It’s a real no-brainer that cleansing our skin is one of the most crucial steps in our skincare regime, so a system that makes cleansing a more effective and safe process is the ultimate tool for healthy skin. One technology that has gained huge popularity since its inception is the use of sonic cleansing appliances. So many people have bought into the hype of sonic cleaning brushes – but do they really know how they actually work or what makes them so beneficial for our skin?
Explain sonic cleansing please?
Before sonic cleansing devices, there were sonic toothbrushes. The sonic tooth brush worked by using oscillating bristles to the clean teeth and dislodge debris and bacteria. The idea is the same with sonic cleansing devices, and in fact the creators of the sonic toothbrush are the very same manufacturers of the Clarisonic cleansing brush, perhaps the most famous sonic cleansing device! The bristles or filaments on sonic cleaning heads oscillate or vibrate at a ‘sonic’ speed. The desired effect is that the tiny, rapid movements will agitate the lining of the pores to clean deeper and dislodge impurities and sebaceous plugs, whilst still being gentle. Makeup residue and pore impurities are removed, all while gently exfoliating the skin.
There are a few types of ‘sonic’ cleansers – the most popular being the oscillating nylon type of brushes that have been made famous by the Clarisonic. These types use two different rings of bristles, one moveable, the other stationary. These bristle rings move back and forth. Another type is the rotating bristle heads which are constructed much the same, however instead of an oscillatory motion, they simply just rotate in a continuous circle. These are generally much cheaper, and an example can be found in the Olay Regenerist Facial Cleansing device. Whether these are true sonic cleansers is a question much debated. There is also another type of sonic facial device, and these exist not as bristle brushes but rather as pads that are made of silicone filaments that channel pulsations at a sonic speed. The Foreo Luna is most well known example of these.
I have personally used two different types of these devices. I have trialed the Olay cleansing brush, and the O-Cosmedics ‘O-Sonic’ cleansing pad made with silicone. I am yet to try the Clarisonic, but naturally I’ve heard quite varied opinions and I’m not sure yet whether I’d commit to it.
I’ll give a bit more info into the effects of sonic cleansers, and give a final mini review for the O-Cosmedics O-Sonic device as well as the Olay cleansing brush.
How can the use of sonic technology benefit the skin?
All these devices mentioned are a really interesting and novel way to change up your skincare routine. But how do they really perform as opposed to your regular manual cleansing, and are there any associated risks involved with using them?
The sonic technology claims to use the skin’s inherit elasticity to optimise cleansing without abusing the physical properties of the skin. So no pulling, dragging or stretching, providing the amplitude and frequency of the sonic technology is correct and strong enough to open the pores but weak enough to avoid stretching of the skin and collagen fibres. Some people argue that sonic cleansers are a more standardized way to cleanse your skin since they deliver constant pressure and many have timers so you’re delivering the optimal level of sonication.
In my research, I’ve come across only a few scientific articles on the use of sonic cleansing devices but most are actually sponsored by the umbrella company that manufactures the Clarisonic (I’ll caution for bias). There is another study conducted by P&G Beauty and Grooming but it seems it is unpublished in a scientific journal. They looked into the use of sonic cleansing devices in their efficiency in make-up removal, stratum corneum exfoliation and hydration after use, among others. Some key findings were that they found the sonic devices to be more effective in make-up removal that manual washing with water and your hands but rotating and oscillating brushes had an equal efficiency. Another finding, was that the devices gave much better exfoliation than manual cleansing, but this is not surprising.
Another interesting point was noted, and this will be beneficial to all users. It was found that absorption of products subsequent to using a device into the skin was increased (ie serum, moisturiser). In fact, research into the Clarisonic claimed that the absorption of Vitamin C in a skincare product was increased by 61% after using the device. Another issue which has worried some users was that the increased exfoliation with using a sonic device would lead to drier skin. However, the P&G study found no significant loss in hydration levels of the outer skin layer. And, because the exfoliation leads to better absorption of skincare products, it could actually be beneficial to those who suffer from dry skin and need a hydration kick.
In another study (also sponsored by Pacific Biosciences), a cosmetic scientist wrote that the traditional manual facial cleansing method is adequate for people with normal skin – and the benefits of using a sonic device would not be as significant as compared to those with other skin types with skin conditions that may need a specialised cleansing system.
This technology sounds fancy, but surely there are some risks?
I now proceed with caution when it comes to my skin. It’s incredibly delicate, and being the largest organ of the human body – everyone should be. So it is normal to be skeptical of this technology with it’s claim that it is only beneficial to the skin, and adverse side effects are going to be rare.
The studies didn’t mention any notable damage from the mechanical action and sonication of these cleansing devices. However, I’ve heard countless times from people that the use of oscillating brush heads have substantially increased broken capillaries in their skin.
These devices can be harmful if not maintained properly. The bristles on the brushes are prone to accumulating bacteria that cause acne and breakouts. In fact, you’ll hear many people complain that these brushes actually make their acne worse. Whether that is because of improper maintenance or by the device aggravating the skin causing more inflammation is the question (or whether it’s just the comedones coming to the surface). The best way to maintain your tool is to clean it with soap and hot water afterwards, or soaking in alcohol (eg isopropyl, don’t use your vodka haha). Dermatologist, Ariel Ostad even recommends zipping the brush heads in your microwave for a few seconds after use!
Also, to minimise the potential to harm your skin, sonic cleansers shouldn’t be used in conjunction with traditional exfoliants such as granular scrubs or chemical exfoliants. As the devices are providing an extra level of exfoliation to your skin, it’s important not to overdo it – or if you do want to use them, use them less frequently than you would if you were just cleansing with your hands. And remember to apply SPF afterwards as your skin is more prone to sun damage following exfoliation.
So, it seems these systems do benefit the skin and studies have shown this. However, I’d definitely like to see more research in this area, and preferably more studies performed by independent labs rather than the manufacturers. Personally, I’m unsure just how ‘sonic’ some of these technologies are, and that comes down to the research issue. Nonetheless the question I pose to potential buyers of these devices is whether you think these benefits would be enough to justify the expense of purchasing one. For example, the Clarisonic Smart Profile retails for $349AUD, and for some that’s out of reach.
My experiences with ‘Sonic’ cleansing
As previously mentioned, I’ve used both a rotating cleansing brush and a silicone facial pad. I’ll give my quick opinions on both to conclude.
Olay Regenerist Facial Cleansing System ($24.95)
This brush retails for $24.95 at Priceline so it’s considerably cheaper than the oscillating brush head alternative like the Clarisonic. It’s also quite a smaller brush than the traditional Clarisonic – although they have released more compact models since. It has two different settings for a gentle or more powerful cleanse. It provided me with good exfoliation, however due to it’s rotating brush head I did feel some tugging at my skin, and I also experienced some splashing of product from the brush head, so closing my eyes was necessary. I personally don’t think it’s worth purchasing a replacement head – or a new brush either.
O-Cosmedics O-Sonic ($99)
This is such a compact little silicone pad that rest easily in the palm of your hand, so good for travelling! It’s rechargeable, so you don’t need to keep purchasing batteries like the Olay brush. It can reach 8000 pulsations per minute! The good thing about this device is that you can tailor it for specific purposes and skin types. Not only does it have intensity settings (eg, a higher setting for oily skin) but you can flip it over the other side to use it as a low frequency device for lessening the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Another great thing about this device is that it is generally much more hygienic than the bristle brush counterpart, as silicone rubber is non-porous and bacteria resistant. The brush heads on a Clarisonic device need high maintenance and have to be replaced regularly to avoid harbouring bacteria which could actually cause your skin some grief. The O-Sonic doesn’t require replacement heads.
Now, the O-Sonic has been amazing for making my skin feel smoother and softer after use, but the visible benefits have been limited so far. I’ve been using it for just over a month so I thought I would see improvements by now. I should mention though, I don’t really have any skin issues at the moment that need attention. My acne has completely calmed down and I don’t have dry skin or substantial fine lines or wrinkles. I do have slightly oily skin – but this is under control. I guess this actually confirms the comments of the cosmetic scientist who claimed that those with normal skin wouldn’t benefit from these systems as much as others who have various skin issues. I will continue to use this because I do love the feeling of my skin after using it. Who knows! Maybe the visible effects will come later. I’ll keep you posted if they do 🙂
Did you find this post informative? Or did it help you decide whether to purchase a sonic device for your skincare? Let me know in the comments!
Akridge, R. E. & Pilcher, K. A. 2006. Development of sonic technology for the daily cleansing of the skin. Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology. 5: 181–183.
P & G Body and Grooming. Advantages of powered implements for facial cleansing. Accessed from here.
Draelos, Z. D. 2005. Re-examining methods of facial cleansing. Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology. 18: 173-175.