Skin cleansing enters the electronic age
The whirring tools are sort of like electric toothbrushes for the face, leaving it feeling anywhere from glowing to raw.
The New York Times
While trying to relax during a meeting of the Society for Investigative Dermatology in Raleigh, N.C., in May, Dr. Erin Gilbert, a dermatologist, got a facial. When the aesthetician brought out a Clarisonic, an electronic cleansing device, Gilbert, who works at Gramercy Park Dermatology in New York, laughed.
"I thought, 'Why am I paying for someone to use a Clarisonic on me when I have one at home?' " she said.
Clarisonic rechargeable cleansing brushes, as well as products by other brands, seem to be in many a bathroom these days, fighting for space in wall sockets already crowded with power toothbrushes, hair dryers and electric razors. Gilbert was initially skeptical of these scrubbers, but sampled the Clarisonic, Neutrogena and Olay versions because her patients were using them.
"I thought it was my responsibility to try them out," she said. Now she uses the Clarisonic every day and said she believes, like many of those who come to see her about their skin, that her face was cleaner because of it. Still, she is not insisting everyone power up.
"The overall effects are modest," she said. "I don't think it's earth-shattering."
Clarisonic, which was introduced in 2004 by Pacific Bioscience Laboratories and bought in December 2011 by L'Oreal, would like to see all of us go electric.
"Most women don't own one yet," said David Giuliani, a founder and the chief executive of the company. "There's a lot more Clarisonics to sell."
Many of the fashion-forward are already convinced that fingertips and washcloths are inadequate for degriming their faces. Brushes by DDF, Pretika and Body Essentials have joined Clarisonic, Neutrogena and Olay. According to Kline & Co., a consulting and research firm, they made up about 40 percent of the at-home market for skin-care tools in 2011.
The whirring tools are like electric toothbrushes for the face; indeed, Pacific Bioscience Laboratories was founded by the lead engineer of the Sonicare toothbrush. After running one through a cycle, which takes about a minute, your face feels anywhere from glowing to raw, depending on how quickly the brush moves and how firm you like your soaping.
The more times the brush moves per second, the less abrasive it will be, according to Gilbert. In drugstore versions, a pad or bristles move back and forth or rotate anywhere from four to five times a second, while in more expensive brushes like the Clarisonic ($195 for the Classic), the bristles do this more than 300 times a second.
Easy though this is, making sure the device is charged and applying the proper pressure (light) to skin might seem a chore for those used to simply rubbing and splashing their faces.
"We needed to persuade people that it was important to adopt a whole new gesture in their life," Giuliani said.
It seems they have. In September 2011, Clarisonic quadrupled its headquarters and manufacturing space in Redmond. The company also recently introduced two products: the Mia 2, a travel-size brush with two speeds, and the Acne Clarifying Collection, a brush and salicylic cleanser intended to fight blemishes.
In September, yet another version of the brush is to hit the market, aimed at users who "think it's kind of fun to pull out the tangerine or coral version and show it to their friends," Giuliani said, adding: "There just seems to be no end to it. We're going to look back on this era and say, 'Wow, that was just the beginning."'
Lea Michele, Mindy Kaling and Lady Gaga are all converts, according to the company.
"I can't live without my Clarisonic," said the stylist Brad Goreski, who is not paid by the company. "I take it with me everywhere."
Eva Chen, Teen Vogue's beauty director, is another fan ("Summers in New York are so grimy," she said), though she suggested that her followers on Twitter sample the device before purchasing. "Have someone try it on you or buy it from a retailer who has a good return policy," she said.
Dermatologists have been generally supportive, too, though with caveats.
"Some people get themselves into trouble by overcleansing the skin and stripping the skin of its natural oils," said Dr. Whitney Bowe, a clinical assistant professor of dermatology at the State University of New York Downstate Medical Center. "These brushes should not be combined with harsh cleansers and should also be limited in patients who have very sensitive and reactive skin."
"Most of the time, using your fingertips and a gentle cleanser is more than enough when it comes to caring for your skin," said Bowe, who has a Clarisonic but said she uses her hands and gentle soap to wash her face 75 percent of the time. "These devices take cleansing one step further. I like to think of them as a means of mechanical exfoliation."
Most of the scrubbers come with their own soaps, or serums if they are intended to help with wrinkles or pimples. But they can be used with any product you are already loyal to. And if they help get more efficacy out of your Retin-A or La Mer, then the price tag — and the displacement of your hair dryer — may be worth it.