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Makeup brushes: Why They May Be Causing Your Skin Problems

Do you spend an hour on the perfect contour and zero time on cleaning your makeup brushes and sponges? While most of us are guilty of this bad beauty habit, it’s an important one to break.

While makeup gets all the glory, it’s the tools that help achieve those flawless looks that get the least amount of love. Makeup artists and dermatologists say that in an ideal world, makeup brushes should be cleaned after every use, but we know most of us don’t have time for that! Realistically, giving your brushes and sponges a good clean once a week is a good rule of thumb.

Should I clean my makeup brushes?

Makeup brushes: an alarming statistic

While some makeup lovers may brush off this part of the beauty process, one survey found that an alarming 43% of makeup users have never cleaned their brushes! Don’t let this be you. Keeping your makeup brushes and sponges clean is essential in helping to prevent the spread of bacteria and oils that can result in breakouts, skin irritation or allergies. If you are already prone to breakouts or have oily skin, you need to be especially mindful of how often and how thoroughly you wash your makeup brushes. Keeping them clean also helps extend their longevity (and we know how expensive makeup brushes can be!) so you’ll have a little extra coin for say, a new lipstick or eyeliner.

Celebrity makeup artist, guru, and entrepreneur Charlotte Tilbury once told British Vogue, “my brushes are my make-up hands. No painter can create a masterpiece without the right brushes, and in the same way, no makeup artist can create magical looks without amazing brushes.” You don’t need to be a superstar makeup artist to give your brushes the A-list treatment, instead make it part of your routine.

A quick guide to cleaning your makeup brushes 

Should I clean my makeup brushes?

For tips on how to best clean your makeup brushes, we’ve assembled a few simple steps from makeup artists and dermatologists:

  • Invest in a makeup brush cleaner and/or cleansing pad. Gentle all natural shampoo, olive oil, or castile soap will also do.
  • Wet the brush bristles with room temperature water and apply a drop or two of your chosen cleanser in the palm of your hand.
  • For round or domed-shaped brushes, gently swirl brush bristles in your palm. Flat brushes can be gently dragged side to side.
  • If using a brush cleanser spray, wipe the brush again a clean, soft towel after a couple of spritzes. Avoid tissues or paper towel as they can disintegrate and leave fibers in the bristles.
  • Lightly rinse brushes to remove excess product and gently squeeze or wipe the brush on a clean towel.
  • Keep the shape of your brush in mind when drying; lay them flat on the edge of a countertop (not on the towel as this can cause mildew buildup) and reshape as needed. If possible, dry them pointing downwards.
  • Do not dry your brushes vertically as water and moisture can seep into the ferrule—the metal cap that attaches the bristles to the wand. When washing or spraying, try to ensure this part of the brush stays dry otherwise bristles will unstick or shed.

Just like your favorite foundation or mascara, it may take a while to find the best cleaner or solution for you, keeping in mind your skin type, the types of products you use, and how many brushes you have.

Even if you can’t get around to a full wet wash once a week or even once a month, using a cleanser spray will definitely help. If you’ve made the pledge to break up with chemicals in your hair and skin products, your efforts are for naught if your makeup brush cleanser is laden with chemicals, so be sure to choose a cleanser that uses natural ingredients.

Should I clean my makeup brushes?

What about makeup sponges?

For BeautyBlenders, product tends to stick to the spongy material more than it does on brush bristles. Therefore, it’s important to wash these and other sponges more often. Better yet, some makeup artists recommend buying a package of disposable sponges to avoid continuous buildup.

All natural castile soap, coconut oil, or olive oil can also be used on BeautyBlenders and most sponges. Submerge your beauty blender in a glass of water and soap for a few minutes, rinse with warm water and dab with a paper towel, repeating until clean. One expert even told ELLE magazine to stick it in the microwave for a few seconds as this helps zap the bacteria out of your blender. If you try this yourself, be sure to keep an eye on it!

If you use a lot of thick foundation and heavy cream-based products, clean your brushes and sponges after every use. Also, if you’re the makeup guru and go-to artist in your crew, make sure your makeup brushes are squeaky clean before using them on a friend.

We’ve all heard we shouldn’t be sharing mascara or lipstick, even if it’s with our besties, but this is also especially true for makeup brushes and sponges. Don’t share and get your girls to invest in their own.

Natural vs. Synthetic 

A few other tips to keep in mind when it comes to the types of brushes in your makeup bag:

For natural hair brushes, use a gentle cleanser and a gentle hand. Don’t press too hard when cleaning as this will cause the bristles to split and break.

For synthetic brushes, especially those used for liquid foundation or liquid lipsticks, use dish soap or castile soap and a more thorough method. As these liquid products typically contain more oil and wax, they are more prone to sticking to the brush and require a little extra effort.

While taking good care of your brushes and washing them regularly can help them last years, a few tell-tale signs they need to be replaced include: stains that just won’t go away, smells (yes, this can happen), broken or misshapen bristles, or shedding. Old or dirty brushes or ones that have simply outgrown their use won’t pick up or apply product properly which can be a nightmare for specific applications and blending. Shimmer and other ingredients require a little extra cleaning, so using one brush for multiple palettes can impact the look you’re going for.

Should I clean my makeup brushes?

Don't overlook the importance of clean makeup brushes 

According to one survey, the average woman will spend up to $43 on makeup in a single shopping trip and up to $15,000 on cosmetics in a lifetime. It’s no question women are willing to spend on beauty, so helping to prolong and take care of our makeup brushes should also be made a priority, especially as it relates to the health of our skin. Investing in a high-quality brush set will also pay off when properly cared for.

If possible, heavily-used brushes should be replaced every 3 to 4 months. Cleaning out your makeup brush holder is also a good cue to look at other tools in your makeup kit; could your eyelash curler or tweezer use a good clean or even a replacing? All you need is antibacterial soap and water, pat them dry with a towel and sanitize with distilled vinegar. Try to keep these metal tools separate from brushes to ensure all your cleaning efforts pay off.

We hold our personal skincare and beauty routines dear; some have taken years of research and testing to curate the perfect lineup so it’s not worth risking skin irritation or breakouts all because of one dirty brush. Carve out some time when unwinding or binging Netflix to give your makeup brushes a good clean, especially if you haven’t done it in a while. Make it an excuse to get together with your other makeup-loving friends to have a girls’ night in cleaning your beauty tools—hey, if mask parties are a thing, this can be too. You can also keep some makeup brush spray on your vanity, bathroom counter, or wherever you apply makeup, to remind you to spritz your brushes after you use them. Travel-sized cleansers and sprays are also available and can easily be thrown in your makeup bag or purse on the go.

While cleaning in general always seems like a chore, giving your makeup brushes a good wash once a month requires little time and effort. The benefits include healthier skin and flawless which certainly outweigh the excuses we give ourselves. Give your whole makeup and beauty routine an upgrade by taking a few extra moments to ensure everything in your beauty toolbox works the way you need it to. 

Written By: Rosalyn Solomon 

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