Here’s a Step-by-Step Guide on How to Clean Makeup Brushes
Cleaning makeup brushes can help prevent skin infections. Deep clean your dirtiest makeup brushes with these step-by-step instructions and products.
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Cleaning your makeup
Makeup brushes and sponges are a popular way to apply makeup to the skin, particularly creamy or liquid makeup, like foundation and concealer. Brushes give a smoother finish than using your fingers and can be more hygienic—as long as you clean them properly.
In a 2015 online survey conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of Anisa International, a global company that develops beauty tools and solutions, researchers asked 1,113 women about their makeup habits, and over half said they regularly used makeup brushes.
However, nearly two in three people surveyed confessed that they clean their brushes somewhere between less than once a month and never. Enter: skin infections.
Dirty makeup brushes and infections
“One of the biggest culprits causing skin infection or illness is makeup brushes because people never clean them as often as they should,” says Susan Bard, MD, dermatologist at Manhattan Dermatology Specialists and a clinical instructor at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City.
There are a lot of myths about makeup application, ranking it among the worst skin care advice that dermatologists hear.
What kind of infections are we talking about exactly? Makeup brushes are the perfect breeding ground for microbes, including bacteria, viruses, and even the occasional fungus, Dr. Bard says.
Old makeup, oils, and dead skin build up in the bristles, creating exactly the kind of warm, moist environment that germs love. (Here’s what to know about using expired beauty products.)
What the science says
The vast majority of makeup products and tools, including sponges and brushes, are contaminated with potentially life-threatening superbugs, according to a 2019 study published in the Journal of Applied Microbiology.
Around 80 to 90 percent of the items tested were positive for Staphylococcus aureus (staph), Citrobacter freundii, or Escherichia coli (E. coli)—bacteria that can cause dangerous infections in healthy people and may be life-threatening for those who have compromised immune systems.
Makeup tools can also harbor impetigo, ringworm, and other contagious bugs.
Dirty makeup brushes also put you at a higher risk of less serious (but still annoying) skin conditions like acne, clogged pores, rashes, pinkeye, and overall irritation and redness, Dr. Bard adds.
“People should definitely be cleansing any tool they take to their face,” she says. This includes not just makeup brushes but also sponges, acne extraction tools, electric cleansing brushes, razors, and anything else you regularly use on your skin, she says.
(Here’s why you should avoid sleeping with makeup.)
JGI/Jamie Grill/Getty Images
How to clean makeup brushes
To prevent skin infections, properly wash your makeup brushes based on how often you use them. According to Dr. Bard, makeup brushes should be cleaned every two to four weeks, if lightly used, or weekly if you use them daily.
To avoid contamination from the toilet or sink, avoid storing them in your bathroom.
Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to wash your makeup brushes:
Step 1: Wet them thoroughly with water. You can buy special cleansing washes designed for makeup brushes but they aren’t necessary.
Step 2: Scrub the handles with soap. The bristles may look the dirtiest but the handles are the part you are touching with your (likely) dirty hands.
Step 3: Add a detergent to the bristles. Dr. Bard recommends using a gentle shampoo or a mild soap, one without added fragrances or dyes which can irritate your skin. Baby soap is a good option or you can buy soap specifically formulated for washing makeup brushes.
Step 4: Gently rub the bristles. Makeup brushes can be pricey so handle with care. Rub them with your fingers, a washcloth, or on a rubber brush-cleaning mat, until you can’t see any more makeup residue or for at least 60 seconds.
Step 5: Rinse thoroughly with clean water.
Step 6: Air dry until completely dry. Do not put damp makeup brushes in drawers or storage containers as that can encourage mold or other germs to grow.
Optional: You can then sterilize some makeup and skin tools by using a UV light box or allowing them to soak in alcohol but this can damage some brushes so check the manufacturer’s directions first.
(Here are younger-looking skin tips from dermatologists.)
Best products to clean makeup brushes
Cleaning your makeup brushes doesn’t have to be complicated but it can be time-consuming. Luckily, there are some products that can help make the process a little easier, smoother, and simpler.
Here are some of the best products to use to clean and disinfect your brushes.
RICRIS Premium Makeup Brush Cleaner and Dryer
This automatic brush cleaner from RICRIS will wash your brush then spin it dry, all in under one minute. There are many different good options but this model has thousands of rave reviews from professionals and makeup newbies alike. Plus, it has eight collars included to hold all makeup brush sizes in your beauty arsenal.
Norate Brush Cleaning Mat
It can be tough getting all the gunk out with your fingers, so rub your brushes against this Norate textured silicone mat. It suction cups right to the bottom of your sink and lets you deep clean in seconds. This brush cleaning mat also contains four different textures to clean various makeup brushes, including facial and eye brushes.
Ecotools Makeup Brush Shampoo
Ecotools makeup brush shampoo is a gentle alternative to regular soap, designed specifically to clean makeup while not damaging fragile bristles. The company recommends to use weekly with a gentle massage or a brush cleaning mat.
They’re cruelty-free (PETA-certified) and vegan for the environmentally-conscious. Need more reassurance? It’s an Amazon bestseller with more than 27,000 reviews and a 4.7 star rating.
(Here’s what you need to know about vegan skin care products.)
BeautySoClean Conditioning Brush Cleaner Spray
Remove the heavy makeup build-up with dermatologist-tested brand BeautySoClean’s makeup brush cleaner spray to kill germs and bacteria and prevent infections. Its fast-drying formula includes a mix of alcohol and emollients so your brushes will feel soft and dry within 10 seconds.
Tip: If you’re an avid makeup user, to clean on a daily basis, spray the cleaner on the brush and then use a paper towel to swipe the brush.
Bonus: It’s cruelty-free and vegan.
N/P Brush Cleaning Mat
Once you’ve gone to all the work of cleaning your brushes, you don’t want to put them down on a dirty surface to dry. This N/P silicone drying rack for brushes allows you to store them upright for faster and more hygienic drying.
The makeup cleaning pad comes with four textures for deep cleaning and to accommodate different brush sizes.
(These are the “healthy” hygiene habits that are bad for you.)
HoMedics Portable UV Light Sanitizer
Ultraviolet rays can kill a wide range of germs, no water or soap required. After washing and drying your brushes, pop them in this HoMedics box to sterilize them.
This brand uses ultraviolet-C light LED technology to kill 99.9 percent of bacteria and viruses at the DNA level, according to the manufacturer.
Watpot Acrylic Makeup Brush Holder
Keep your clean brushes off dirty counters and display them where you can see them easily with this simple brush organizer from Watpot. It has three open slots that can be used to store makeup brushes and other beauty tools like eyelash brushes, lipsticks, and more.
Next, here are the beauty industry secrets you should know.
- Susan Bard, MD, dermatologist at Manhattan Dermatology Specialists and a Clinical Instructor at the Mount Sinai Medical Center, New York City
- Businesswire: "Anisa International: 61 Percent of Women Who Use Makeup Brushes Clean Them Less Than Once a Month or Not at All"
- Journal of Applied Microbiology: "Microbiological study of used cosmetic products: highlighting possible impact on consumer health"