How to Clean Makeup Brushes

How to Clean Makeup Brushes

When it comes to cleaning makeup brushes and sponges, makeup artists and dermatologists recommend you do it regularly.  It’s not just about your brushes being in top condition. It’s not pleasant to think about - but bacteria can build up on makeup brushes, causing breakouts. And if that wasn’t enough to persuade you, consider this: a study in the Journal of Applied Microbiology on bacteria in makeup products found unwashed brushes were a breeding ground for bacteria including E-Coli. Here’s how to clean your makeup brushes so that you - and your beauty tools - stay in top condition.

1. How often should I wash my makeup brushes?

At a minimum, you should wash your makeup brushes weekly. While this might sound excessive, think about how often you use makeup during the week - plus if you don’t do it often, it tends to get pushed to the bottom of the to-do list. Seeing as dirty makeup brushes can actually make you sick, it’s probably a good idea to make cleaning your brushes as regular a part of your schedule as taking your makeup off at night (which you should also be doing as well!)  As for when to do it - unless you have a spare makeup brush set, it’s probably best to do it during the evening so you can allow your brushes to dry overnight - or on a day when you’re intending to go barefaced.

2. Can’t I just use the washing machine?

No, you can’t just use the washing machine (sorry). Putting brushes in the machine can cause damage to your makeup brushes, causing damage to the bristles and the glue to weaken. You’ll find all kinds of shortcuts and hacks online that claim to make the process a less painful one (including this adorable little beauty blender cleaner that actually looks like a mini washing machine).  But in reality you’ll only end up having to clean your brush cleaning tool as well as your brushes. The most effective method to get the job done is good old elbow grease - so grit your teeth, put on your favourite show or some music in the background - and get started.

3. What can I use to clean my makeup brushes at home?

Generally a dedicated brush cleanser that will dissolve all traces of residue on your brushes and blenders is recommended - but if that’s not available, a makeup removing face wash can help get the job done. Some swear by dish soap  - but as this can contain chemicals you wouldn’t put on your face, it’s probably not the best idea. The same goes for baby shampoo, which -while gentle- can also contain ingredients, which again could lead to a breakout.

 4. How do I clean my makeup brushes?

For brushes, first soak them in a solution of warm water and your chosen cleanser to get the first traces of makeup out. Next, wash your hands thoroughly and dampen the bristles with warm water, then drop a small amount of your chosen cleanser into your palm. Swirl the brush in the palm of your hand under running water, squeezing gently to get any excess residue out. Take extra care to keep the base of the brush head dry as the water could break down the glue and cause damage. Repeat swirling, rinsing and squeezing until you see the water running clear, then gently push the bristles back into place.

5. What about sponges and Beauty Blenders?

While your sponges and beauty blenders look clean on the outside, their interior might be telling a different story: A viral Reddit thread from 2020 showed people cutting into their sponges and beauty blenders to reveal foundation had seeped into the sponge. As with your makeup brushes, soak first - the longer the better, if your sponges are in need of a deep clean. Wash your hands, and repeat the “rinse, swirl squeeze” method under running water as with your makeup brushes until the water runs clear - but be a little more delicate to avoid tearing the sponge).

6. How do I dry markup brushes?

Give your makeup brushes and sponges a final squeeze with clean paper towels and dry them on the edge of a counter with a towel on the floor (as opposed to directly on a towel, as this can create mildew on the bristles of your brushes). With sponges, hang them to dry in a well-ventilated area (to avoid them also becoming mildewy).

7. When is it time to throw them away?

If the bristles have begun to fray, become shapeless or shed, it’s time to say adios. A good brush, kept in mint condition can (in theory) last for years - but if shedding bristles are making your brushes annoying to use (especially with tools such as foundation brushes where errant bristles can end up stuck to your face), rather than consign them to the bin, consider going the green route and recycling them. With sponges, ordinary ones that come in a bulk bag should be disposed of after one use - but microbial resistant sponges such as beauty blenders are designed to be re-used for around three to four months.

8. Conclusion

Even if you don’t use especially high-end beauty tools, regularly cleaning your brushes and sponges keeps your skin healthy and protects you from germs and bacteria that could make you unwell. Good quality makeup brushes and sponges are an investment, so to keep them in good working condition they should be cleaned on a regular basis. Regardless of what type of brushes you use, regularly cleaning them also minimises the need to dispose of and purchase new ones - which isn’t just kinder to your brushes and your face - it’s good for the environment, too.

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