Acne Nightmares from Clarisonic: What You’re Doing Wrong

Upon moving back to a pollution-filled metropolis recently, I decided to give my Clarisonic face brush another try. You know, the line that achieved cult status a few years back, sweeping beauty awards from Elle, Allure, and InStyle, and was ubiquitous in women’s interest magazines around 2011 and onwards…retaining hype for a few more years before its gradual diminish (to cheaper alternatives with more functionality available, to other skincare routine trends, or just to its own business model) leading to a major round of layoffs this year? Yeah, that one.


After a hiatus in usage stemming in part from my living in an environment surrounded by nature (rendering it unnecessary), and in part from an unpleasant experience of developing adult acne from using this cult favourite…wait what?

rachel mcadams acne

Rewind to 2013 when I had just returned to New York City from Italy, I was relatively “late” to jump on the Clarisonic bandwagon, but was pretty much sold the first time I saw a whole shelf of it in Sephora. After shelling out $200 on the spot with little hesitation for these devices touted to deep-cleanse the skin of impurities and debris, I began to use it daily, rigorously following the instructions, but perhaps a little too vigorously.
I wanted to get in there, thinking only when I could feel the brush would I be getting the cleansing effect. But boy, was that a mistake. I began to develop cystic acne on and around my chin. My Google results led me to believe that it was hormonal, yet nothing hormonal in my life had changed! Not knowing what to attribute it to, I questioned everything from the toothpaste I was using to the chicken I was eating. Even then, I didn’t stop using my Clarisonic, which was exacerbating the condition right under my nose, literally.

Turns Out I Wasn’t the Only One

It was only until I saw that my pores had enlarged where previously invisible (on my cheeks) did I come to realize that it was the Clarisonic face brush. In what seemed like a sea of supporters, I found that there were just as many echoes of horror as there were waves of accolades.


Internationally qualified facialist and British skincare expert Caroline Hirons is quoted saying,
The Clarisonic was my first [face brush], 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…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.

What happened was that the brush I was using with my Mia 2 was abrasive on my already-sensitive skin; the protective layers were being scraped off (this was before I knew anything about over-exfoliation), catalysing acne. I learned that the pus from pimples, no matter how seemingly minor, could transmit bacteria when carried onto other parts of the skin and beget more breakouts.

skin issue

Vita Pedrazzi from Vita Lives Free postulates that the skin produces new cells because of the trauma from exfoliation, “Faster cellular growth is our skin’s emergency answer to all that scrubbing. Often, products boast about the capability of increasing cellular turnover. Is that a sign of healthier skin? No! It’s the skin’s cry for help.”


Now, does this mean that if you brush right, you wouldn’t be left with acne? The second time around, I switched to the cashmere cleansing brush head (possibly the mildest brush that Clarisonic carries with a softness that would elicit purrs) and had a much better experience. Exfoliation is good, but only in moderation. Signs of over-exfoliation can bear close resemblance to those of breakouts: itching and pain; blotchy and redness of skin; and the most apparent sight of cysts, white pustules, and pimples. So the lesson here is to really know your skin, do thorough research, and always be gentle; just as you wouldn’t bite off more than you can chew, you wouldn’t want to scrub off more than what could be renewed.

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