From applying foundation to blending out eyeshadow to swiping on blush, makeup brushes touch our faces every day — but we probably aren’t cleaning these beauty tools as often as we should. Face washing is a daily ritual for anyone who is mindful of their skin care, and maintaining proper sanitation and hygiene of the makeup brushes you use on your face is just as important.
Without regular cleaning, makeup brushes hold onto bacteria and fungus. “Built-up foundation or powders on your makeup brushes is something you never really want to have,” Dr. Shereene Idriss, founder of Idriss Dermatology in New York City and creator of the #Pillowtalkderm series on Instagram, says. While dirty makeup brushes could potentially spread serious infections like herpes, breakouts are more common and can affect anyone. “The biggest possible negative effect [of not washing makeup brushes] is acne flare-ups because of bacteria build up and skin congestion,” Idriss warns.
Thankfully, this can be avoided by making makeup brush cleaning a part of your routine. Here, several skin and makeup experts answer all our questions about cleaning and caring for makeup brushes.
How often should you clean makeup brushes?
The general recommendation, according to the professionals we spoke to, is to wash your makeup brushes once a week. This will cleanse the brushes of oil and bacteria, and ultimately help your makeup tools perform their best.
“How often you should be washing your brushes directly correlates with how much makeup you’re wearing and how often you’re wearing it,” Idriss says. “I think a great rule of thumb is having a nice ritual once a week, where you cleanse and give the brushes the respect they deserve because they’re being applied to your face every single day.”
The type of makeup the brushes are used for can also impact how often you should wash them. Georgi Sandev, a professional makeup artist who works with supermodels Alessandra Ambrosio and Candice Swanepoel, advises that brushes used for liquid and cream makeup will need to be cleaned more often than those used with powder products “as bacteria is more prone to develop over time in a moist environment.”
Moreover, makeup brushes used around the eye area deserve some extra attention. “Any little bit of bacteria or gunk on those brushes can be transferred to your eyes and an eye infection is something we just do not have time for,” Idriss says.
Sandev notes that makeup formulas can affect the hygiene of makeup brushes, too. “If you use mostly natural or organic makeup, you should wash your brushes more often,” he says. “Those products lack a lot of the preservatives that inhibit the development of bacteria.”
The professionals are also adamant about cleaning brushes in between clients, or for those who might be sharing brushes at home. Makeup brushes should always be washed before being used on someone else or else you risk spreading bacteria and germs, which can lead to breakouts or infections like pink eye.
What to wash your makeup brushes with
Whether you need to sanitize your brushes on the go or are ready for a deep clean, these are the pro-approved products for washing your makeup brushes.
$16 at Sephora
All of the makeup artists we spoke with had this solid cleanser at the top of their lists, so you know it’s good. The pros love it because of its antibacterial and conditioning properties, and for its travel-friendly solid format that works for Beautyblender sponges and makeup brushes alike. It also comes in a jumbo size, the Blendercleanser Pro.
$6 at Frends Beauty
An industry go-to for professional and stage makeup, Ben Nye’s Brush Cleaner is one of Sandev’s favorites for sanitizing. The alcohol-based cleaner disinfects brushes and effectively washes away oil-based makeup.
$24 at Amazon
Makeup artist to superstars including Katy Perry, Ariana Grande and Gwen Stefani, Michael Anthony keeps a small spray bottle filled with this Cinema Secrets cleaner in his kit to sanitize and clean brushes in between looks for the same client. The rinse-free formula makes it easy to wipe brushes clean in a pinch.
$17.35 $15.99 at Amazon
This multipurpose soap, which comes in a variety of scents, makes for a great makeup brush cleaner, according to Anthony. It’s made from plant-based ingredients and safe for sensitive skin, so it’s a good option for those who are conscious of using clean formulas.
$17 at Nordstrom
Another rinse-free option that’s good for maintenance cleaning, but not a deep wash, the Mac Brush cleanser disinfects and conditions brushes so you can start fresh.
$9.99 at Amazon
Gentle enough for babies, this shampoo will also do the trick for makeup brushes. Idriss opts for this formula because it sanitizes the brushes, but still keeps them soft.
Tips for cleaning makeup brushes
There’s no need for fancy makeup brush-cleaning gadgets — all of the professionals we spoke to favored hand-washing their brushes.
Anthony keeps it simple using lukewarm water and the Beauty Blender Blendercleanser to clean his brushes.
“Never turn the brush upside-down, so water can’t travel down into the part of the brush [where the bristles are] glued to the handle,” Anthony says. “They can rot easily if water gets inside, which causes them to fall apart.” Sandev echoed this point, adding that a gentle hand and avoiding extremely hot water also help to preserve the brushes when cleaning them.
“It’s also important to identify what hair or fiber your brushes are made of,” Anthony notes. “Different brushes need slightly different care — the natural hair brushes tend to want more delicate treatment, whereas synthetic brushes can handle a bit tougher of a wash.”
For technique, celebrity makeup artist and founder of her namesake beauty brand Monika Blunder says to “get the brush wet, swirl it in the soap and then swirl it in the hands to really work the soap into the bristles and work up a healthy lather. Rinse and repeat until the water runs clear.”
Afterwards, gently press out excess moisture, reshape the bristles and set them on a towel to air dry in a spot with ventilation. Blunder says the edge of a sink works, with the head of the brush over the bowl. The makeup artist also reminds us that wet brushes should never sit upright to dry, as the moisture can seep down into where the bristles are glued and potentially compromise them.
How to store makeup brushes
While Blunder opts for upcycling old glass candle jars to store her makeup brushes, there are a number of cases and carriers that are dedicated to the job.
$59 at Beautylish
This is Anthony’s pick because the case has a closed cover to protect the makeup brushes from dust and dividers to keep them organized. Plus, the shoulder strap makes it easy to take your brushes with you anywhere.
$31 at Sephora
$22 at Cozzette Beauty
“I love brush canisters for my kit and always carry them in my carry-on luggage when I travel to prevent damage in any way,” Sandev says. His standbys are this pouch from Makeup For Ever and durable capsule from Cozzette Beauty. When he’s not taking brushes on the go, Sandev prefers to keep them laid down flat.
$235 at Spectrum
Created by pro makeup artist Katie Jane Hughes, this brush set comes in a chic, green vegan leather canister. “I love this kit because I store the makeup brushes in the canister, brush side up between uses and they’re very easily accessible and great for travel,” Idriss says.