How Often Do You Really Need to Clean Your Makeup Brushes?
We're true makeup fanatics, but there's one part of our routine that we actively detest — washing our brushes. We know we have to, but not only does it take up a lot of our time (which we could be using for Netflix binge-watching!), it could actually damage our favorite tools if we do it wrong. We reached out to Jenny Patinkin, celebrity makeup artist and founder of luxury brush line Lazy Perfection to get her top tips on brush care, cleansing, and more.
If you're more of a skimmer, let this be the one fact you learn: do not share your brushes with anyone else. "Coming in contact with your own oils and germs is one thing, but being exposed to someone else's bacteria is entirely another," Jenny warned. Once you know the danger of a dirty brush, you'll want to clean your tools daily! Here's how to get the job done.
Your Brush-Cleaning Options
You have two options when cleaning your brushes: a quick-dry method or a more thorough wet wash. But before you start, take your tools into consideration. According to Jenny, just like different hair textures have different needs, so do brushes. Fine-haired ones need to be treated with the utmost care as they're cleaned to avoid breakage, while coarse-bristled tools need to be conditioned so they don't get rough. And take some extra time washing your synthetic styles, especially if you use them for applying cream products like foundation. "Because they aren’t porous and don’t absorb any oils, you have to be careful not to let them get coated and weighed down," explained Jenny.
When you're actually washing your tool, let its shape guide you. "Domed or round brushes can be swirled, while flatter shapes should be dragged from side to side," Jenny advised. "If you work against the shape of the brush, you can end up distorting the hair pattern or damaging the hairs." While you might think that isn't such a big deal, trust us — mussed or broken bristles means a messy application. And, when you're creating highly precise looks like a cat eye, you don't want your tool working against you.
How to Clean Your Brushes
For a faster clean (perfect for pros or beauty girls in a hurry), use an alcohol-based product like Lazy Perfection Makeup Brush Cleanser ($7). It will sanitize and cleanse your brush but dry quickly. Spritz it down so that it is damp, then wipe the bristles against a clean, soft towel that you don't mind staining. While you may have used a paper towel or tissue in the past for this, Jenny doesn't recommend that. "I don’t like to wipe brushes on a paper towel or a tissue because the paper can disintegrate and leave tiny fibers in the brush hairs," she said. Repeat your spraying and wiping process until you see no residue on the towel.
For a deeper clean, Jenny likes using Woolite or London Brush Company's Pure Goat Milk Solid Brush Shampoo ($18). They're both very gentle on bristles (after all, you use Woolite on your cashmere — so it's good enough for your tools!). If you’re washing synthetic ones, break out the dish soap. "A tiny drop of dish detergent in warm water will break up any oil that’s accumulated," said Jenny. To clean your brushes during a wet wash, you can try aSigma cleansing mat ($32) or a towel, but no matter what, use something that has texture. "A textured surface grips into the brush hairs," Jenny explained, "which helps to pull out the oils and pigments." For superdelicate or stained brushes, just softly swirl them in the palm of your hand until they're clean.
When it comes to preserving the shape of your brushes, it's all about how you let it dry postwash. "Even if it gets bent or splayed during washing, you can wet it down again to reset the hair pattern," said Jenny. She recommends gently squeezing wet brushes in a paper towel to soak up extra moisture then reshaping the head with your hand. Above all, don't be rough with it. "If you spin, shake, or flick your brush, you’ll get the hairs out of place and they’ll dry frizzy, the same way your own hair would if you shook it out instead of combing or brushing it," Jenny warned. Additionally, being harsh on the it can loosen the glue in the ferrule (the metal between the handle and the bristles), damaging it irreparably.
You may have read that storing a brush on its side is the best way to let it air-dry, but Jenny disagrees. "You want to prevent water from dripping into the handle, which is what causes [the heads] to come loose," she said. She suggested setting the bristles over the edge of the counter so they get 360-degree air circulation. (Try taping your handles to the counter so they stay put!) "This way, you won't get a matted shape on one side like you would if you set it down on a flat surface," Jenny explained.
When to Clean Your Brushes
We get it — this can take a good chunk of time out of your day and you want to avoid it as much as possible. The good news? You don't have to clean your brushes every day. As long as your skin is clear and you aren't dealing with any allergies or infections, Jenny recommends lightly wiping the bristles on a towel in between uses, which will extend the amount of time you can go between washes. "Wet washing once a week isn’t realistic for most people, so if you can use a spray cleanser every one to two weeks and do a full wet wash once a month, that should be fine," she said. But if you are oily and prone to breakouts, wash more consistently.
Professional makeup artists, you don't get to be lazy here. "Makeup brushes absolutely, 100 percent, need to be thoroughly washed after every single client. Period.
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