You Really Do Need To Wash Your Makeup Brushes Often, And Here’s Why

by Sara Farrell Baker
Anetlanda/ Getty Images

The week before my daughter was due, I had a long list of tasks I wanted to complete around my house so it would be clean and orderly when she arrived. But because I was crunched for time (and ultra-pregnant) that week, I bumped some chores off my list to make room for one crucial task I knew needed to get done before the baby arrived or I wouldn’t do it at all — cleaning my makeup brushes.

Yes, I queued up some Netflix on my phone, laid out all of my brushes, and got to scrubbing in my bathroom sink. And when they were all clean and I had shaped the bristles before spreading them out on a towel to dry, I knew I made the right choice in prioritizing my fluffy little beauty buddies.

Cleaning your makeup brushes is important. Super important. A simple statement for a simple fact. That act is necessary and if you aren’t doing it, you’re opening yourself up to a variety of issues that are otherwise easily avoidable.

The very least of possible problems is breakouts. When your brushes touch your skin, they take little bits of you with them. Those little bits contain dirt and bacteria and other fun, wriggly things. Then you put those brushes in your makeup and back on your face and back in your makeup and so on. No one should be surprised if they’re breaking out after not washing their brushes. You’re just spreading gross crap all over your pores and pimples are bound to appear.

Taking it up a notch, some of that bacteria can be extra, extra nasty. Last summer, a woman in Austin, TX got a staph infection from her dirty eyebrow brush. Doctors told her that if she had come into the ER a little later, the infection could have spread to her eyes or brain, which could have left her blind or dead. I know we just made a big leap from pimples to deadly infections, but these are real risks.

And since we are making leaps, let’s go from unfortunate to tragic to terrifying. If you are still on the fence about whether or not you really need to clean your brushes, I present this viral video of a makeup sponge infested with bugs.

If nothing you have read has convinced you that washing your makeup brushes important and necessary, know this: You will look busted, my friend. Dirty makeup brushes do not provide a smooth application. You will wind up with a streaky, patchy, gunky face and all the Instagram filters in the world won’t be able to save you. Just do the damn thing.

Cleaning your brushes is not that big of a chore. I find something to watch or listen to and set to work and am usually done in a relatively short amount of time. Considering that most people only use a handful of brushes regularly, you’re only looking at a few minutes of work, especially if you’re cleaning them weekly and not letting too much product buildup occur. And the labor is super satisfying if you like seeing all the makeup crud wash out of the bristles until the water finally runs clear. It’s always surprising to me how much crud gets built up in my brushes in a short amount of time.

All you have to do is take a gentle soap or a brush cleanser, wet your brushes with water, and then swirl the bristles around in your hand with a drop of your soap. Keep rinsing until clouds of makeup dirt are no longer spilling out of your brushes and the water runs clear. Squeeze any excess water out of the bristles and then reshape them before laying them out on a towel to dry with the bristles hanging over the edge. If you do this before bed, you’ll wake up to clean, dry brushes and nothing feels as good as the first application with soft, pristine makeup brushes.

I’m guessing breakouts, bacteria, and bugs aren’t at the top of anyone’s list of things you want on your face. If you take just a few minutes a week to care for your tools, they’ll care for you back by not giving you pink eye.