No one can accuse me of burying the lead; I feel like I have to start out on a negative note, if for no other reason than to differentiate myself from the scads of raving reviews out there for this pricey gadget. As a 15-year veteran of the beauty industry, I very rarely get taken in by marketing glimmer, though it does sometimes catch my eye. Even more rare are the occurrences where hype from raving users makes me take the plunge. I'm an analytical girl, I trust hard numbers & peer-reviewed studies much more than my best friend when it comes to what's great for my skin. It was that nature that kept my wallet safe for years after the advent and subsequent firestorm of praise for Clarisonic, until recently.
I'm not really sure what made me finally dive in; perhaps it was a couple Ulta gift cards burning a hole in my pocket, or the fact that I really don't think I've ever seen a bad review for this thing, but at the end of January, I finally plunked down the $149 and picked up a Clarisonic Mia Sonic Skin Cleansing System. Clarisonic claims to use sonic waves to dislodge dirt & oil in the skin. According to their website, Clarisonic was proven twice as effective at cleansing the skin and removed 6 times more makeup.
Sounds kind of impressive, until you read the specifics. First, to my knowledge*, there are no published or peer-reviewed studies substantiating any of the claims Clarisonic makes on their website. So we basically have to take their word for it. Second, if you read the details of the "studies" Clarisonic has on their site, you'll see that they were done on very small sample sizes- the largest group was comprised of 30 subjects, some groups were as small as 10 people. Does this mean that only 10 people were chosen for the study, or could it mean that only 10 people were included in the results because that's how many showed the desirable outcome? We don't know, because Clarisonic didn't let anyone else review the information. Second- the methodology, aside from what they tell us, is a complete mystery. How much cleanser was used, how long was it used for, etc...Even the information they DO give make their claims less impressive.
Clarisonic cleanses twice as well...as soap and water. How many of you use plain soap on your skin? Also, in this case "cleansing" is measured by oil levels in the skin, which isn't quite the same as cleansing, is it? Just because oil is removed doesn't mean your skin is clean. Which brings us to...
Clarisonic removes 6 times as much makeup....are you ready for this....as WATER. Yeah. Did they test it against a cleanser? Of course not, why would they? We all use plain water to remove our makeup, right?
And in either study, did they compare the Clarisonic to a manual exfoliator, like a cleansing brush, scrub or even a plain washcloth? Nope. Interesting, huh?
So suffice it to say, despite the way the "studies" are used to make this brush seem like it's worth more than a $2 facial brush, there's really nothing showing us that it is. But I tried it anyway. And...
Well, obviously, I was wary at first. I have very sensitive skin, and can't really use any manual scrubs or exfoliators. My skin is dry and very thin, and even overzealousness with a washcloth will tear it, which creates more flakiness than I started out with (these microscopic tears also wreck the skin's protective barrier, creating potential for irritation, inflammation and dryness). When I began using the Clarisonic, I suspected this would be an issue, so I only used it once daily, as part of my night-time cleansing routine. To get the most objective results possible, I changed NOTHING else about my routine. I left the cleanser sample in the box & used my old standby.
For the first few weeks, I noticed little difference in my skin. I did feel that my skin was "purging" a bit (in essence, I was breaking out as my skin adjusted to the new cleansing method) and I felt like the occasional whitehead seemed easier to extract, as if it was closer to the surface. I also felt tighter after cleansing, not surprising considering the extra nightly exfoliation. This didn't worry me terribly, since another benefit Clarisonic touts is better absorption of product. However, when I woke in the morning tighter and flakier than I had before Clarisonic, what little hope I had began to slip.
Knowing that it takes 4-6 weeks to see true results of any skin-care regime, I kept with it. My skin kept getting drier and drier, and at first I didn't really connect the dots. My skin is temperamental, and it's not unusual for me to see a flake or two, especially during the winter. However, by the 4th-5th week, my skin was so dry it was literally cracking on my forehead. I began to use a rich moisture booster over my usual nightly moisture, and still, the dryness persisted. By this time, I highly suspected the Clarisonic and stopped using it. Within three days, my skin had normalized and, with the exception of one tiny spot, the cracked skin had completely healed.
That day I returned my Clarisonic. I hate returning items, but for such a big ticket item, it would have been disgraceful to let it sit in retirement under the sink. I should mention, after tweeting about my disappointment, a Clarisonic rep suggested I switch from the "sensitive" brush head that comes with the Mia to the more gentle "delicate" brush- in essence, invest another $25 so that my $150 machine will work appropriately. No thanks.
So why do so many people see such great results from the Clarisonic? I have three hypotheses.
- The Clarisonic does exfoliate the skin. Removing dead skin- no matter how you do it- makes cleansing more effective, and allows product to better absorb (because the product isn't wasting time trying to soak through a layer of dead skin). But this effect does not cost $150, you can do it with a washcloth or sugar from your kitchen.
- The Clarisonic ensures proper cleansing time. The timer function on the Clarisonic ensures that you cleanse your face for a full minute- which is how long most cleansers actually require to fully dissolve makeup and oil. I suspect that many people do not cleanse for an adequate amount of time prior to using the Clarisonic, and it could easily be the increased cleansing time that produces some of the positive results.
- The Clarisonic encourages daily cleansing. You're in from the bar at 2:30 AM and ready to pass out. No big deal if you skip one night. We've all been there- but if you've spent $150 on a cleansing gadget, something tells me you might just be more likely to haul yourself into the bathroom for a quick scrub.
And, now, a bonus 4th hypothesis! The Clarisonic breeds deep-seated denial. People just don't want to believe they've wasted $150 on something that doesn't work, so they see results that just aren't there.
If you're considering a Clarisonic, my suggestion is to pick up a kitchen timer and add some gentle exfoliation to your nightly routine. Grab a washcloth, pick up a facial brush or, if you're delicate like me, try my favorite exfoliating method- facial cleansing sponges. Set your timer to one minute, and go to it. You may be surprised what improvements you'll see in your skin. But if, after all of this, you're still tempted to see what all the hype is about, my final suggestion? Keep your receipt.
*My search of the US National Library of Medicine's archives showed one published study on the Clarisonic. Done by Pacific Bioscience Laboratories, Inc. (the makers of Clarisonic) in 2006, the study essentially states that the movement of the brush's bristles help to dislodge material in the pores. None of the other claims on Clarisonic's website are mentioned in the abstract of this study.