Sonic cleansing technology and what it means for your skin

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.

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The O-Cosmedics O-Sonic: an example of a silicone cleansing pad

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)

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The O-Cosmedics O-Sonic system

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 🙂

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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!

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References

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.

http://www.clarisonic.com/on/demandware.static/-/Sites-Clarisonic-US-Library/default/dw211f792b/static_pages/clinical-studies/clarisonic-sonic-cleansing-helps-other-skincare-products-absorb-better.pdf

*Disclaimer: I am in no way a cosmetic scientist, physicist nor dermatologist so I am not an expert in this field – hence why I have used references for your consideration should you wish to conduct your own research and form your own opinions. These are my opinions and are genuine.
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42 Comments

  1. Great thorough article, thanks! I knew virtually nothing about these and would be interested to see if they make much of a visible difference for you longer term 🙂

    1. Yes, I’m keen on that too. I’m approaching 5 weeks use of it and I’d really thought I would have seen a life changing difference in my skin but maybe it takes longer. Or maybe my skin is good as it is! That would be the preferable answer haha

  2. Thanks for sharing! I have a Clarisonic Mia that I use almost daily on my combination skin. I once used it with a charcoal soap and had micro tears that were visible and painful. I don’t have this issue with my regular gentle foaming cleanser. The silicone option sounds great! Does it come with a warranty? I would worry that the little “teeth” would eventually break off. Curious about the life of this product. XO!

    1. Thanks for your comment Laura! I have noticed you in the past writing positively about the Clarisonic and I’m glad it’s worked for you! The silicone heads are definitely something worth investigating if you a person who wants to start using a cleansing device though. These things are popping up every where now!

  3. Very informative post Felicia!

    I’ve never considered facial cleansing brushes like the Clarisonic as I just know that it would feel like a giant toothbrush on my sensitive skin. Something like the Foreo or O-Sonic would probably be better for me & given that I have a few other issues besides sensitivity, it might help me in those areas as well. Something to think about for the future!

    1. Thanks for your comment! I have to agree with you on the sensitive skin issue. I haven’t tried the Clarisonic, but I have seen and felt the bristles and they might be too abrasive for your skin. They do have some softer heads that you can purchase but then that adds to the cost of purchasing one in the first place. The Foreo is also hugely popular, but not as much as the Clarisonic. The O-Sonic is a play on it and definitely does not feel to rough or abrasive. You should operate a foreo in store it will give you an idea on how it would feel on your skin.

  4. thanks for this ! very informative and helpful. i think that this technology is way more better than the clarisonic one.

    1. Thanks Di! It was a mammoth effort to research and write but I’m glad I did write it. I originally thought I’d be too lazy to use one of these devices – but in fact the silicone models only need 15 seconds per area eg 15 seconds forehead, 15 chin, and both cheeks. I only use mine at night as well.

  5. I still haven’t tried any of them and I don’t think I will as I have super sensitive skin with eczema and rosacea. The articles obviously won’t focus on damage as they’re producing those products. Great article with lots of good info.

  6. You’ve put in a lot of information into this article. I really enjoyed reading it. I was tossing about whether I need to get one for my normal/combination skin. I don’t have any exceptional cleansing requirements and you’ve given me a lot to think about.

  7. Thanks so much for this post! it was awesome.

    I really appreciate the research and detail you have gone into.
    I have been wanting to try these brushes for a while now, but like you said did not want to commit to the price tag of a Clarisonic. I’m quite intrigued by the o-cosmedics silicon pad.
    Would love to try it. I have quite sensitive and dry skin so I am just very weary of heavy exfoliants or anything that will irritate.

    Thanks again!

    x Luciana

    1. Thank you for your comment!! And I totally understand your worries. The silicone pads will be more gentle but you have to get used to the vibrations haha. It’s strange going around your nose you can feel your whole nose vibrate it’s a strange feeling but not unpleasant haha

  8. Brilliant post – super informative and I love how much detail you included!
    I’e used a Clarisonic in the past and after a short adjustment period (I tend to break out whenever I first start using it) I did find it left my skin quite soft. I’ve got pretty dry skin so I think it did make a difference, but now I use chemical exfoliators and they’re just easier, so I haven’t gone back to the Clarisonic. The little red O-sonic looks like a good in between option though.

    1. I’m a really big fan of chemical exfoliants and I’m currently taking a break from them whilst using the O-Sonic. I feel with the silicone pads, it wouldn’t deliver as much exfoliation as a Clarisonic so I still use an exfoliator just maybe once a week as opposed to every 3 days as I was doing before. Thank you so much for your comment! X

  9. Great review. Very informative! I have heard/seen/read a lot about this product and others like it. I have the Olay rotating brush and just lost interest in using it lol For me it’s an unnecessary tool that is I personally do not need! But the technology is pretty cool 🙂

  10. Awesome in-depth article hon – thanks for the information! My only experience with sonic cleansing is with jewellery, and it works so well for that – gentle, and yet gets rid of all the goop, so it makes perfect sense that there would be something similar for skin xxx

    1. I know exactly what you mean! I used to have one of those sonic jewellery cleaners. There has been quite a lot of research into sonic tooth brushes as well – again it makes sense that it would then be explored in skin care. Thank you so much for your comment 😆 x

  11. Loved this article! I’ve been considering trying a cleansing device for a while but have always been concerned about the side effects to the skin. Thanks for doing all the research that I’ve been too lazy to do myself 😜 Haha. I’ve been leaning towards a silicon sonic and think now after reading this I will give it a go. I’ve seen the foreo travel minis in store and they seem like a great try before you buy!

    1. Thanks Jade! It means a lot! I really wanted to try and inform people because so many are like ‘Ohhh I need one, everyone is buying them’ etc etc, but I don’t think many people actually understand the way these devices work with your skin which is why I went and researched and built on my knowledge of them. So I’m glad you learned something! 🙂 I agree, start out with the travel size and see how you go with that before committing to the more expensive one 🙂

  12. Yay! I’m so happy to read your article because you went in-depth into the explanations and as you said there aren’t that many people doing that kind of reviews! So thanks a lot for your hard work! I appreciate it a lot!

    I had a Clarisonic a few years ago but at that time I wasn’t really into skincare and used it for a few months and then let it aside. When I wanted to reuse it a few months ago, the battery was dead and it’s not possible to replace it…I was sad! I recently go the mini foreo just to try how it felt, but it’s so small I don’t really like using it. The normal size Foreo and the O-Cosmedics O-Sonic seem nice and I would be curious to try them!

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