Spinning Brushes Irritate the Skin and Can Make Acne Worse
The Essential Info
Spinning face brushes are made from a variety of materials. What they have in common is the advertised promise to “thoroughly cleanse the skin, helping to reduce acne.” However, the only evidence behind this claim comes from studies sponsored by large cosmetics companies.
In reality, the repeated rubbing motion of spinning brushes irritates the skin and can trigger breakouts and make existing acne worse. This is true of even the gentlest varieties of these spinning brushes.
Instead of using a spinning brush, wash your face using only your bare hands and a gentle facial cleanser for 10 seconds or less to minimize skin irritation.
If You Just Can’t Give It Up: If you simply love your spinning brush and can’t live without it, press as lightly as possible and for as short a time as possible each time you use it.
Spinning face brushes, also known as cleansing brushes, are brushes with a rotating head for cleansing the face. Many spinning brushes have a hollow brush head that can be filled with cleanser and water, so that as the brush spins, it simultaneously dispenses cleanser onto the skin surface.
These brushes can be made from natural or synthetic materials, and can have bristles or flat cushioned heads on them.
You may have heard that spinning brushes are beneficial for people with acne. In fact, some manufacturers even produce spinning brushes targeted specifically to consumers with acne. However, the only scientific evidence supporting the use of spinning brushes on acne-prone skin comes from studies sponsored by large cosmetics companies.1-3 Unless independent researchers conduct reliable studies and confirm these findings, we will have no reason to believe that spinning brushes are a good idea for people with acne. Based on everything we know about how acne develops, spinning brushes do more harm than good for acne-prone skin. Let’s take a closer look at why that is.
What Is the Purpose of a Spinning Brush?
Spinning brushes are advertised as providing a “deep cleanse.” However, this is a misconception because it is easy to get a thorough cleanse using only your bare hands and a gentle cleanser. You don’t need to “brush” your skin to get your skin completely clean.
Manufacturers also claim that spinning brushes can “tighten pores” and “improve circulation,” but these marketing assertions are also not backed by science.
When it comes to acne, advertisers suggest that spinning brushes can help with acne by removing dead skin cells, thus exfoliating the skin. While it is true that exfoliation can help with acne, spinning brushes accomplish this the wrong way–by physically rubbing the skin. Anything that physically rubs against the skin can in fact lead to more acne. This is why people with acne-prone skin should chemically exfoliate the skin instead, using an alpha or beta hydroxy acid (i.e. glycolic acid).
The types of spinning brushes: It comes down to bristle type and speed
Spinning Brushes Can Trigger Acne Flare-ups
By design, spinning brushes repeatedly rub the skin in a circular motion while distributing water and cleanser around the face. A large body of scientific evidence shows that any kind of repeated rubbing or friction can irritate acne-prone skin, triggering fresh breakouts or intensifying existing acne.4,5
Although no studies have looked specifically at spinning brushes and acne, one study found that frequent use of a hair brush can trigger scalp acne.6 However, even without this study on scalp acne, acne researchers will already tell you it makes sense to eliminate any sources of physical irritation that you can.
If you would still like to try a spinning brush, look for a brush with very soft nylon bristles and use it only on the slowest speed to minimize irritation. Use it only for a short period of time, and don’t press too hard. Make sure to clean the brush thoroughly and air-dry it after each use to avoid buildup of bacteria on the brush.
However, the best rule of thumb is to avoid using any kind of spinning brush. Instead, simply wash your face with your bare hands using a gentle facial cleanser, and only wash for 10 seconds or less. This is the best way to cleanse your skin without triggering a breakout.
- Tadlock, L., Rapaka, S., Alejandro. N., et al. A multicenter clinical trial to evaluate the safety and efficacy of two OTC acne regimens comparing sonic to manual cleansing in individuals with mild to moderate acne vulgaris. J Am Acad Dermatol. 74, AB1 (2016). https://www.jaad.org/article/S0190-9622(16)00132-8/fulltext
- Gold, M. , Ablon, G., Andriessen, A., Goldberg, D., Hooper, D. & Mandy, S. Facial cleansing with a sonic brush-A review of the literature and current recommendations. J Cosmet Dermatol. 18, 686‐691 (2019). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30985993/
- Henes, E., Ortblad, K., Kearney, M., Koski, N. & Tadlock, L. Efficacy and safety of a novel sonic brush head designed for cleansing acneic skin. J Am Acad Dermatol. 68, AB14 (2013). https://www.jaad.org/article/S0190-9622(12)01341-2/fulltext
- Mills, O. & Kligman, A. Acne mechanica. Archives of Dermatology 111, 481-483 (1975). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/123732
- Tan, S. et al. Acne mechanica. British Medical Journal 1, 130 (1976). https://www.bmj.com/content/bmj/1/6002/130.1.full.pdf
- Petrozzi, J.W. Comb and brush acne. Cutis 26(6), 568-71 (1980). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6449356