Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Am I the Only Person Who Doesn't Like:

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 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 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.
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.


Monika @ RocailleWrites said...

Very interesting and well researched! I'll definitely pass on the Clarisonic. x

Ana said...

As the reader before me said (and I believe that many of those that follow will concur) - interesting and well researched.

I was wondering about Clairsonic because I was taught that brushes, as you said, cause microscopic tears, disrupting the skin's protective barrier, but, but, but... there was not one review that I read that was negative! Was Clairsonic different?

I didn't know about the limited nature of the studies - thanks for the heads-up.

The hypotheses you mention have been popping up in my head, too, but, as I said above: "but, but, but... not one negative review!" ... which really might be in connection with the 4th hypothesis (again, as you mentioned).

The bit about "vs. water, and maybe soap" was really unknown to me and is deserving of some dry laughter :| .
I think I trust a company less when I see claims like those, rather than some less impressive but more real.

MissJupiter said...

Thank you for the review & research! The price of the Clarsonic is mostly what has kept me away from it, & even having not tried it, I've gotten the feeling that it is over-hyped online, based on all the positive reviews; I am becoming more suspicious of products that *everyone* loves, since no product can please every person.
I think "Am I the Only Person Who Doesn't Like..." would be an awesome series! I have been asking the exact same question for weeks about my Physicians Formula Happy Booster products, while trying to figure out alternative uses for them. <:-/

Katie said...

Thanks for the in-depth research. I have VERY dry skin. If I don't stick to my regimen closely, my skin begins to flake around my eyes, nose, chin, everywhere -- which is uh... really sexy, no? My friend gave me these exfoliating pads from Bath & Body Works that I use with great success because while they do their job, it doesn't irritate my skin to death. She gave me about ten so I throw then in the wash and reuse them. All for free. Life is good.

Musing on Beauty said...

Years ago, Roc launched a similar product here. I got one to review it (since I was supposed to promote/sell it) and even though I liked it, I didn't find it effective enough to keep the motivation and use it regularly. It was discontinued after a couple of years.
I don't think I need the Clarisonic, I have also read comments from a lot of people who can only use it every other day or 3 days or they'll have skin problems. I can as well exfoliate mechanically!

Barbara said...

Good post. I have a clarisonic mia and I've used it for almost 3 months with good results. However, the reviews definitely overblow its benefits. It's definitely not this miraculous lifesaver many of them claim to be. I have found it to work for my skin and it has helped improve it. No doubt because I'm forcing myself to wash it for a minute or more, like you aid. Without it I washed it for 10 seconds. My skin is the opposite of yours: it's oily, blemish-prone, and resilient. I wouldn't recommend it for people who have skin like yours - it would be too harsh of a treatment. While I really do like the clarisonic, I do feel like I spent too much (even after the discounts I got).

Anonymous said...

My Clarisonic broke last year (after 3 years!) and I didn't feel like replacing it, although I liked it. I was about to buy the Mia, when I saw the Olay one advertised online, bought it at CVS and love it just as much as my old Clarisonic, although it doesn't beep, and the head is a bit smaller. If someone is curious about trying a brush like this, the Olay one is cheap and delivers.

Am Anoymous cause I forgot my google password.

Unknown said...

Wow this is the first negative review of the Clarisonic I've ever read. And I really thank you for it! I'd only really heard word-of-mouth style reviews on it's benefits, not looked into the surveys you mentioned. I actually have good skin but never remember to cleanse or moisturise so i thought that the Clarisonic would help get me into a routine, which it probably would. However if the benefits wouldn't make much difference then I think I will just try to force myself into the routine like you suggested :)

Unknown said...

Yes! Save that money for something else!

I should point out that many cosmetic companies don't release their studies for peer review, so Clarisonic isn't the sole offender. It's unfortunate, because I'm sure some do have valid findings. And yes, I got a big laugh out of the makeup removal comparison when I read they used water- what a joke!

Miss J,
If you didn't catch it, there is a previous installment of the "Am I the Only One" series; you can check it out here:

As far as the PF powders, I haven't bothered to try them. To me they're pricey for drugstore powders, and the shades didn't really appeal to me. Have you tried them as lid or highlighting shades on your eyes?(I know these contain fragrance, so if you're particularly sensitive on the eyes, be careful!) Also, don't forget to try layering them over other cheek colors- you may not like the shade alone, but it could give a little extra oomph! to a shade already in your arsenal.

Your skin sounds very similar to mine. I checked online at B&BW and didn't see anything like what you're describing- I wonder if they still make them? They sound ideal, I'll have to stop into a store and investigate!

I'm honestly surprised that Clarisonic has stayed so popular for so long. Of course, I feel the same way about mineral makeup, so, sue me!

As far as only being able to use the Clarisonic every few days- I generally only suggest exfoliating 2-3 days a week, so it totally makes sense that people are experiencing irritation when they use Clarisonic more often. This is even more proof that Clarisonic's claims are off- they say the brush is simply a conduit for the sonic technology, and isn't meant to exfoliate.

The thing that bothers me the most about Clarisonic are the misleading claims and the pseudo-science they use to support them.

I agree that for some people, Clarisonic could be helpful, but not for the reasons the company states. If it's truly the "sonic" cleansing that makes the difference and not the brush bristles, then why not make a soft, non-abrasive sponge or foam head? If it's the sonic waves doing the work, a non-abrasive head would work just as well without the potential for barrier damage.

I suspect it's because, as the one published sonic cleansing study shows, it is the exfoliation that makes the cleansing more effective, not the sonic waves. And as we know, no one needs to spend $150 to get an effective exfoliator.

Thank goodness for cached passwords, or else I'd never be able to log into anything!

I'm glad to hear about the Olay brush- the first thing I wondered when I saw it was how it would compare. For $30 (and I'm sure we'll see coupons and sales on it soon!) it's a much more reasonable option for people that are curious about the method.

I know, so hard to get into that routine, but you know they say that it takes three weeks to form a habit, so if you can commit to that, you should have it down!

I really think the timer helps a lot- there's something about knowing that "it's only one minute" that makes me much less likely to skip a night- how can I convince myself that I'm not worth one minute a day?

Phyrra said...

I think #2 is a big reason, rather than hastily scrub and be done.

That said, I love my Mia (with the sensitive brush head) but I only use it once a day or it will irritate my skin.

diamond engagement rings said...

Same is the case with me ear. I haven't tried clarisonic, but I have bought the pore cleanser by panasonic, and that gave me zero benefit. I had wasted my money on that useless gadget. Now I believe that no electronic beauty gadgets can replace the power of cleansers and facials.

Unknown said...


I can definitely see where the ritual of using the Clarisonic could be a positive experience for some, and if your skin and wallet are OK with it, no worries!

Like I said, I was using the sensitive head myself, and even that was too harsh for my skin once a day- I actually suggested to Clarisonic's Twitter-er that if the brush head makes such a difference in the performance of the gadget, then they should knock down the price $25 and sell the head separately so customers can choose the appropriate head right from the start.

PQQ tender said...

I haven't used such types of products yet, and I am pleased that I am away from such type of stuff. As electronic products only harm the internal cells of yours. Even I am against the laser hair removal, as it is an unnatural way, which is definitely harmful. Great sharing dear.

Mai said...

Honestly? This is the BEST review I read about the Clarisonic.. All the reviews I read I felt were too exaggerated.. My sis got me the clarisonic when she was at the states and I was so excited about.. But when I used it, I wasn't blown away with it.. I still use in my night time routine just coz I have it and I got used to it.. But the results I got from it are not as great as people claimed it would be..

But I salute you for your honesty!

I'm followng ;)

Cindy said...

Jessica - are you a dermatologist or an esthetician? No. Therefore your review is biased in that you do not understand the physiology of the skin. The system does not tear the skin since it never exceeds the skins maximum flexibility. Countless dermatologist have studied the effects of the unit (no, they have NOT been compensated) and they all agree that it is a safe, effective, and gentle way to deep clean the pores of the skin. If you experienced problems with the unit I suspect it was because you were overusing the unit or applying too much pressure. I have adult acne and the Clarisonic has changed my skin. I suggest you do more research and do not post blogs that suggest in anyway that you are a skin expert.

Cindy said...

Approved after blog owner reviews? If you are honest you will post the comment. People deserve the true story.

Unknown said...


First, I want to let you (and all of my readers) know that I do not moderate all comments. Yours was flagged by Blogger's automatic spam filter for some reason. As you can see, I have no issue with posting your opinion.

I notice you don't mention which you are- a dermatologist or esthetician. I assume you must be one or the other since you seem to strongly believe that only those two factions of people can speak knowledgeably on the topic of skin care.

I am a professional makeup artist who has worked for and with the world's leading skin care companies for over 15 years. While my reviews are based largely on my own opinions and experience (which I clearly state) I do substantiate my findings with research from credible sources: published, peer-reviewed medical studies, dermatology texts, and consultations with dermatologists, chemists and other industry experts. Because I tend to write at length, I do not always cite these sources; please feel free to ask for references if you ever feel I have stated a fact that is in question.

I state in my article:

to my knowledge*, there are no published or peer-reviewed studies substantiating any of the claims Clarisonic makes on their website.

Here is a link to the US National Library of Medicine archives, where you can see the abstract for the study I referenced.

You can also clearly see that this is the only study that appears in the archives pertaining to the Clarisonic.

In your comment, you suggest that you are aware of several studies proving the safety and efficacy of the Clarisonic. I'd be very interested in reading these studies. I invite you to link those studies to which you refer below. I would be happy to review them and, of course, amend my post if warranted.

I am happy that you've found a treatment for your acne; I understand how debilitating such issues can be at any age. Thank you for sharing your experience and opinions with me and my readers.

P said...

This is a fantastic review. All I ever hear is rave for these, and for some odd reason, I felt like I was missing out. There is no way that I'd spend that much money on it, so I'd done a little research, and convinced myself that it'd just kill my sensitive and acne-prone skin. So I'm very contented so see that I was right. Not to say that it doesn't work for some people, because I'm sure, as you stated, that it helps regulate their schedules with the timer and it's price tag. Thanks for your sacrificing your skin for this review, and thanks also for your honesty.

Dyna said...

I don't see why people are giving you such bad feedback on this review. She IS entitled to her opinion, and everyone's experience with products is different. You have a right to your opinion and I appreciate your honest review .. and I don't think in any way that you are posing as a skin expert. If you do not like the review, you can always not read the post - I'm pretty sure Jessica doesn't need that type of negativity for a review which she has taken the time to write for her devoted readers. Thank you Jessica, I trust your opinions. She is reviewing the product as a consumer, and she has every right too. If she thought the product was not worth the hype and the money, she has done well saying what she thought about it. Again, Thank you Jessica. :) xx

Dyna said...

oh and that happens with my blog too - the flagging of spams - even with genuine comments, so don't take it personally Cindy, I'm sure Jessica has no issue with posting your opinions, she's so sweet :)

Bea Arthur said...

Great review! I've been mulling over getting one for a year or so now, and am really glad I didn't waste my money!

Anonymous said...

I came across your ad awesome review after trying Clarisonic for 3 months and I couldn't agree more. It doesn't work for me either and a waste of money. Nothing special either.

ladyluck27 said...

I know I'm late, but I like that you didn't rave and rant how good the Clarisonic is. It seems I can hardly find someone that gives the opposite of this miracle worker. I went to my dermatologist today and I was told to throw the Clarisonic away, because its to harsh for my skin. Of course I would not be putting it in the trash but I will definitly try it for another few weeks and take it back!

ladyluck27 said...

I know I'm late, but I like that you didn't rave and rant how good the Clarisonic is. It seems I can hardly find someone that gives the opposite of this miracle worker. I went to my dermatologist today and I was told to throw the Clarisonic away. Of course I would not be putting it in the trash but I will definitly try it for another few weeks and take it back!

Anonymous said...

I also hated the clarisonic. It made my face considerably worse and I am still recovering from the damage it did. I agree 100% with this review, don't buy it! PS I also tried to return mine, and I can't because they are very strict about the 90 day rule. (Even though it was a gift)

Nancy Frederick Sussan said...

I have dry/sensitive skin too, and by accident got a cheap Conair powered brush with a facial steamer. It seemed great and when I added the Kiehls rare earth cleanser it made a phenomenal difference. My pores were visibly smaller and over some months my skin transitioned from dry/sensitive to NORMAL. First time EVER! I'm in my 60's and always take good care of my skin but still had problem pores until this.

I decided to upgrade to the Clarisonic and after a day, not loving it. The bossy timing beeps and turn-off automatically options are too annoying. I might want to linger longer or go more slowly. Plus the vibrations tickle my nose in such an irritating way, it's hard to clean the sides.

That said, I do feel it does a better job and pulls skin less than a whirling brush. The fact that the brush is bigger than what I'm used to could require less time, but it's also hard to reach places like the side of my nose by my eye. I woke up thinking about taking it back. The Conair one I had was 17 bucks. You can't replace the brush heads but can just get another one and still be ahead of the game.

In your case I URGE you to try the Kiehl's rare earth cleanser. They will free sample you. It's amazing and much more tolerable than that giant tube of pore refining cleanser that came with the Mia 2. (I have no affiliation with Kiehl's.)

Thanks for your input.

adibooo said...

No you're not the only one...I literally came online to look this up because I actually felt like I was the only one. I have acne prone skin/oily but as you know oily skin can get dry at the same time and flaky. I thought this would exfoliate my skin really good but it just cleans cleanser does the same thing and if I add some sugar to it I get better results than the clarisonic. I will be returning mine after a week of using it. It dries out my skin and doesn't even exfoliate properly :(

LaraLee said...

Really great review, but I have to disagree. As someone with very oily, acne prone skin..the clarisonic does a really great job for me. However, I do think it's over priced. I've never used any of the cheaper alternatives but I think the clarisonic really helps control the break outs and keep my skin somewhat oil-free. A few times I've gotten lazy and stopped using mine for a few days and really did notice a difference. And I always use a washcloth and wash for at least close to a full minute. Plus the massaging feeling of the clarisonic is really nice and relaxing after a long day. But I definitely feel like it's a scam, at least $150 for the brush. Then $27 every 3 months to replace the brush head.

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