For anyone who’s been blessed with the magnificence of a proper facial, you know the signature baby’s-butt feeling you get after you’re finished: you can’t stop caressing your own face, every mirror is another opportunity to marvel at your freshly plump complexion, and you basically leave the spa feeling like a brand new person ready to take on the world. There’s a reason we shell out hundreds of dollars just to experience one hour of pure skincare bliss.

Haven’t had the chance to experience this phenomenon yet? No need for FOMO: in true 2020 fashion, you don’t even have to leave your house anymore to get a similar effect, and the cost is usually a bit more budget-friendly – that’s right, people, we’re talking about facial cleansing brushes!

Made popular by brands like Clarisonic, the facial cleansing brush has long been touted as a must-buy at-home skincare tool, mainly for its ability to give your skin a quick boost of energy when it’s feeling rough & dull.

But is it always good for you to indulge in this way? Yes, and no – there are a few drawbacks to using a cleansing brush on yourself, and it all depends on what you’re working with.

If you’ve considered buying one for yourself but don’t know which to get, or if you currently have one and want to make sure it’s working for and not against you, you’ve come to the right place – let’s discuss everything you need to know about facial cleansing brushes to get you well on your way to the perfect mini-spa moment.

What are facial cleansing brushes good for?

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The answer is pretty straightforward: on the outermost layer of your skin barrier, your stratum corneum, there lies a whole landscape of dead skin. Sounds creepy, right? Don’t worry, it’s completely natural (and necessary.)

The amount and prevalence of this dead skin can depend on a few factors – weather, stress, and air pollutants will all impact how much dead skin can be found on your skin at any given point.

However, even with these factors, in general, your skin follows a 30-day renewal cycle in which it replaces your old skin with a new, healthy layer in the middle (called your “dermis”). While your skin should shed the old, dead cells on its own, it doesn’t always work like that, and these dead cells can get stuck to the skin’s surface & prevent your natural oils from working their magic while also blocking any product (like moisturizers) from absorbing into your skin. This often leads to a dry, dull skin appearance and sudden breakouts.

So, how do you get rid of this pesky layer of leftover dead skin, you ask?

By gently exfoliating – or scrubbing away – the dead cells with a facial cleansing brush, you can buff out the weakened skin layer and expose a fresh new layer below, allowing oils to soak into your complexion to create a healthier, stronger layer – at least, until your next monthly shed sesh.

In short: facial cleansing brushes help your skin get rid of the excess dead cells that can sometimes stick to your outermost skin barrier, allowing it to breathe & thrive as it should.

Can facial cleansing brushes harm your skin?

Short answer: yes.

Here’s the kicker with exfoliation in general: overdoing it can mean some major discomfort for you, so be careful with not only how often you’re doing it (I recommend once or twice a week, depending on the method being used), but what you’re doing it with.

This is especially true when you’re using a particularly powerful, abrasive brush – applying too much pressure to your face while using one can lead to micro-tears on your skin, which then creates a discolored, irritated complexion in their wake. This is due to moisture within your skin barrier escaping through the freshly torn skin and allows external bacteria to enter and take its place – gross.

Micro-tears can also trigger breakouts, irritation, and dry, flaky skin, so the best rule of thumb is this: either use a softer, silicon-based brush a few times a week up to once daily, or limit your scrubbing to once/twice a week with a more abrasive version (like Clarisonic).

Remember: you’re only trying to remove the excess skin cells from the parts of your face that haven’t already shed naturally; you’re not trying to aggressively peel off your entire face to create a brand new one. Be gentle, stop immediately if it hurts or your skin looks irritated, and limit your use to only once or twice a week (or daily if it’s a super soft, gentle brush).

Which facial cleansing brush is best?

This question may be a bit relative, meaning it may vary from person to person depending on their preference.

Some people like to keep it simple, while some people like plenty of attachments at their disposal to soothe each and every skin mood.

While I couldn’t possibly recommend one for everyone reading this, here are a few options to try, plus what you need to know to decide which will work best for you.

1. Foreo Facial Cleansing and Firming Brush

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After the iconic and dearly beloved leading facial cleansing brush brand, Clarisonic, officially shuttered its doors in the latter half of 2020, their loyal legion of exfoliating fandom was left scratching their heads wondering how they were going to get their fix.

Enter Foreo, a Swedish brand that has quickly taken over the market with their compact, colorful line of cleansing and firming brushes. Their latest release, the Luna 3, boasts a plethora of pros:

Soft, silicone bristles mean the likelihood of scratching your face from over-scrubbing is slim to none, and their tech-savvy design allows you to pair the device with their app because… well, it’s just cool. Plus, this feature adds messaging capabilities to your device, which is obviously ultra cool. Plus, it’s only one unit, so no need to keep track of any attachments: you have everything you need in the palm of your hand, ready to go right away.

A few cons: For one, the app has been problematic for some, but that’s not a huge hindrance in terms of how the brush works on your skin. The size of the device itself can make targeting small areas like around your nose troublesome, but they also offer a more affordable mini version which can help here. It also doesn’t stay on for very long, meaning you may need to power it on two/three times to complete your cleansing routine.

Overall, this offer is a solid purchase for those looking to keep their facial cleansing going in the wake of Clarisonic’s demise, and you’ll love not having to worry too much about overdoing it – this one is good for everyday use.

2. Olay Regenerist Face Exfoliator

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In terms of price point, this one’s clearly impressive: an accessory like this can get pretty spendy, especially when you consider all of the attachments that usually end up needing to be replaced. With Olay’s offering, they kept it simple: one brush, one style of head, and voila! You’re on your way to softer, supple skin.

In terms of affordable skincare that’s also effective, this one is pretty much right on the money – the soft bristles are just that, soft, making it a little more difficult to damage your skin barrier while using (no, that’s not an invitation to be the first, so keep being gentle while using.)

The ergonomics of the device itself are also pleasant, and it’s small enough that you can throw it in your travel bag for easy on-the-go use. It’s water-resistant design also allows you to keep it in a safe spot in the shower for quick daily use – just don’t let it sit in a pool of water. It’s not waterproof, just resistant.

But not everyone is 100% satisfied with this certified dupe: some users have complained that the bristles are either too soft and too hard, and the limited speed options mean they don’t get the same level of cleansing some other brushes offer. You’ll also have to spend more money on head replacements, something that should be familiar to anyone who’s owned an exfoliating brush before.

All in all, if you’re looking for an affordable, non-intimidating option, this could be for you. I recommend this one for beginners who aren’t ready to dive head-first into a big purchase like Foreo, but still want to try a battery-powered facial cleansing brush.

3. E.l.f. Cosmetics Cleansing Duo Face Brush

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This brush is truly the Hannah Montana of offerings: you get the best of both worlds here.

Affordable and soft, yet versatile, you can’t really go wrong with this purchase – especially if you sometimes deal with sensitive skin like me. Unlike most facial cleansing brushes, the bristles are set in place instead of battery-powered, so you’re relying on your hand to guide the bristles over your skin. This allows you to control pressure and the speed at which your scrub and ensures the gentlest exfoliation possible when used correctly.

Don’t think you’ll be missing out on any facial massages here, though: one side of the brush head has long, soft bristles, while the other side is a silicon disc made for this exact purpose. If you’ve had trouble with spinning brushes being too harsh, or you’re looking for something ultra gentle yet exfoliating, you may have better luck here; plus, the brush side can contour itself into even the tightest, most stubborn areas of your face, like around your nose.

Of course, the inevitable cons: the bristles are soft. Like, super soft. Like, maybe way too soft if you’re looking for a good, clean scrub. No, you definitely won’t get the same sensation that you do with a spinning brush. You also get what you pay for, so don’t be surprised if this brush doesn’t last nearly as long as some other facial cleansing brushes you’ve had in the past – you may even lose some bristles along the way, but if you’re ok with limited use, this shouldn’t be a problem.

If you want to split the difference between cream-of-the-crop options like Foreo and discounted dupes like Olay, this offering from e.l.f. is a great place to start. And if you don’t like it, at least you didn’t spend too much on it – no harm, no foul, and potentially softer skin? I call that a win.

Be gentle, do your research, and enjoy

Of course, these are just a few of the many, many options available on the market – if you find a brush that you like, try it out! The biggest takeaway here is to make sure that the brush bristles aren’t too harsh, your usage is monitored, and you aren’t doing actual damage to your delicate skin barrier. Other than that, have fun basking in your moment of zen.