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Oh Uh-Huh, You Need To Wash Your Makeup Brushes. Here's How.

Photo: Freestocks.org (Unsplash)
SqualorJolie Kerr is a cleaning expert and advice columnist. She’ll be here every week helping to answer your filthiest questions. Are you dirty? Email her.

I’m wondering how to clean my makeup brushes. I use the Bare Minerals brushes which I think are synthetic, but I have some others that I’m not sure about. The hairs seem to get caked with powder and face grease. I’ve tried cleaning them before with hand soap but the brush texture changed and I immediately broke out!

Ready for some hard and very painful truths? You are probably not ready, but I come bearing the news anyway: Wow, you are definitely not washing your makeup brushes as often as you should be. As with many things, what you use for the cleaning of makeup brushes matters less than the technique, and the frequency with which you do it.

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Officially speaking, makeup brushes should be cleaned once a week. However, as I’m fond of reminding you, I live here in the real world with the rest of you, and even I don’t wash my makeup brushes that frequently even though I’m, you know, me. I tell you that to tell you this: You’ve lasted this long putting makeup on your face with unclean brushes, and you’ll last a goodly long time even if you choose to never wash a single makeup brush. But also…it’s a good thing to wash makeup brushes just, like, for the health of your skin and very specifically, if either of these two circumstances applies to you: 1) You suffer from persistent acne or 2) you’ve had ANY SORT of eye issue (pink eye, you guys, I’m talking about pink eye.)

In the case of the former problem, regularly cleaning makeup brushes and applicators will prevent the transfer of acne-causing bacteria from your skin onto the brushes and then back onto your skin, creating a zitty feedback loop of sorts. In the case of the latter problem, OH MY GOD IF YOU HAVE HAD PINK EYE YOU MUST WASH EVERYTHING.

Okay, now that I’ve yelled and carried on and either convinced you or not at all convinced you to wash your makeup brushes and such, let’s talk about how to actually do this thing. It’s very easy! And oddly satisfying, as far as cleaning jobs go.

As I mentioned, you have options when it comes to what to use to clean makeup brushes. There are all kinds of brush cleaners out there — solid, liquid, DIY recipes, etc. — but gentle, clear shampoos like baby shampoo also work just fine. Sidebar: I suspect what happened to cause LW to break out after cleaning her brushes is that the bristles weren’t fully rinsed, and the residue from the soap caused skin irritation; that may also explain the change in texture. Also, these instructions apply to both synthetic and natural bristle makeup brushes.

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How to clean makeup brushes using liquid cleaner:

  • Pour the makeup brush cleaner into a small bowl, leaving enough headspace for the brushes.
  • Place the bristles of the makeup brush in the bowl to absorb the brush cleaner — don’t swish the brush around, because that will release the makeup and cause the cleaner to get muddied.
  • Take the brush out of the cleaner, hold it under cool running water and swipe it back and forth on the palm of your hand or a clean sponge until the water runs clear.
  • Swipe the brush back and forth on a paper towel, reshape the bristles and lay the brush flat to dry.
  • Repeat with remaining brushes, using the same bowl of cleaner.

How to clean makeup brushes using solid cleaner:

  • Unscrew the lid, remove the pebbled silicone pad that comes with solid brush cleaners, and place it in the sink.
  • Wet the solid cleaner and the brushes, then swipe the brushes across the bar.
  • Hold the brushes under cool running water and sweep the bristles back and forth across the silicone pad until the water runs clear.
  • Swipe the brush back and forth on a paper towel, reshape the bristles and lay the brush flat to dry.
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Larger pebbled silicone brush cleaning mats can also be purchased on their own, which is great for larger brushes and can be used with either solid or liquid cleaners.

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About the author

Jolie Kerr

Jolie Kerr is a cleaning expert, advice columnist and the host of the podcast Ask a Clean Person