How Not To Clean Makeup Brushes

by Kelly Dougher

If you wear makeup with any regularity, you probably own a few makeup brushes and you're also probably aware of the importance of washing said makeup brushes. Even if you think you're pretty good about keeping your tools clean, however, there's probably a few things that you could improve on. Most of us spend a good amount of money on makeup brushes so it's important to take good care of them so that they last. It's also imperative that your brushes are cleaned regularly and properly to ensure that you're not damaging your skin.

Julie Russak, M.D., FAAD, Board Certified Dermatologist and founder of Russak Dermatology Clinic and Russak+ Aesthetic Center in NYC, explains why it's so important to wash makeup brushes regularly: "Dirty makeup brushes are one of the main causes of acne concerns for women. When applying makeup, you are using the same brush every day that has left over foundation, powder etc. on top of what you are applying. This can clog up pores! If you don't wash your makeup brushes enough, you spread dirt and bacteria from your face, to your makeup, then back to your face. Bacteria and dirt builds up, leaving you with stiffer bristles that can really aggravate your skin. This can cause infections on the face." Yikes!

So we're agreed: It's important to wash your brushes, and to do it right. Here are six common mistakes that people make when washing their makeup brushes (and how to fix them).

1. Not Washing Brushes Often Enough

Without a doubt, the biggest mistake we all make when it comes to washing our makeup brushes is simply not doing it often enough. But how often should you be washing your brushes? It depends on a few factors, such as what the brushes are used for and how often you use them.

According to Dr. Russak, "For concealer and foundation brushes, at least once a week to prevent a buildup of product. And because these brushes are used on your face, the cleaner, the better. Brushes that are used around the eyes should also be cleaned at least once a week." You can probably go a little longer between cleanings for brushes that are used to apply powder and blush, but the more often you use your brushes the more often you should wash off all the product build-up to eliminate bacteria and achieve a better application of product.

As for makeup brushes that you haven't touched in weeks, you should still give them a quick wash before using them because dust and dirt (and some cases, pet hair) can build up on brushes that are stored out in the open. You may want to consider storing brushes inside a drawer to keep them clean longer.

2. Not Washing Thoroughly

"Alright, alright," you say. "I wash my brushes weekly. Happy now?" Nope! It's not just how often you wash them — equally important is how you wash them. A quick rinse under the faucet with some suds is not enough to completely eliminate product buildup and bacteria. You should massage your soap or cleaning product into brushes thoroughly and give extremely dirty brushes a second pass. Using something like the Practka Palmat or Sigma Spa Brush Cleaning Mat helps to massage soap all the way into the bristles.

Practka Palmat, $10, Amazon; Sigma Spa Brush Cleaning Mat, $25, Amazon

If you own a lot of makeup brushes then your weekly cleaning session might be somewhat time-intensive, so just prepare to put aside a half hour every weekend to zone out while massaging soapy makeup brushes. If you look at it as an extension of self-care (since clean makeup brushes are a pretty important factor when it comes to personal hygiene) I find it becomes less of a chore and more of a relaxing routine that allows you to disconnect and immerse yourself in a fairly mindless task. It's practically therapeutic, so take your time and don't rush it. If you do happen to be too busy to wash your brushes by hand every week, you could use a brush-cleaning machine such as the Lilumia 2, which washes your brushes for you in 15 minutes.

Lilumia 2, $158, Amazon

3. Using The Wrong Product

Dr. Bronner 18-IN-1 Hemp Pure-Castile Soap, $8, Amazon; Drunk Elephant's Pekee Bar, $28, Amazon; e.l.f Brush Shampoo, $8, Amazon

Technically, you can use almost anything you happen to have on hand to wash makeup brushes. I like e.l.f.'s very affordable Brush Shampoo and sometimes I use Dr. Bronner's 18-IN-1 Hemp Pure-Castile Soap because it's organic. In a pinch, I even use whatever facial cleanser I'm currently using, such as Drunk Elephant's Pekee Bar; that's usually a good option because if you already know your face tolerates a product, it should be safe to use on your brushes.

However, Dr. Russak recommends being choosy when possible: "It is always best to use either an all-organic soap or a non-scented soap to clean your brushes. To clean my brushes, I first wet them thoroughly with water and rinse them with warm water and a gentle baby shampoo. It is best not to use anything with fragrance because these brushes will be applied directly to your face. Any leftover scent that may not have been rinsed off can irritate the skin and cause even more damage and breakouts." So don't worry too much about breaking the bank for expensive makeup brush cleansers, but do be careful to check the ingredient list of any soap to make sure it doesn't have irritants like artificial fragrance — especially if you have sensitive skin.

4. Treating All Brushes Equally

Makeup brushes can be made out of synthetic or natural hair bristles, and it's important to know which kind you own when it comes to cleaning them. If you're not sure, a quick Google search of your makeup brush brand should tell you the answer.

For example, you may have heard that you can use dish soap to get stubborn oils and glitter out of makeup brushes. That is true, but it's only safe to use dish soap on synthetic bristle makeup brushes; if you use it on brushes with real hair it may damage them. You can also use a conditioning product to soften natural hair brushes but there's not much point in doing that with synthetic brushes.

When in doubt, just remember you can be tough on synthetic brushes but natural brushes require a little more TLC.

5. Not Setting Brushes Out To Dry Correctly

Possibly the most annoying aspect of washing makeup brushes is having to wait for them to dry afterwards. Obviously you should set aside a day to wash them when you know you're not going to be using them. Less obvious, however, is how you should set your brushes up to dry properly. You never want to stand your brushes upright when they're wet; the water will potentially damage the handle and dissolve the glue, leading to brush shedding. Instead, either lay them flat or — better yet — hanging upside down to help the bristles keep their shape and to keep the water from dripping down the handle. You can place them on a paper towel or clean washcloth to dry, or better yet, hang them from a drying rack for brushes such as this one or this one.

6. Forgetting To Wash Sponges And Other Tools As Well

A relevant but oft-neglected aspect of makeup hygiene is the cleansing of sponges and other tools. Dr. Russak says that it's important to wash your makeup sponges too: "Damp makeup brushes are the most prone to bacteria due to exposure. Always be sure to wash your damp sponges daily, and keep them in a specific area to air out." While you're at it, make sure to clean your eyelash curler and tweezers regularly as well. And if you get sick, be sure to disinfect any tools or products that may have been contaminated.

Images: Kelly Dougher