cleansing brushes work, and are they worth it?

What experts really think about this skincare tool.

Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Jul 6, 2023 • 6 min read
Medically reviewed by Elise Griffin, PA-C
Facial Brush
Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Jul 6, 2023 • 6 min read
Medically reviewed by Elise Griffin, PA-C
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

Work smarter, not harder. That’s what we’re told all our lives, and it makes sense. Why do more when you can achieve the same results with less effort? There’s nothing wrong with looking for easier and more convenient ways to do things in our daily lives. And if those methods turn out to be even more effective, all the better.

That includes skincare products and tools. Facial cleansing brushes, for example, have been gaining in popularity for a few years now; many people believe that they’re a convenient tool which can make all the difference within a skincare routine. 

But do cleansing brushes work? And are they worth it? Curology’s dermatology experts have sounded off—here’s what you need to know about these handy devices and what they can do for your skin’s health.

What is a cleansing brush?

The first step of any skincare routine is cleansing the skin. It’s the very foundation that supports the effectiveness of all other products and techniques. Before you apply any sort of moisturizer, acne treatmentsunscreen, or anything else, you want to get your skin as clean as you can by removing any dirt, grime, makeup, or dead skin cells.

The benefits of properly and regularly cleansing your skin include:¹

  • Breaking down and removing any buildup of dirt, bacteria, and dead surface cells

  • Helping to manage acne and other skin conditions

  • Aiding topical treatments and other skincare products to penetrate deeper into your skin.

Proper cleansing and hygiene are also incredibly important to the overall health of your skin.² Good skin hygiene habits can help prevent certain diseases and infections. It’s also a crucial first step in the treatment of common skin concerns, such as atopic dermatitis, rosacea, and xerosis.

Facial cleansing brushes promise to make it easier to achieve a deep cleanse. They also have the added benefit of exfoliation. They use bristles or silicone pads to remove dirt, makeup, excess sebum (oil), and dead skin cells from the skin and pores by scrubbing in a back-and-forth or circular motion. They’re often motorized, although some are manual. Some even offer a “sonic vibration” effect intended to help loosen debris that’s already embedded deep in your pores, in order to help fight acne.

Do cleansing brushes work?

There really isn’t very much scientific research available regarding the effectiveness of cleansing brushes compared to manual cleaning using just your hands and warm water. But what research does exist seems to indicate that sonic brushes are indeed more effective at cleansing those daily contaminants from the surface of the skin.³

There is evidence that suggests that sonic brushes are more effective than mechanical ones. Further, there is some evidence that supports the claim that sonic brushes are more effective at reducing both inflammatory and non-inflammatory lesions in mild-to-moderate acne as well as maintaining acne-prone skin.⁴ A sonic brush may also be helpful in effectively cleansing the skin without removing too much sebum, which can result in dry, irritated skin and a damaged skin barrier.⁵

Are cleansing brushes worth it?

Using a cleansing brush really just comes down to personal preference. It’s not a necessity, and sometimes it’s easy to over-exfoliate when using physical exfoliation methods that rely on repetitive motion. If you do decide to add a cleansing brush to your routine, limit your usage to one to two times a week.

Those with sensitive skin prone to irritation may want to consider a gentler exfoliation option, such as using a konjac sponge a couple of times a week with a mild cleanser. Curology’s Gentle Cleanser is a moisturizing gel cleanser with anti-inflammatory oat extract, designed for all skin types.

If you want to try adding a cleansing brush to your routine, here are some considerations that may influence your decision.

Cost of cleansing brushes

There are some more affordable options for cleansing brushes on the market, but some of them can cost $200 or more. Also, remember that the heads or silicone pads have to be replaced regularly, so that’s an additional cost to consider.

How long it takes to use a cleansing brush

Using a cleansing brush really shouldn’t take much extra time, assuming that washing your face is already a part of your skincare routine (it should be), but you still need to clean your brush head afterward. 

That’s a crucial step to keep bacteria from breeding. So, adding a brush will also add some time to your routine, but not much.

Cleansing brush complications

Improper care and sanitation of the brush head may lead to bacteria breeding, just like in a sponge or washcloth. But this can be avoided by properly cleaning the brush head and replacing it regularly. 

And, it bears repeating that using a cleansing brush can lead to over-washing and over-exfoliating which can lead to other problems like irritation, inflammation, and breakouts, especially with sensitive skin. Use the brush sparingly and make sure you clean and replace the heads regularly, and you shouldn’t have any issues.

The Licensed Dermatology Providers at Curology are Ready to Answer your Questions

Get professional advice from skincare experts

For a deep cleanse, there does seem to be some benefit to facial cleansing brushes, especially those with sonic technology, but they aren’t the last word in skincare. People have been successfully managing their skincare needs for a long time before these brushes came on the market, and plenty of people still do just fine without them today. There are other factors, such as cost, time, and potential complications, that must be considered. In the end, it’s up to you whether you want to include a cleansing brush in your routine.

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If you want to take the guesswork out of skincare, Curology’s here to help. Founded in 2014 by a board-certified dermatologist, we specialize in treatment solutions for acne, rosacea, and aging concerns tailored to your individual needs. Sign up* at Curology for a consultation with one of our licensed dermatology providers and take the first step on your personalized skincare journey today!

FAQs

Do dermatologists recommend a cleansing brush?

Generally, dermatology providers are impartial on facial cleansing brushes, aside from warnings about overdoing it with the scrubbing. It comes down to personal preference, but people have been washing their faces just fine for years without them, and physical exfoliation techniques can cause irritation and inflammation.

Can dirty brushes cause acne?

It’s possible! A dirty brush head can transfer dead skin cells, dirt, and oil right back onto your skin the next time you use it, clogging up pores and potentially leading to breakouts. Make sure you are cleaning and replacing your brush heads regularly.

Can I use a cleansing brush twice a day?

It generally isn’t recommended to use a cleansing brush more than twice a week. If you’re using your cleansing brush even once every day, you’re probably using it too much, which may cause some problems to arise.

• • •

P.S. We did the homework so you don’t have to:

  1. Subramanyan, K. Role of mild cleansing in the management of patient skin. Dermatol Ther. (2004, January 21).

  2. Mukhopadhyay, P. Cleansers and their role in various dermatological disorders. Indian J Dermatol. (2011, March 10).

  3. Peterson, G., et al. A robust sebum, oil, and particulate pollution model for assessing cleansing efficacy of human skin. Int J Cosmet Sci. (2017, January 31).

  4. Gold, M.H., et al. A Cohort Study Using a Facial Cleansing Brush With Acne Cleansing Brush Head and a Gel Cleanser in Subjects With Mild-to-Moderate Acne and Acne-Prone Skin. Journal of Drugs in Dermatology. (November 2019).

  5. Gold, M., et al. Facial cleansing with a sonic brush-A review of the literature and current recommendations. J Cosmet Dermatol. (2019, April 15).

Elise Griffin is a certified physician assistant at Curology. She received her Master of Medical Science in physician assistant studies from Nova Southeastern University in Jacksonville, FL.

*Cancel anytime. Subject to consultation. Results may vary.

• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Our policy on product links:Empowering you with knowledge is our top priority. Our reviews of other brands’ products in this post are not paid endorsements—but they do meet our medically fact-checked standards for ingredients (at the time of publication).
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Elise Griffin, Physician Assistant Curology

Elise Griffin, PA-C

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