Ok, so be honest: When was the last time you cleaned your makeup brushes? If they're currently caked in makeup and you can't remember the original colour of the bristles, it's probably time to make friends with a cleanser.
"Layers of oil from your skin, mixed with makeup pigments and dead skin cells, make brushes a breeding ground for bacteria," reveals makeup artist, Caroline Barnes, who works with Pixie Lott.
And this isn't exactly good news for your skin...
What using dirty brushes does to your skin
‘If you are one of those people that does all the right things and yet can’t understand why you have rashes and spots, take a look at the tools you use to apply your products with,’ says Lynne Sanders, cosmetic scientist and founder of .
With the daily grime comes consequences like breakouts, congestion and skin irritation. Let alone the brushes limp, clogged bristles that no longer blend evenly. At worst, it can also lead to infections, like folliculitis. ‘It’s extreme, but I once read once about a lady who contracted cellulitis, which can cause blindness,’ reveals Caroline.
Think your beauty blender is exempt? Hell no. That bouncy sponge can harbour just as much filth (if not more) than a brush and should be cleaned regularly, as well as replaced every three months.
And it's an even bigger no-no for sharing unclean makeup applicators - it’s the ultimate sin, and virus-spreader, including cold sores and conjunctivitis. It’s the reason pros clean their brushes after every use.
Dirt may also accelerate ageing. ‘There are no clinical studies to confirm, but in theory, dirty makeup brushes may contribute to collagen and elastin breakdown and oxidative skin stress from free radicals, all are factors in premature skin ageing,’ reveals dermatologist .
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Creepy crawlies up-close
It's true. ‘Under the microscope, you may see the remains of mites on your brushes, reveals Lynne. ‘Most of us have these tiny creatures, about a third of a millimetre long, residing at the base of our eyelashes and nose hairs, living off old skin cells and sebum. Generally considered harmless, but they may be implicated in acne.’
Also, invisible to the naked eye, ‘Bacteria such as staphylococcus, streptococcus and e-coli, as well as fungi,’ says Stefanie. Sounds scary but, ‘The majority of these are not harmful if you have balanced skin with its natural protective acid mantle intact,’ reassures Lynne.
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How to clean your makeup brushes step-by-step
You probably don't need much more convincing after reading about dirty brushes, but clean makeup brushes will also leave the skin far more radiant and ensure your favourite cosmetics glide on like a dream. Here, makeup pro, Christabel Draffin, reveals her brush cleaning routine in four simple steps.
1. Dip each brush individually under hot running water, and then into a bowl of gentle shampoo or soap and rub gently with fingers to get a good lather for a few minutes.
2. Hold brushes under running water, checking until there’s no lather left on it. Hold for a further 2-3 seconds, ensuring they are sparkling clean. If I'm in a rush, I use the Brush Washing Mat, £20, . It has saved me HOURS of brush washing time as you swirl brushes over the tiny plastic teeth on the mat and it cleans them in at least half the time.
3. If there is still residue on the brush, I repeat the process. If not, I squeeze the water out of the brush and lay it flat on a towel next to the sink to dry.
4. After all of the brushes are washed, I lay them in a neat row underneath the radiator (if you stack them on top of each other, they don’t dry properly and smell strange - not good!)
Best brush hygiene
‘Bacteria and fungi prefer wet to dry conditions, so foundation brushes may accumulate micro-organisms quicker than dry powder brushes,’ explains Stefanie. Treat brushes you use to apply liquid textures to an extra wash or wipe. ‘At least two to three times a week, versus once a week for powder brushes,’ suggests Lynne.
Synthetic brushes are the low maintenance choice, easy to clean and longer-lasting - good quality ones should last 5-10 years. Many also offer anti-bacterial protection, like Anti-bacterial Brush Set, £35. Natural bristles are porous so can be more high maintenance. ‘They become limp and useless if not washed. As the grease builds up, the bristles are unable to blend so makeup looks patchy,’ says Caroline
Sponges are a no-go for the makeup pro, adds Caroline. ‘I avoid using sponges as pigments and grease wedge themselves deep inside so they never look or feel totally clean.’
Store brushes in a cool, dry place, preferably in their own bag. Avoid warm, damp bathrooms, where bacteria will have a party.
Can't I just throw my makeup brushes in the washing machine?
Sadly, the washing machine is not an acceptable shortcut. ‘The heat of the machine will breakdown the glue that holds the brush to the handle,’ says Caroline. But if time is short, an in-shower wash will suffice.
Handwash brushes with an anti-bacterial soap or silicone-free baby shampoo in lukewarm water. Gently massage the brush and rinse thoroughly. Washing up liquid is acceptable only as a last resort. ‘It strips the brushes of all grease, but it can be harsh on the natural hair long term,’ says Caroline.
Leave brushes to air-dry (although we’ve been known to reach for the hairdryer to speed drying time). Lie them flat after washing so the water doesn’t drain into the handle and rot the wood or remove the glue. ‘I also like to spray them with lavender so they smell fabulous,’ adds Caroline.
Her other top tip for the fastest fuss-free wash and dry? Invest in a £39 Stylpro. Swirl your brush in the bowl to clean, then watch it spin dry in seconds – we kid you not. ‘It’s a brush cleaner’s dream.’
Cleaning your brushes may be one more chore to add to the weekly cleaning rota, but hey there’s a winning payoff. Clean your brushes regularly, and your skin will improve.