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Confession time: I never used to know how to clean my makeup brushes. An embarrassing thing for any beauty editor to admit. Of course, when I didn’t clean my makeup brushes, my skin would suffer—I’d get unwanted breakouts because in addition to applying my foundation, I was buffing dirt and grime onto my face every single day (lovely).
My first thought when my skin would go to pot was to stock up on spot-fighting serums and skin-calming masks when all I had to do was clean my brushes more regularly. These days, if I can’t get round to doing it, I will use a clean hand, which is better than a dirty brush clogging up my skin’s pores, avoiding blemishes, infections and also saving myself some money.
But you shouldn’t just take my word for it. There are plenty of experts who will tell you why you should clean your brushes. I spoke to dermatologist Anjali Mahto, MBBCh BSc MRCP, who told me that there have been “many laboratory-based tests where makeup items have been swabbed and have shown the growth of all sorts of different microbes that can cause infection.”
She went on to say that despite all this evidence, we don’t clean our makeup bags and brushes enough, and if we don’t make an effort to clean our brushes then “bacteria can build up on the surface from constantly being in contact with our skin.”
So what kind of infections can we expect as a result of not cleaning our brushes? From contaminated mascaras and eyeliners, we can get conjunctivitis. And bad news if you’re a contact-lens wearer, as you could contract a condition called keratitis, “where bacteria from makeup make contaminate the contact lens and cause problems with the cornea of the eye.”
As if that wasn’t enough, Mahto went on to say that bacteria, such as Staphylococcus epidermidis and Staphylococcus warneri, have been found in cosmetic products on laboratory testing. Now, although this shouldn’t be alarming, as they usually live on the skin of healthy individuals “they can cause problems in those with a weakened immune system.”
Finally, microbes such as Pseudomonas aeruginosa and MRSA “can also live on old makeup and cause more serious inflammation and sepsis, which can sometimes be life-threatening,” warns Mahto. Um, so, about that five-minute cleaning job you don’t want to do… it doesn’t seem so bad now, right?
This all means that we should definitely clean our brushes on the regular. But to do that, you need a decent guide on how to do it. As well as some of Mahto’s expert tips, we also gathered advice from some of the world’s leading makeup artists on how they clean theirs.
What Should You Clean Them With?
Personally, I’ve always used shampoo, but there are plenty of other products you can use. But what do the experts turn to? The legendary Bobbi Brown recommends a gentle soap and cleanser, Kim Kardashian West’s regular makeup artist Mario Dedivanovic prefers to use baby shampoo and antibacterial tea tree oil [add max three drops of oil to the shampoo], while YSL Global Beauty Director and makeup artist Tom Pecheaux uses an organic soap such as Savon de Marseille Olive Oil Soap ($15).
How Often Should You Clean Them?
Brown, once again, has some great advice. With brushes that you use for concealer or foundation, it’s best to clean them once a week “to prevent a buildup of product.” Which makes sense, as you don’t want your skin to break out. However, for eye brushes, you can wash those twice per month. As for Mahto, while she says that “makeup brushes should be cleaned at least once a month,” she also says that “if you use your brushes daily, they may need to be washed more frequently.” Noted.
How Should You Clean Them?
The best method I’ve found when it comes to cleaning my makeup brushes is to ensure there’s a decent amount of cleaning product in my hand and swirl the brush in the palm of my hand with a bit of water until it makes a lather. I keep doing this, and then repeatedly rinse it under the tap until the brush no longer leaves a trace of makeup on my hand. Exactly how you’d judge washing shampoo or dye out of your hair.
Makeup artist Hung Vanngo, who tends to the faces of Rosie Huntington-Whiteley and Kate Bosworth, has the following method for cleaning his brushes: “I pour liquid brush cleanser into a little bowl and then dip in one brush at a time, swirling the brush around in the bowl.”
While there are plenty of methods, the idea is to ensure there is no product left on the brushes and they run clear under water. Hat tip to Lauren Conrad, who suggests that when wetting your brushes that you use lukewarm water and concentrate on the brush, and avoid where the bristles meet the handle as it can loosen the glue.
After that, Dedivanovic says that he gives his brushes a “final rinse, squeeze them out gently with my fingers and lay them on a clean towel to dry.”
For Everything Else
Finally, it’s worth nothing that brushes aren’t the only items in your makeup bag that can cause infection. Tweezers and eyelash curlers can also be the culprit. Mahto recommends that you use alcohol wipes to clean these. Plus, to make things easier, opt for clear makeup bags and immediately “replace any products that have changed in their smell, color or texture.” Here’s to saving money and having beautiful skin.