Facial cleansing brushes have long been presented as the holy grail product for those of us with oily, spot-prone skin, but do they really live up to their not-inconsiderable price tag, which can often reach into three figures? Tools like the Clarisonic are referred to as a game-changer by dermatologists and beauty editors alike, promising deeper cleansing and exfoliation for a glowing, flaw-free complexion. But now more than ever, as skincare trends are tending towards a more minimalist approach, it's certainly worth doing your research before making the investment. From understanding the basics to the common mistakes you might be making, consider this your cleansing brush 101...
What is a face brush?
Cleansing brushes are a more powerful and effective way of removing the dirt and grime that builds up on your skin throughout the day. As expert facialist Abigail James puts it, 'they are basically a way of exfoliating the surface of the skin on a regular basis without the use of chemicals or gritty particles, and of really thoroughly deepending a regular cleanse.'
On the pricier end of the spectrum, sonic face brushes like the popular Clarisonic Mia (£109.99, Amazon) and Foreo Luna (£125, Amazon) use rapid oscillations (up to several thousand per minute of use) to deeply cleanse the skin. Cheaper brushes often have heads that rotate in one direction: this will give a more powerful cleanse than the average flannel-and-water job, but it's worth noting that this can prove harsher to sensitive skin.
Which skin types should use a face brush?
Abigail notes that a cleansing brush is better suited to 'more robust' skin types, including oily complexions, but suggests that those with rosacea, broken capillaries or sensitive skin should probably avoid in favour of a more gentle manual cleanse.
How do you use a face brush?
A face brush could be a great addition to your double cleansing routine: after using a lighter product such as a micellar water, use it to supercharge your second cleanse with a foaming face wash. Medical aesthetician and facialist Ingrid Raphael explains: 'First, ensure your skin is fully coated in a good foaming cleanser. Wet the brush and bristles and use upward circular movements to work across the chin, jawline, cheeks, nose and forehead. This will encourage blood flow and lymph drainage.'
Does a face brush actually work?
The rapid oscillations of the brush means that the resulting cleanse is much more intense than a 'manual' one. Ingrid adds that 'incorporating a cleansing brush into a good skincare routine lets you benefit from up a cleanse up to six times deeper than just hands would be able to achieve.' It can also help supercharge your skincare regimen, as 'a cleaner face means better absorption of products and their active ingredients.' Win and win.
Cleansing brush mistakes
Though face brushes are pretty simple to use, take note: the following mistakes might stop you from getting the best out of your device...
Pressing too hard with the brush head
Your brush is meant to give you a deep cleanse, not scrub away the top layer of your skin entirely. Its oscillations have been designed for the optimum cleanse, and pushing the brush into your skin can prove abrasive, particularly for sensitive complexions. Instead, let it glide over the surface, rather than pressing it down.
Giving up if your skin initially breaks out
If you break out when you first give your brush a whirl, worry not. Some users notice spots appearing in the first week of usage, as the deep cleansing effect can cause bacteria and toxins to come to the surface (similar to if you've ever had a breakout after getting a facial). Experts call this 'transient acne', as the spots tend to disappear as quickly as they arrived. Just make sure that you clean your brush thoroughly after use and use a low setting to start with - your skin should soon clear up as it becomes used to the brush's powerful cleanse.
Not using your brush with enough water or cleanser
It might sound obvious, but if you're finding that your cleansing brush feels abrasive or harsh on the skin, you might not be getting it wet enough. The bristles need to be thoroughly soaked before you apply the liquid cleanser and start brushing - experts suggest you should fill the inner circle of the head with product.
Using the wrong brush head
Ingrid notes that 'more sensitive skins should ensure that the bristles are not too harsh or the vibrations too strong. A lot of the machines on the market today have multiple brush options and vibration speeds.'
How often should you use a cleansing brush?
Some manufacturers suggest that the brushes can be used twice a day, morning and evening, but for Ingrid, 'once daily is sufficient, as otherwise it may over-stimulate the skin.' Abigail agrees, explaining that although the 'squeaky clean' feeling can prove addictive, 'over use can impact upon the quality and and health of the dermis, making your skin more prone to sensitivity.'
Which cleansers should you use with a face brush?
What's the best face wash for maximising your brush's cleansing potential? According to Ingrid, 'whether a brush is made of bristles or silicone, it is always best used with a foaming cleanser. If used with an exfoliator, sometimes the granules can be difficult to remove fully from the brush. Using an exfoliator along with the brush may also be too harsh, especially for those with sensitive skin.' Abigail adds that oil based cleansers should be avoided, as 'these are really going to clog up the bristles.'
Bliss Triple Oxygen Instant Energizing Cleansing Foam (£24, Amazon), and Elemis Gentle Foaming Facial Wash, £28, both give a deep cleanse and are gentle enough to use in conjunction with your brush.
How do you clean a face brush?
It's vital to keep your make-up brushes clean, and the same rule applies to your cleansing brush. Once you've cleansed, be sure to keep the brush clean using water and an anti-bacterial wash. Every week, you'll need to commit to a deeper clean to avoid the build up of dirt and bacteria: un-screw the brush head then use soap (a mild liquid soap or baby shampoo should do the trick) and a clean cloth to scrub, repeating with the handle, then leave to dry overnight.
How often should you change the face brush heads?
The bristles of a cleansing brush will start to lose their shape and clump together over time, so just as you would with an electric toothbrush, you’ll need to change the head regularly. If you’re using your brush multiple times per week, you should invest in a new head every three to four months; if your usage is less frequent, you can wait a little longer. A replacement Clarisonic head costs £21 - to keep your brush in shape in the mean time, make sure you store it in the protective case in between uses (rather than, say, keeping it upside down in your bathroom cabinet, which we've certainly never done...)
Do face brushes help acne?
Blocked pores are the main factor behind acne formation, so it's no surprise that using a facial brush can help acne sufferers: it provides a deeper clean to remove clogged excess sebum and debris before it forms a comedone (that's the technical term for a blocked pore that appears as a white or red bump under the skin). If you are suffering from moderate to severe acne, however, it's worth chatting to a dermatologist or GP before adding a face brush to your daily routine, especially if you're already taking medication to treat the condition: your skin may be extra sensitive if so.
If your breakouts are less severe but still causing you discomfort, it's also worth considering what is causing your spots before radically altering your skincare routine: breakouts around your chin could be the result of a hormonal imbalance, while spots around the forehead and t-zone could be linked to stress, alcohol or excess caffeine.
Which face brushes are the best?
With a plethora of cleansing face brushes now on the market, it can be difficult to pin point that device that will best suit your skincare regime and skin type. Whether you have oily, blemish prone skin or are looking for a brush with radiance-boosting benefits, you'll find the one for you in our comprehensive edit, below...
Face brushes: the Grazia edit of the best brushes for all skin types
Best for all skin types
Clarisonic Mia 2 Sonic Skincare Cleansing System, £120
Whether you're a skincare expert or a beauty novice, think cleansing brush and the name Clarisonic will doubtless pop into your head. The brand has become ubiquitous for good reason: the most recent iteration of the popular Mia sonic brush uses a frequency of over 300 movements per second to rid the skin of dirt and impurities, boost circulation and prep the complexion to better absorb serums and moisturisers. Worth the investment, no?
Best for acne prone skin
Foreo 2 Luna for Oily Skin, £169
Using gentle silicon rather than a traditional bristled brush, FOREO's travel-friendly cleansing devices have been hailed as gamechangers in the beauty community. Designed specifically to help belmish prone skin, this particular brush features a cluster of thicker 'touch points' to better target oily areas.
Best for anti-ageing benefits
Darphin Sonic Cleanser, £125
Darphin's luxurious skincare is already a mainstay for those in the know; now, the Parisian beauty brand continues its domination of our bathroom cabinets with this ingenious dual-headed brush: the bristled head promises a deep cleanse, while the steel massager leaves skin rejuvenated and radiant.
Best for oily T-zones
Clinique Sonic System Purifying Cleansing Brush, £85
The first electronic cleansing tool from Clinique uses two different bristle types to target the contours of the face that are harder for typical brushes to reach. The angled green bristles found towards the top of the brush were designed specifically to target the T-zone, making this the perfect choice for combination skin types.
Best for a deep cleanse
Proactiv Deep Cleansing Brush, £29.99
With 360 degree rotation and two different head attachments (one bristled, one silicon micro-massager), Proactiv's cleansing brush promises a deeply cleansing and exfoliating effect, but is still gentle enough to use on sensitive or acne-prone skin.
Best for radiant skin
Magnitone BareFaced! Vibra Sonic Daily Cleansing Brush, £70
Magnitone's cleansing brush comes in a clutch of colourful shades and uses a double whammy of sonic oscillations and pulsed vibrations to truly re-energise the skin, deeply cleansing, toning and firming all at once.
Best for travel
Foreo Luna Mini 2, £119
You needn't compromise your skincare regime when you're on the go thanks to this compact version of Foreo's cult product. Its smaller, lightweight design still boasts an impressively powerful cleanse, and can be used up to 300 times with just one full charge. Your carry-on bag will never be the same.