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A Dermatologist Explains Why You Should Clean Makeup Brushes


Why You Need To Clean Makeup Brushes

Clean makeup brushes deliver the best makeup looks, and they’re also better for your skin. Here at Kiehl’s, a dermatologist explains how to clean your brushes.

Some say an artist is only as good as their tools. And this adage isn’t limited to painting or sculpting; it can be applied to makeup too. How a makeup look turns out is often heavily impacted by the brushes you use to apply it with. In addition to the type and quality of the tools, whether they’re clean plays its own role. Again, it’s not just paint brushes that are cleansed between uses. But be honest with us, do you clean your makeup brushes regularly? It’s a habit you might not realize the importance of or maybe simply haven’t bothered to start.

If you fall into either of the above camps, Kiehl’s is here to convince you to start washing your makeup brushes (and not once in a blue moon). It isn’t just us that say clean makeup brushes are a must, either. We spoke with Kiehl’s expert and board-certified dermatologist, Dr. Marisa Garshick, about why you should clean your beauty tools. Keep reading to learn what an expert says can happen if you don’t, and find our tutorial on how to clean makeup brushes.

Why Is It Important To Clean Makeup Brushes?

A key component of caring for your skin is keeping it clean. After all, there’s a reason facial cleansers are a core step in every good skincare routine. But washing your face doesn’t do you as much good if you’re wiping dirty makeup brushes across your face shortly thereafter. Dr. Garshick shares, “Anytime you put makeup on and you're coming into contact with your skin,” the excess oil, dirt, debris, and bacteria on your skin build up on the brush. “Even when the makeup brush is on its own laying on the countertop, it's collecting different things.”

The primary reason you clean your brushes, she shares, is to minimize the risk of transferring oil and bacteria back to your skin. Beyond sounding a bit gross, this can result in blemishes. What happens is, when these things end up on your skin, it can cause pores to become congested.

Aside from impacting your skin, Dr. Garshick points out that using unclean makeup brushes can also spell disaster for your makeup look. “If there's a lot of buildup on the brush, it can actually reduce the potential for the brush to deliver a nice smooth application of your makeup,” she says.

How To Clean Makeup Brushes

Once you know you should clean them, the question becomes how to clean makeup brushes. Below, we’ve broken it down into five simple steps with expert tips from Dr. Garshick.

1. Wet The Bristles

Just as you saturate your hair before applying shampoo and wet your hands prior to adding soap, you want your makeup brush to be wet before you wash it. Focus the water on the bristles rather than the handle. Over time, getting the whole brush wet can weaken the glue that holds it together.

2. Grab Your Kiehl’s Face Wash

While there are products designed specifically for cleaning makeup brushes, you likely already have something on hand that will work perfectly. Dr. Garshick suggests using the same face wash you normally use to cleanse your skin. Our Ultra Facial Cleanser is a great option because the formula with glycerin and squalane gently yet effectively cleanses without over-drying. If you like soap and surfactant-free face washes, try Centella Sensitive Facial Cleanser instead to gently cleanse away dirt, oil, and impurities. To get a really rich lather, you can also use Calendula Deep Cleansing Foaming Face Wash. The creamy gel formula activates with water to create a dense foam and deeply cleanses without stripping.

One thing we don’t recommend washing makeup brushes with is your regular old soap—it can be too drying. In addition to the cleansers above, a good alternative is a cleansing bar, like our Ultra Facial Hydrating Concentrated Cleansing Bar or Calendula Calming & Soothing Concentrated Cleansing Bar.

3. Cleanse

After you’re armed with a cleanser, it’s time to clean your makeup brushes. Take a small amount of the formula in your hand and swirl a wet brush around in your palm to dislodge the makeup from the bristles. Be gentle as you do this, as you don’t want to break, fray, or change their shape.

Aside from your hand, Dr. Garshick notes that there are a lot of different tools you can use, like cleansing brush pads and gloves, to aid the process. Typically, these are covered in little grooves and textured pieces that get in between the bristles to really give your brushes a good clean. While they can be helpful, Dr. Garshick says they’re not a necessity for everyone. “As long as your hand is clean, it's still fine to use.”

4. Rinse Completely

In addition to picking the right cleanser, it’s important to find the right water temperature to wet and wash your brushes with. Dr. Garshick says it should be about the same as what you use to wash your face. That means “you want to use lukewarm water—not too hot.” If the water is overly warm, it can dry out the bristles just as it can your skin.

With the water turned to the right temperature, start rinsing your brush clean of the cleanser and makeup. Do so until the water runs clear and there are no lingering suds. If the water in your sink is still the color of your foundation, you may need to add a bit more cleanser and repeat the process.

5. Let Them Dry

A common brush-cleansing mistake is to finish rinsing and immediately leave your brushes to dry. According to Dr. Garshick, you want to first “gently squeeze out any excess moisture.” The key word being “gently,” of course. Your goal should be to have the brush dry in its normal shape; the bristles shouldn’t be squashed flat from wringing them out.

Next, Dr. Garshick says, “You want to let the brush dry with the bristles either hanging off the edge of a counter or sitting on a paper towel.” She advises against leaving them “squeezed in a towel to dry,” as this creates a moist environment that isn’t good for your brushes. It’s also best not to place them standing up, such as in a makeup brush holder or cup, as this can cause water in the bristles to drip down into the barrels of the brushes.

How Often Should You Clean Makeup Brushes?

Not only do you need to clean your makeup brushes, but you need to do so regularly. Washing them once a year, unfortunately, won’t cut it. Dr. Garshick recommends you “aim for at least once per week.” In addition to all the reasons to clean that we touched on above, she says a weekly cleansing can “help to keep the actual bristles soft and supple.”

Do You Need To Wash Makeup Brushes Before Using Them?

Makeup brushes that are caked in foundation and coated with eyeshadow aren’t the only kind in need of a good wash. According to Dr. Garshick, ideally, you should clean brand-new brushes, too. Despite what you might assume, new isn’t synonymous with clean. “We really don't know how long [the brushes have] been sitting around, and while they may be in packaging that appears clean to the consumer, we don't know how long [they’ve] really been sitting in that,” she says.

When Should You Replace Your Makeup Brushes?

Makeup brushes typically have a long life, when treated well, but eventually you might have to say goodbye. If your brushes are looking frayed or aren’t holding their shape, it’s possible that new ones will perform better.

What Other Beauty Tools Need To Be Cleaned?

Your new knowledge about using clean makeup brushes might inspire you to get serious about cleaning basically everything. Below, we’re naming four beauty tools that deserve plenty of attention in the cleansing department.

Hands: You may not think of them this way, but your hands are one of the best tools you have at your disposal. And they tend to play a big role in your beauty routine, whether it’s smoothing on face lotion or using your finger to apply cream blush. Dr. Garshick stresses the importance of always making sure your hands are clean before touching your face, whether that’s for skincare or makeup application. You can make frequent handwashing more luxurious with a nice soap, like our Liquid Hand Soap, which comes in delightful grapefruit and coriander scents.

Makeup sponges: Just like makeup brushes, sponges need to be cleaned “at least once a week,” says Dr. Garshick (like brushes, makeup sponges can be cleaned with one of the Kiehl’s cleansers mentioned above). Note that even with regular cleansing, makeup sponges don’t last forever—we recommend breaking out a fresh one every three to six months.

Cleansing tools: Devices and tools that help you get squeaky clean don’t magically clean themselves, even if that would be nice. Dr. Garshick points toward cleansing brushes and washcloths as two more tools you’ll need to wash.

Tweezers: Last but not least, make sure you clean your tweezers. Dr. Garshick says they can be especially important to clean. Think about it: They get up close and personal with your pores each time you use them to pluck a little hair, and you don’t want lingering oils or grime to end up clogging your pores.

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