A facial cleansing device may seem like a superfluous purchase when you have fingers or a washcloth that can do the job just fine. But experts say they’re a worthy investment if you’re looking for a deeper clean in your skincare routine. "The devices clean a little more aggressively than your hands," says Kelly Viavattine, senior esthetician at Kate Somerville in Los Angeles. "They can really help remove dirt, oil, [and] makeup to keep your skin nice and soft, and help keep your pores clean."
After two years of owning one and two weeks of testing the field, I concur. The right facial cleansing brush not only rids your face of any lingering makeup and grime, but gently exfoliates leaving the skin feeling fresh. But what makes a brush a good one? The ones at the top of our list are silicone brushes, as opposed to bristled brush heads. Overall, they were gentler on skin, easier to clean, and more portable. Our top pick, the PMD Smart Facial Cleansing Device (available at Amazon for $84.00) is everything you could want: It’s gentle on the skin but effective at cleansing, and it’s portable. An added bonus? You never have to replace brush heads—an inconvenience that also adds to the overall cost of the device.
PMD Smart Facial Cleansing Device
I was immediately drawn to the slim profile of this particular device. It sits tidily in a small plastic cradle on the countertop without taking up much room—essential for anyone with limited vanity or storage space. It’s also very comfortable to hold. The wider bottom tapers into a very thin wand with a circular silicone brush on the top, which encourages the user to hold the whole thing upright like you might hold a lollipop. This makes maneuvering the brush very intuitive.
Getting started took a little longer than I would have liked, as the rechargeable device has four modes but comes with very limited instructions about how to use them. Without ample information, you’re left to make guesses about why you might want to use one mode over the other.
After looking up the device on two different websites, I ultimately discovered that modes one and two offer consistent vibration for regular cleansing (I used the second, more intense vibration; the first felt too slow and gentle) and modes three and four add pulsation to use the brush when applying moisturizer or serum for better penetration.
Though there's no built-in timer guiding movements around your face, this isn’t a deal breaker because there’s no recommended minimum time for washing your face. That said, it makes the cleansing process a bit more of a guessing game, as some devices indicate when to move on from one quadrant of your face to the next—unless, of course, you use your own timer.
Because the brush is made of silicone, it’s also very easy to clean and easy to pack. You can rinse off any frothy soap without worrying about massaging any dirt and debris out or letting the whole thing dry. This is different from a bristled brush, which has wells around the bristles into which dirt and germs could settle.
And perhaps what sways me toward the silicone PMD brush the most: Though gentle, it's effective and requires almost no maintenance at all. The brush doesn’t need to be replaced—ever!—unless it’s damaged or stops working. Overall, this is a great value and a worthy long-term investment.
I'm Brigitt Earley, a freelance writer and editor with extensive experience testing beauty products over the course of my more-than-10-year career. I previously tested both drugstore mascaras and waterproof mascaras for Reviewed, but have also tested dozens of cosmetics and personal care products for other lifestyle publications.
As someone who has long struggled with hormonal breakouts, I try to be as diligent as possible about washing my face at the end of each day. But, as a mom of two toddlers (with twins on the way!), to say I’m tired and ready to hop—er, flop—in bed at night is a gross understatement. With that in mind, I want my before-bed routine to be effective, but highly efficient.
To test the best face scrubbers and cleansing brushes, we first evaluated the tons of products on the market—each one with more bells and whistles than the last and with prices all over the map—from less than $20 to upwards of $150. So how do you know which one is worth your time and money? We scoured reviews to find the most-loved devices on the market, and tried each one over two weeks of rigorous testing.
How? The same way you might: I used each brush to buff my face clean at the end of the day. I used the same cleanser with each device—my beloved Glossier Milky Jelly Cleanser—to slough off any remnants of makeup, plus any dead skin cells, dirt, and grime that had built up throughout the day.
Unlike the way you may test, though, I noted the usability and performance of each device in order to score each brush using a scientifically calibrated rubric. From the moment I took each brush out of the box, I answered weighted questions related to:
Ease of use: How easy is it to charge, setup, and use the device? Is it comfortable to hold the device? Are the buttons intuitive? And, finally, how noisy is the device?
Performance: How effective was the cleansing device? Did the brush head glide over my skin, cleaning but not tugging—or, was it abrasive and uncomfortable? Did any special features, like a timer, sanitization, or extra cleansing settings or brush heads, to enhance the overall experience? And, perhaps most importantly, did my face look and feel cleaner after using the device?
Storage: If there’s any downside to facial cleansing brushes, it’s that improper care can cause bacteria to grow on them between uses—particularly if you use a brush with bristles. With that in mind, it’s important to assess how easy it is to clean and store each device. Does it come with a case to sanitarily store brush heads? Does the device come with a mount or holder to keep it off germy counters or shower shelves?
Waterproofing: Is the device waterproof, both with a splash of water and after being completely submerged? As washing your face involves, well, water, you might expect all cleansing brushes to be fully waterproof—but that’s not always the case. Most are water-resistant, meaning they can run without issue in the shower, but not all are fully waterproof—a potentially costly or even dangerous concern.
Cost: Finally, we also considered each device’s true cost for a year of ownership. While the handle should last a while, some brush heads—particularly bristled brushes—should be replaced every three months, or as soon as they begin to show visible dirt or wear. Silicone brushes do not need to be replaced—unless of course, they get damaged or stop working. For brushes that do need a regular rotation of new heads, the true cost of ownership is much greater than the initial price tag may lead you to believe. While this factor didn't impact scores, it is important to consider before buying.
What You Should Know About Facial Cleansing Brushes
The most important thing to note about facial cleansing brushes is that there are two main types of brush heads: bristles and silicone.
Until a few years ago, nearly all cleansing brushes on the market had bristles, the most popular of which were from the now-defunct brand Clarisonic. (Our top pick in the previous test was the Clarisonic Mia Smart.) These brushes offer a nice, deep clean, but can sometimes be a bit too abrasive (particularly for those with sensitive skin) and are inherently harder to keep sanitary, as germs can make their homes inside the wells that house the bristles.
Today, there’s a growing number of silicone options that address the pitfalls of the first generation of face scrubbers. These silicone alternatives are becoming the gold standard, because they are typically gentler on skin, easier to clean, and—as previously mentioned—have much greater longevity because you don’t have to replace the device (or any brush heads) unless it stops working or becomes damaged.
No matter which type you prefer, prices vary wildly. As our tests show, though, price is not the best determinant of quality. In fact, our top pick is more than $60 cheaper than the next best alternative. What’s more, some of our least favorite devices are just as—if not more—expensive.
When shopping, first consider your skin type. Is your skin easily irritated and prone to redness? That’s another reason to skip the bristles in favor of the gentler silicone options. Second, think about your lifestyle. Do you have time to devote to your skincare routine—or are you trying to get the job done as fast as possible? If the former, you may have the time (and patience!) to give bristled brushes the TLC they need; if the latter, don’t bother with bristles—you’ll end up feeling burdened by the responsibility.
Finally, it’s worth considering how the device is powered: via a rechargeable battery (whether a USB cord or a charging dock) versus disposable batteries. A rechargeable battery-powered option has two big benefits: It generally offers more consistent power than devices that rely on disposable batteries, plus you’ll never be searching for new batteries at the last minute.
Other Facial Cleansing Brushes We Tested
Foreo Luna Mini 3
Though a definitive cult favorite—this is probably the silicone cleansing brush you picture in your head—the device did not top my list, mainly because I found the setup process overcomplicated. In order to use the rechargeable device, you need to “register” it, which entails using Bluetooth to pair it with your smartphone, downloading a designated app, and giving the company a wide range of personal info, including your birthday, sex, and email. Frankly, I felt like the task was a bit intrusive—I didn’t necessarily want to give my information to the company just to use their cleansing brush properly, but you can’t use the device unless you do so.
What’s more, you need access to the app to change the settings on your device. Though this may not present an issue for someone who tends to be tethered to their phone, I found juggling two devices to be a bit difficult and even gross—when I’m cleaning my face, I don’t really want to be handling my potentially germy cell phone.
Like the other top-performing devices, the second hurdle was acquainting myself with the different functions. This particular brush is also two-sided, though it's not clear what each side is meant for. The included instructions don’t provide much detail, not to mention the text is extremely small and difficult to read. If you don’t mind digging out a magnifying glass or hunting down the online manual, this might not bother you. But I was looking for more immediate gratification.
The device has 12 speed settings—the widest range of speed in any device I tested. I appreciated this flexibility, as it made it easy to find just the right setting for my comfort level. This would also satisfy someone who feels like power equates to a deeper clean, but doesn’t like the abrasive feel of bristles.
All issues with the app aside, my favorite part about this device is the built-in timer. The brush delivers a clear buzz when it’s time to move from one section of your face to another. This takes the guesswork out of the cleansing process and ensures you spend equal time on each section, leaving my face feeling thoroughly clean.
The brush is also easy to store and transport, as it’s only about the size of your palm (and more compact than others on this list), stands on its flat-bottomed end without additional support, and comes with a small pouch that cinches closed for storage.
12 speed settings
Has a built-in timer with a clear buzzer
Have to register through the app in order to recharge the device
This device (the first on the list with a bristle brush) is a suitable alternative to the highly beloved and discontinued Clarisonic—even at a drugstore price. As a former Clarisonic user, I can say that the shape of this device is similar and the functionality just as intuitive. The power button cycles you through just three speeds: high, medium, and low. For me, the high was too abrasive, the low was too gentle, but the medium was my Goldilocks setting—just right.
I also appreciated the built-in timer, which helped ensure I devoted equal attention to all areas of my face. The only confusing part was that the timer splits your face into six sections, rather than the standard four (forehead, each cheek, and chin). The manual easily clears this up though—in this case the forehead and chin are each split into two sections, accounting for those extra two—so you don’t encounter the problem after any initial confusion.
My biggest problem with the device is the bristles—something that clearly wouldn’t bother those who prefer this type of face brush. Through testing, I realized that adequately cleaning, drying, and replacing bristled brushes is too much responsibility for me. I much prefer the convenience that silicone offers of rinsing and stashing.
There’s greater complexity in transporting these kinds of brushes, too. Though this brush comes with a plastic vented cover for the head, you’ll have to take the entire dock and charging cord with you on any extended trips—not terribly inconvenient, but not space-saving.
Aesthetically speaking, this brush is not my favorite. The hot pink device is rather bulky and heavy, and it has to sit on an equally large (and pink) charging dock, which makes it really stand out on my countertop. I’d much prefer something more understated, like white or even light pink—particularly if it’s something that will stay within sight, rather than get stashed in a drawer or a bag. Of course, that’s more a matter of personal preference than a deal-breaker.
This brush is very different from other options on the list, because it does not take a charge and does not require batteries—it’s a simple brush that you manually move around your face to cleanse.
As such, it’s inherently smaller than all of the other brushes tested. Aesthetically, it looks more like a blush brush of sorts than a cleansing brush. It has a long, slim handle with a larger bristled brush on the end.
While this provides a deeper clean and greater exfoliation than just using your fingers, the simplicity presents some issues. Namely, it’s hard to ensure you’re making consistent strokes and covering all areas of your face equally. Because of this, I walked away from the experience feeling neither here nor there about the brush. I would much prefer to invest in another option, but would take this over nothing any day.
Due to the manual nature of the brush, a big pro is that the device is entirely silent. It’s also very slim and portable because the design doesn’t have to dedicate any extra space to batteries and there are no cords or charging docks involved. It also comes with a little standup case that makes it easy—and more sanitary—to stash the brush on the counter or on a shelf.
Right off the bat, I was bothered by the fact that this device didn’t come with batteries. Though it only requires two AA batteries, I often have a battery shortage, so I found myself digging around for a set. Though not a deal breaker, it’s an inconvenience.
My other initial (but positive) observation was that the device has quite a nice aesthetic. The body of the brush is a sleek white and tan color, and the whole thing feels comfortable to hold in your hand. Because the brush comes with three separate heads—one bristled brush for daily cleansing, one bristled brush for exfoliating, and one silicone option for sensitive and acne-prone skin—I really appreciated the included ventilated case. Though a significant item to stash, everything tucks neatly inside to make storage as convenient as possible.
The brush is intuitive, too—something that can’t be said for all options. The device has a single button—press it once to turn it on, press it twice to speed things up. Compared to other disposable battery-powered options, this device has decent power. So much so that the exfoliating brush was a bit too irritating, even on the lower speed. The regular cleansing brush felt nice on low, tolerable on high. And, although I preferred the feeling and convenience of the silicone brush overall, I definitely needed the power of the higher speed to get the cleansing power I was looking for—and still it didn’t compare to that of true silicone devices.
If you decide this is the brush for you, wait for a sale before springing for the device, as it often gets marked down for less than half the high retail price. When you consider how often you need to replace bristled brush heads (every two to three months), the yearly expense is quite substantial if you purchase this gadget at full price—especially considering you can get silicone ones that don’t need replacements for much less.
This charcoal-infused “deep cleansing” brush promises to be gentle enough for acne-prone skin. The problem: Though the brush head feels very soft to the fingers, I found them highly abrasive on my face when powered on. Because I don’t have sensitive skin and had very few blemishes during testing, this concerned me. If the brush was uncomfortable for me to use, I couldn’t imagine how unpleasant it would be for someone with sensitivity issues—the demographic the brush claims to be made for.
When it comes to care, this brush requires a fair amount of TLC, too. Because the head is made of bristles, you have to rinse it well and let it dry adequately before stashing. Unfortunately, the gray color (from the charcoal) makes it difficult to assess just how clean the brush is after rinsing.
Another issue: The brush heads need to be replaced every few months, but I found it difficult to find replacement heads. You’ll also need to replace the two AAA batteries every so often, though those are—of course—much easier to come by.
Though a popular brush, the device ended up towards the bottom of our list because it was very difficult to set up. When I first received the brush, I could not get it to charge, despite multiple attempts with multiple outlets. Believing I had received a defective device, I ordered a replacement. When I ran into the same issue with the replacement, I figured this had to be user error, so I did some serious sleuthing in the instructions. It turns out, the brush needs to sit on the cradle backwards in order to charge—something that was not at all clear unless you really looked closely at the picture in the instruction booklet. I’d argue that most people wouldn’t look through the manual that intensely and would instead go with what seems intuitive while looking at the device and dock. Once I got past that mishap, both devices charged just fine (despite the fact that the brush needs to charge for longer than others—a full 24 hours—before the first use).
The brush lost points for the annoying and counterintuitive setup process, but I had other complaints beyond that. Namely, the brush is very bulky and heavy. Because of this, it not only occupies ample real estate in the bathroom, but it’s also a bit cumbersome to hold.
On the positive side, the buttons are relatively intuitive. There’s a power button, a speed adjustment button, and a third button to switch the setting to a pulse for deeper cleaning. And, compared to other soft bristled brushes, the Michael Todd was relatively gentle on skin, making it more suitable for a wide range of skin types. Finally, the brush also comes with a convenient, albeit bulky, carrying case for easier storage and transport.
At first glance, this might seem like a good drugstore option. Compared to other bristled options, the price is on the lower end of the spectrum, plus it comes with everything you need to get started right away (two AA batteries and a facial cleansing solution–i.e., face wash).
However, the device fell toward the bottom of my list because it doesn’t seem all that powerful—the motor sort of hums and squeaks, leading me to believe it may wear out easily. The low setting sort of hums along and doesn't work all that great, but the higher setting doesn’t really do it for me either, as it’s a little too abrasive. Ideally, it would be nice to have a third middle option. It also doesn’t come with any sort of cover for the brush head, so storing and transporting the brush compromises cleanliness.
Ultimately, the price isn’t good enough to justify the pitfalls. When you factor in replacement heads, you’re looking at a yearly cost that’s comparable to much better options.
During a previous round of testing with a different tester, this brush secured our “Best Value” spot. But up against all of the newer models and with my own preferences in mind, I couldn’t find much to like about this cleansing brush. The motor is rather weak, especially considering it’s powered by four AA batteries (not included). And although it comes with two facial cleansing heads designed for different skin types, I couldn’t discern much of a difference between the two. What’s more, both need to be used at the higher speed to feel even remotely effective.
At first glance, I thought I would love that the device also includes a metal rolling massage head for applying serum, a bristled body brush for all-over exfoliation, and a pumice stone for calluses. Unfortunately, these options fell short. The massaging head tugged uncomfortably on my facial skin, causing it to feel like it was doing more harm than good. The pumice stone was too weak to really make a dent on rough feet or even elbows. The body brush showed the most promise at exfoliating away dead skin, but it doesn’t tip the scales enough to outweigh the cons of this device.
Finally, this brush is quite difficult to store. Though it comes with a plethora of attachments, the set doesn’t include any sort of storage pouch of case, so you’re destined to end up with spare parts littering your drawer. This also limits portability, as there’s no easy way to cover brush heads to keep them contained and sanitary enroute.
Includes multiple heads for different applications
Brigitt Earley is a freelance writer and editor based in NJ. Her work has appeared in a number of lifestyle publications, including Real Simple and Apartment Therapy. She’s a new mom, runs an Instagram account full of the most delicious food she can find, and loves to hate a good barre class.
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