The boom in popularity of sonic facial brushes raises a question: Are these beauty tools safe for your skin? Dermatologists say yes, if you use them the right way.

“We have a huge number of patients who use them, and 99 percent don’t have any problem,” says David Bank, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and author of “Beautiful Skin: Every Woman's Guide to Looking Her Best at Any Age.”

On the other hand, Bank says he hasn’t seen any hard evidence published in peer-reviewed professional journals to back up claims made by some manufacturers, such as that the devices get your skin six times cleaner than washing with your hands.

“I don’t quite buy into that,” Bank says. “But they do a nice job of exfoliating, removing oils and opening up the pores.”

If you haven’t used one of these battery-powered facial cleansing tools, here’s how they work: You wet your skin and the rotating brush head, add a dollop of facial cleanser, turn the tool on to start the sonic vibrations and let the brush do the work.

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The right way to use sonic brushes

The number one message dermatologists give their patients about sonic cleansers: tread gently.

Skin naturally exfoliates itself. The epidermis, or top layer, sheds about every 30 days, says Venessa Peña-Robichaux, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Texas. “When you try to forcibly make your skin shed, you can irritate it,” she says.

If you do use a sonic cleanser, dermatologists recommend you consider these four things:

  • Check with your doctor if you have a skin condition. Most people can use sonic cleansers without a problem, but patients with sensitive skin or rosacea, a condition that can cause redness and bumps on the face, should be extra careful, Bank says.
  • Use the right cleansing potion. Follow manufacturer recommendations on which facial cleanser or soap to use with the tool. For example, one manufacturer warns against using any product that contains “jagged exfoliating particles, such as shells.”
  • Start with a low setting. You can set most sonic cleansers to different speeds, says Peña-Robichaux. Start with a low speed to see how your skin reacts, she says.
  • Don’t press too hard or use it too often. Using a sonic cleanser too aggressively can lead to irritation, Peña-Robichaux says. Follow the manufacturer instructions on how long to use the cleanser on different parts of the face. For example, one maker of a popular brand suggests 20 seconds on the forehead, 10 seconds on each cheek and 20 seconds on the chin. And limit use of the tool to once or twice a week, Peña-Robichaux says. “You don’t want to overdo it.”

In a worst-case scenario, if you have a little cut or if your skin is raw from using your sonic cleanser too often, the bacteria and yeast that live on your skin and normally don’t cause problems could cause a skin infection, Peña-Robichaux says.

However, she says “the chance of that happening is probably pretty low.”

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Clean your cleanser

You should scrub your sonic cleanser regularly. “You don’t want a buildup of anything from dead skin cells to oil to, most important, bacteria,” Bank says.

To keep your sonic cleanser sparkling clean, follow these four steps:

  1. Scrub the bristles. To remove germs and residue, gently wash the bristles on the cleaner’s brush head with a mild soap and warm water once a week, Bank says.
  2. Let bristles dry in between uses. Many sonic cleansers require water, so the bristles get wet during use, Peña-Robichaux says. “That can breed bacteria and mold,” she says. Don’t leaver your device in a damp bathroom between uses. Set it in a place where it will dry thoroughly, she says.
  3. Replace brush heads regularly. Check the instructions on your sonic cleanser to see how often the manufacturer recommends replacing the brush head attachment.
  4. Don’t share. Don’t let a friend, sister or sorority mate use your sonic cleanser. Swapping beauty tools can increase the risk of getting a skin infection because your immune system might not be prepared to battle someone else’s microbes, Bank says. “Your bacteria is your bacteria,” he says.

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Allie Johnson is an award-winning freelance consumer writer with a degree in magazine journalism. She lives in Georgia with her husband and two dogs.