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Ask an expert: How to clean makeup brushes

Spoiler alert: You may need to scrub them more often than you think.

Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Jul 6, 2023 • 6 min read
Medically reviewed by Meredith Hartle, DO
teenage redhead girl with freckles
Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Jul 6, 2023 • 6 min read
Medically reviewed by Meredith Hartle, DO
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

If you use makeup, you know makeup brushes are a must for achieving a flawless finish. However, like any tool, they require adequate care to function to the best of their extent. That includes regular cleaning, which not only keeps your brushes hygienic but also extends their lifespan. Here, we’ll discuss how to clean makeup brushes and offer helpful tips and tricks for getting the most out of them. 

Why you need to clean your makeup brushes 

For the record, we think you’re beautiful just the way you are! That said, makeup can be a great way to help camouflage skin concerns like pimples, pores, and rosacea flare-ups. Products like concealer, foundation, blush, and lipstick can be fun to play with, and they may also help boost your self-confidence. Wearing makeup is a personal choice—it’s totally up to you. But we do recommend taking proper care of your applicators, should you wear makeup.

Your makeup brushes and sponges are your tools, which is why keeping them clean is essential for your skin’s health. That’s right—makeup brushes can harbor microorganisms, bacteria,¹ old makeup, and oil buildup, all of which may contribute to acne breakouts if they come into contact with your skin. Dirty makeup brushes can also cause even worse reactions, such as fungal, E. coli, or staph infections.² Hence the importance of keeping them clean!  

How to clean makeup brushes at home 

If you wear makeup on a regular basis, chances are you’ve tried a few different ways to clean your brushes. Keeping your brushes bacteria-free is an important step in maintaining the health of your skin and the longevity of your tools, but it doesn’t have to be time-consuming or complicated. Here’s an easy way to clean your makeup brushes at home:³ 

  1. Wet the bristles with lukewarm water. You can do this by holding the brush under the faucet or dipping it in a cup of water.

  2. Put a drop of makeup brush cleanser into the palm of your hand and gently massage the tips of the bristles in a circular motion, adding warm water as needed. 

  3. Rinse the bristles thoroughly and squeeze the excess water out using a clean towel or paper towel. Repeat as needed until the makeup is entirely removed from the brush and the water is clear.

  4. Re-form the brush head back to its original shape.

  5. Lay it flat to air dry in a clean place. 

  6. Avoid drying the brush vertically, as this can cause water to run down the handle and loosen the glue that holds the bristles in place.

Wondering what to use to clean makeup brushes? Our experts recommend using a gentle cleanser specially formulated for brushes. You can also use Curology’s Gentle Cleanser, Neutrogena’s Ultra Gentle Daily Cleanser Foaming Formula, or Neutrogena’s Fresh Foaming Cleanser.

Avoid cleaning your makeup brushes with harsh cleansers like dish soap. It’s also best to steer clear of heavily scented detergents and rich or stripping shampoos. For makeup brushes, gentle formulas are ideal, and you can also pick up a makeup brush cleaner designed for the job.

How often should you clean makeup brushes?

So, how often should you clean your makeup sponges and brushes? The answer is: It depends on how often you use them. If you use your brushes daily, it’s a good idea to clean them at least once weekly. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends washing your brushes every 7 to ten days to protect your skin and kill any harmful bacteria that may be lingering on them.⁴ If you’re using different makeup colors regularly, you may want to wash your brushes even more often to prevent color contamination. 

If you only use your brushes sparingly, you may be able to get away with cleaning them less frequently—that said, they must be washed regularly to keep them hygienic and in good condition. You should also avoid sharing your makeup brushes with other people, as this may contribute to the spread of germs.

skin products on lavender color

How to get the most out of your makeup brushes

Foundation, contour, highlighter, eyeshadow—the list goes on! Whether you’re using natural hair or synthetic brushes, your tools work hard, and they can be costly, too. In addition to washing them regularly to remove bacteria, dirt, and oil,⁵ you can do a few other things to keep them in tip-top shape. Here are a few ways to help extend their lifespan:

  • Designate different makeup brushes for light and dark colors: Using different brushes for different colors helps prevent color contamination and ensures you’ll always have a clean brush on hand when you want to switch shades.

  • Avoid storing your makeup brushes in damp, humid places: Keeping your brushes in a cool, dry location will help prevent damage and contamination.

  • Protect your makeup brushes from dust: Store them in a closed container or with protective covers to help keep them clean. 

  • Avoid cross-contamination by keeping things separated: Separating your makeup brushes helps prevent the spread of bacteria.

Custom skincare you can trust by Curology

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Curology was founded in 2014 by Dr. David Lortscher, MD, a board-certified dermatologist, and we’re on a mission to make quality skincare accessible. We’re a skincare service that uses clinically researched active ingredients to help treat acne and rosacea and help minimize the signs of aging

We believe you shouldn’t have to wait months to see an in-person dermatology provider to treat your skin concerns, and that’s why we brought the experience online. Curology patients are paired with an in-house dermatology provider, who can prescribe a personalized prescription formula with a custom mix of active ingredients like tretinoin to help achieve specific skin goals. Our licensed providers are also available to provide general skincare advice tailored to your skin concerns or goals.

If you suspect your makeup or makeup brushes are causing breakouts, we’re here to help! Along with cleaning your tools regularly and properly, we also recommend opting for a makeup remover that’s “skin-first,” such as micellar water. Curology’s Micellar Makeup Remover is gentle, hydrating, and non-comedogenic (meaning it won’t clog pores), and it can be used by all skin types. It’s part of our full line of skincare products, designed by dermatology providers to be non-comedogenic, dye-free, and paraben-free, which can complete your routine, should you wish. Our cleansers, moisturizers, sunscreen, lip balms, and more are made to keep your skin looking and feeling its healthiest and happiest.

FAQs

Why you need to clean your makeup brushes?

Your makeup brushes and sponges are your tools, which is why keeping them clean is essential for your skin’s health. That’s right—makeup brushes can harbor microorganisms, bacteria, old makeup, and oil buildup, all of which may contribute to acne breakouts if they come into contact with your skin. Dirty makeup brushes can also cause even worse reactions, such as fungal, E. coli, or staph infections. Hence the importance of keeping them clean! 

How to clean makeup brushes at home?

Keeping your brushes bacteria-free is an important step in maintaining the health of your skin and the longevity of your tools, but it doesn’t have to be time-consuming or complicated.

  1. Wet the bristles with lukewarm water.

  2. Put a drop of makeup brush cleanser into the palm of your hand and gently massage the tips of the bristles in a circular motion, adding warm water as needed. 

  3. Rinse the bristles thoroughly and squeeze the excess water out using a clean towel or paper towel.

  4. Re-form the brush head back to its original shape.

  5. Lay it flat to air dry in a clean place. 

  6. Avoid drying the brush vertically, as this can cause water to run down the handle and loosen the glue that holds the bristles in place.

How often should you clean makeup brushes?

The answer is: It depends on how often you use them. If you use your brushes daily, it’s a good idea to clean them at least once weekly. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends washing your brushes every 7 to ten days to protect your skin and kill any harmful bacteria that may be lingering on them. If you’re using different makeup colors regularly, you may want to wash your brushes even more often to prevent color contamination. 

• • •

P.S. We did the homework so you don’t have to:

  1. Załęcki, P., et al. Effectiveness of the Disinfection of Reusable Make-Up Applicators-Initial Experiences. J Cosmet Sci. (2021).

  2. How to clean your makeup brushes. American Academy of Dermatology Association. (n.d.).

  3. How to clean your makeup brushes. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Ibid.

  4. How to clean your makeup brushes. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Ibid.

  5. How to clean your makeup brushes. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Ibid.

Meredith Hartle is a board-certified Family Medicine physician at Curology. She earned her medical degree at Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine in Kirksville, MO.

* Subject to consultation. Subscription is required. Results may vary. 

• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Our policy on product links:Empowering you with knowledge is our top priority. Our reviews of other brands’ products in this post are not paid endorsements—but they do meet our medically fact-checked standards for ingredients (at the time of publication).
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Meredith Hartle, DO

Meredith Hartle, DO

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