Diary / Beauty / Jan 26, 2023
How to Properly Clean Your Makeup Brushes, According to a Makeup Artist
Written by: Michele Ross
Photography by: Ben Ritter & Jon Paterson
You can think of a good makeup brush as a supporting player to your beauty products of choice. High-quality makeup brushes can help your foundation, concealer, bronzer, blush, eye shadow, eyebrow pencil, and the like apply seamlessly to your complexion, last longer, and look better. If you use any of these makeup staples on a regular basis, investing in the best tools for them is non-negotiable. But once you store your brushes in your beauty bag or in a holder on your shelf, you’ll want to keep them in great shape… which leads us to a few key questions: How do you properly deep clean makeup brushes, and how often should you do so?
We sat down with Cheyenne Pellicoro, the Jones Road Beauty flagship store manager and lead makeup artist, for expert-backed insights.
Why you need to wash your makeup brushes
If you can’t remember the last time you deep cleaned your makeup brushes, we strongly suggest that you integrate this essential step into your greater beauty routine ASAP. Not only do dust, debris, oil, and product cling to the fibers of your brushes, but so do bacteria and fungi. This buildup may be undetectable to the naked eye on the brush itself, but transferring it onto your complexion can contribute to breakouts, clogged pores, and other forms of irritation—especially for those who have sensitive complexions or inflammatory skin conditions.
We don’t want to stoke fear, but research confirms that makeup and beauty tools harbor more bacteria than we’d like. A 2020 study published in the Journal of Applied Microbiology found that up to 90 percent of five types of used makeup products were contaminated with bacteria such as infectious Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli (aka E. coli), and Citrobacter freundii. The products that harbored the most bacteria and fungi were beauty blenders, which clearly absorb and retain a lot more than makeup alone. Take this as your cue to be more diligent in deep cleaning your makeup tools, as doing so can also reduce the amount of buildup you transfer between your makeup container and complexion.
Any kind of buildup will also stand in your way of flawless makeup application. Deep cleaning your makeup brushes will also help extend the life of the bristles so they’ll stay in great shape as you build and blend your products, day in and day out.
In sum, properly washing your brushes is essential for hygienic purposes, nailing your makeup looks, and maximizing the longevity of your tools.
How often should you clean makeup brushes?
Whether you use your brushes daily or a few times per week—and for your entire face or for more precise areas, like your eyes or cheeks—Pellicoro has a clear answer on how often you should clean them. “No matter what product you're using, I recommend washing your makeup brushes once a week,” she shares.
A weekly cleaning will minimize the chances of all the unpalatable types of buildup from occurring and wreaking havoc on your skin. Even if you don’t use them daily, dust and other types of contaminants can still work their way into the brush fibers. This rings especially true if you store your makeup brushes openly on a shelf or if you toss them into a makeup bag where they come in contact with other products and containers that haven’t been adequately disinfected.
How to clean makeup brushes the right way
To get rid of excess buildup and maximize the likelihood of perfect product application, follow these four expert-approved steps and tips for deep cleaning makeup brushes.
1. Wash with cool or lukewarm water
While you may think that hot water could be best to deep clean makeup brushes, Pellicoro advises against it. “If the brush fibers are synthetic, they could melt under hot water,” she explains. Instead, place your hand under the faucet and only start to clean your brushes once the water is cool or lukewarm.
2. Keep things basic by using your hands
Pellicoro says you don’t have to invest in anything too fancy to facilitate brush-washing. “I'm very old school, so I just wash my brushes by hand,” she shares. While the professional makeup artist prefers to keep things simple, she mentions that there are additional tools you can use to facilitate a deep clean. “You can buy makeup brush pads that are made out of silicone, or you could even use a [new] dish-washing glove,” Pellicoro shares.
3. Purchase a makeup brush cleanser for a quick clean
If you experiment with makeup often or are even a (budding) makeup artist yourself, you might not have a ton of time on your hands to regularly deep clean your makeup brushes. In this case, Pellicoro recommends opting for a professional-grade makeup brush cleaner.
“I like using Cinema Secrets. It’s a great, quick, clean and dry option, specifically if you have limited time in between clients,” she notes. This makeup brush cleaner is rinse-free, which is helpful if you’re crunched for time or simply don’t want to proceed with the extra step. It’s also organic, vegan, and free from potentially irritating additives including talc and parabens, making it a worthy option for those with sensitive or reactive skin.
4. Deep clean brushes with baby shampoo (or a gentle cleanser)
For a more dedicated clean, you can use inexpensive household staples to properly wash your makeup brushes. Makeup artists, dermatologists, and other beauty aficionados use everything from Dawn dish soap and hand soap to facial cleansers, regular shampoo, and vinegar.
However, Pellicoro gives her vote to one of the most popular options of the bunch: baby shampoo. It’s gentle but still powerful enough to get the job done. If you don’t have it on hand or prefer to experiment with one of the cleansing options above, she offers one helpful FYI: “Anything soft and without fragrance generally works best.”
Here’s her step-by-step guide to deep cleaning makeup brushes:
-Pump a dime-sized amount of baby shampoo (or cleansing product) onto your hand.
-Dampen the brush with cool water and swirl the brush into the shampoo.
-Rinse the brush, aiming to limit water and suds from too much contact with the brush head. (Excess moisture can weaken the glue holding the bristles together and lead to bristles shedding.) Ensure that no suds or residue remain.
-Dry the brush with a towel before laying it flat to dry overnight.
Tip: Avoid laying the bristles on a flat surface. “It's best to dry your brushes on the side of a table so the bristles are hanging off the edge,” Pellicoro advises. “This is so that the water doesn't seep into the handle, since many brushes are made out of wood.” Drying them over the edge will also help maintain shape.
The bottom line
Putting in the time and effort to clean your makeup brushes might not be the most exciting part of your beauty routine, but it’s worth it. Irritating bacteria, fungi, debris, and other contaminants don’t make for a clear complexion or a healthy base for your favorite makeup products.
If the makeup brushes you currently own have seen better days (i.e., they’re now coarse, misshapen, and/or don’t hold product as well as they should), it’s probably time to invest in new tools.
Check out our guide to Jones Road makeup brushes, all of which are Italian-made and consist of hypoallergenic, vegan fibers. In this guide, Bobbi breaks down which makeup brush is best for different uses. You’ll discover her top picks for when you need even coverage for Everything complexion-based, an effortless Eye Fluffy Brush, a firmer Detail Brush for targeted applications, and more.