The first makeup tip I was taught as a child was to never share mascara or lipstick. Despite their harmlessness, the microorganisms that live inside of our eyelashes and on our faces were enough to scare me towards hygiene. Now that fear over coronavirus — a much more appropriate fear — has refocused our collective attention to washing and sanitising, why not our makeup brushes? Here’s how to when to clean them.
How often should you clean your brushes?
Makeup brushes can be a host for bacteria. A study in the Journal of Applied Microbiology found that “about 79–90% of all used products [lipstick, lip gloss, eyeliners, mascaras and beauty blenders] were contaminated with bacteria,” including fungus and E Coli. So how should brushes be cleaned, and how often?
The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) says to wash makeup brushes and tools every 7-10 days, “To protect your skin and kill any harmful bacteria that lingers in your makeup brushes.”
I spoke with makeup artist Ashley Webb of Ashley Webb Beauty about her routines and tips for cleaning brushes. When on set, she aims to wash makeup brushes and sponges after each use. When time doesn’t allow for washing in between each application though, she uses a makeup wipe as quick alternative to a full wash. For average makeup users, cleaning after each use may not be necessary and sticking to a weekly wash will do the trick.
As the AAD mentioned, cleaning brushes also protects the wearer’s skin. “If you have problematic skin such as acne or eczema, using dirty brushes could intensify those conditions” says Webb. Regular cleaning can reduce outbreaks.
How to clean your makeup brushes
The best part is washing brushes is fairly straight forward: you just need soap and water. It’s as simple as running the brush ends under warm water and using your palm or fingertips to lather and rinse the bristles.
Helpful tools like silicon makeup cleaning mats and cleaning solutions can also be effective in clearing away excess makeup and bacteria on your brushes. In a Huffington Post UK article on the subject, makeup artist Belle Jorden suggests doing this sort of deep clean every two to four weeks. The silicon cleaning mat fits inside your sink, and the brushes are rubbed against the rubber mat using soap and water to clean between the brush hairs.
Pay attention to the types of brushes you have as well, as different brushes do need different attention. “For animal hair brushes you can use a mild shampoo or baby shampoo,” Webb explains. Because animal hair makeup brushes are natural, they tend to be softer and require gentler handling, whereas synthetic brushes tend to be more durable, made with nylon and polyester fibres. Be sure to give brushes the specific attention they need without ruining your tools.
In this video, Webb demonstrates using a bar of antibacterial soap for brushes with synthetic bristles.
Fresh brushes make fresh colours
Not only does cleaning prevent breakouts and kill bacteria, it makes for a much cleaner makeup application, and keeps colours from unintentionally mixing. “If you were painting one wall red and one wall blue in your home, you would absolutely wash your paint brushes in between applications,” says Webb. “And the same idea applies with your makeup brushes.” So clean your brushes well, and clean them often.