How to Clean Your Makeup Brushes—and Why You Need to Do It
Here's how often you should be cleaning them.
Makeup brushes play a crucial role in helping you get that perfect look. After all, they help you apply concealer, dab on blush, and slick on lipstick like it's no biggie. So it's easy to assume your makeup brushes will show up for you every time, regardless of whether you clean them.
But not cleaning your brushes often enough—or ever—actually ups your risk of putting gunky bacteria and dead cells directly onto your skin. And that can screw with your complexion.
Of course, you're not born knowing how to clean your makeup brushes, and no one hands you a manual on how often to do this when you start wearing makeup. So, if you use makeup brushes a lot, or even a little, here's what you need to know about keeping them clean.
How should you clean your makeup brushes?
"The goal with cleaning your brushes is to do so carefully, yet thoroughly," dermatologist Ife J. Rodney, MD, founding director of Eternal Dermatology Aesthetics in Fulton, Maryland, tells Health. All you need, she says, is some lukewarm water and a little unscented soap or baby shampoo. "Many makeup brands now sell brush cleaners, so you can pick one up online," Dr. Rodney says.
Once you have your supplies, here's how to clean your makeup brushes:
- Rinse the bristles off in the sink at a downward angle.
- Dip the bristles in your preferred cleanser.
- Swirl the brush around in your hand to create suds and clean the bristles with your fingers and hands. "If there is some serious grime, add a couple drops of olive oil to help break up the dirt," Dr. Rodney says. "The oil also helps keep your brushes from drying out in the long run."
- Rinse off the soap.
- Squeeze out excess moisture with a clean paper towel.
- Leave your makeup brushes to dry with the bristles facing downward (if they're upward, the water can run down and mess with the glue that holds your brushes together). You can use a drying rack or hooks to hold your brushes. Or lay your brushes flat with the bristles over the edge of your sink so they can drip dry.
Why do you even need to clean makeup brushes?
"Makeup brushes hold dirt, dead skin, oil, and bacteria from your skin, as well as environmental pollutants from the air," Dr. Rodney says. Basically, there's a lot of gunk that's just hanging out on your brushes, waiting to be deposited on your face.
"One of the biggest dangers of repeatedly using dirty makeup brushes is that it can lead to clogged pores," Dr. Rodney says. Over time, that buildup, oil, and dirt transfer onto your skin, she says. "That means you'll break out more, which can lead to scarring and discoloration of your skin," Dr. Rodney explains.
There's also stuff happening on a cellular level that's problematic when you don't clean your brushes. "Makeup brushes can become contaminated with microorganisms if they are not properly cleaned," Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, tells Health. "Applying a dirty, contaminated brush to your face can lead not only to irritation, but also potentially infections." What kind of infections? You could be looking at infections caused by a fungus, E.coli, or staph, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD).
That doesn't mean you'll automatically get an infection if you let your makeup brush hygiene slide, but it can—and does—happen. "If the skin barrier is disrupted, it increases your risk of developing an infection, as it makes it easier for bacteria to penetrate into the skin," Dr. Zeichner says.
If dirt, dead skin, acne, and potential infections aren't enough to encourage you to clean your makeup brushes, consider this: "Dirty makeup brushes also affect the application of the makeup itself. Buildup of excess makeup on the brushes leads to clumpy, uneven application and poor blending of the makeup on your skin," according to Dr. Rodney.
All of your makeup brushes should be cleaned regularly, but Dr. Zeichner says those that are used to apply liquid makeup should be a top priority (after all, bacteria love moisture).
How often do you need to clean your makeup brushes?
The AAD specifically recommends cleaning your makeup brushes every seven to 10 days to get rid of any harmful bacteria, but Dr. Rodney says it's not a terrible idea to clean your brushes twice a week if you use them every day. "Not only would you reduce the chances of transferring bacteria and dead skin to your face, the brushes will perform better too," she says.
What about if you shared your makeup brushes with someone else?
While you probably don't go out of your way to share your makeup brushes with people, it happens. Maybe a friend needs a touch-up before going out or your sister wants you to do her eye shadow.
Still, keep in mind that the AAD specifically says that you should never share your makeup brushes with anyone else—mostly because of the infection risk.
So do your best to keep your brushes to yourself. If you do happen to let someone else use your brushes, though, Dr. Zeichner says you'll definitely want to wash them afterward.
Is it OK to use makeup brushes that have been sitting around for a while?
You know those makeup brushes that remain unused because the bottom half of your face has been covered with a mask in public for over a year? You can technically use them again, but you really want to give them a deep clean first.
"With the proper care, you can use brushes that have not been used in a while," Dr. Rodney says. "However, if the brushes have not been cleaned in a while, and there is buildup that's difficult to clean, you should consider buying new brushes."
Basically, at a certain point, it's time to just call it and invest in a new pair of brushes.
When should I buy new makeup brushes?
If your makeup bristles seem to be disintegrating or breaking, or if you can't seem to fully clean off the gunk that's on them, Dr. Zeichner says it's time to replace your brush.
But it's not always as obvious as your brush falling apart. Dr. Rodney offers a few other signs it's time to let them go:
- The brush feels harsh on your face.
- The brush smells a little off, even after you clean it. This is a sign of bacteria.
- The brush loses its natural shape.
- The brush isn't performing as well as it once did.
For what it's worth, you won't need to buy new brushes often. "With proper care, makeup brushes can last for years," Dr. Zeichner says.
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