Search IconSearch

Think Makeup Makes You Break Out? It Might Be Dirty Brushes

Keeping brushes clean and new can prevent bacteria growth

A birds-eye-view of a crushed makeup and a makeup brush

You may practice the most scrupulous face-washing habits, cleaning carefully every morning and removing your makeup at night. But if you aren’t washing your makeup brushes regularly too, you might be undermining all that good work.


Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

Every time you touch an unwashed brush to your face, you’re not just applying makeup. You’re also applying dirt, oil and old makeup. And if you store your brushes in a cup on your bathroom counter or just out in the open where you get ready, they also can acquire hairspray, perfume, dust, sneezes and other stuff floating around in your bathroom’s air.

“Keeping your makeup tools clean can go a long way toward keeping harmful bacteria from getting on your face,” says dermatologist Melissa Piliang, MD.

You may think that the foundation or makeup you use is causing your skin to break out. If it’s old, by all means, throw it out. But before you go out and spend money on a bunch of new and expensive beauty products, try giving your brushes a thorough cleaning first — bacteria-filled brushes can just as easily be the culprit.

How often should you clean your makeup brushes?

“How often you should wash your brushes depends on what you’re using,” Dr. Piliang says.

“You will want to wash more often your brushes used for wet products or products with a lot of liquid like concealer and foundation say once a week,” Dr. Piliang says. “That will clean the product off and let the brush do its function better.”

“Any products that you use around your eyes should be washed every two weeks, even if it’s a dry product like eye shadow or eyeliner because the eyes are more prone to infection,” Dr. Piliang says.

Other brushes used for dry cosmetics like powder that you don’t use around your eyes can be washed once a month, she adds.

“If you use sponges to apply liquid makeup, pay special attention to keeping them clean,” she says. The sponge absorbs the makeup and the moisture potentially can lead to bacteria and yeast overgrowth.

“Most makeup products are formulated with preservatives to keep bacteria and yeast from growing. But if you let the makeup build up over time and it sits there for months and months, you could develop a bacterial infection if you’ve had a cut in your skin,” says Dr. Piliang.

How to wash your makeup brushes, effectively

Dr. Piliang recommends using mild soap, like dish soap or even shampoo, to wash your makeup tools and utensils.

Clean them gently with soap in warm water and let them sit on a towel to dry for a day or overnight.

Sometimes it might be best just to throw out your makeup sponges, brushes or applicators and buy new ones. When the tips of the brushes look frayed or worn, or when the brush has lost its shape, they won’t function as well as they should anyway.

If you develop a very red eye, eye drainage or any eye pain after applying makeup, it’s time to call your doctor.


Learn more about our editorial process.

Related Articles

Person in towel standing in bathroom, with milk pticher on edge of bathtub
June 13, 2024/Skin Care & Beauty
Take the Plunge: 4 Reasons To Try a Milk Bath

Adding a little milk to your bath can leave your skin smooth, silky and refreshed

Older person applying skin cream to their face
June 7, 2024/Skin Care & Beauty
Benefits of Ferulic Acid as Part of Your Skin Care Routine

Ferulic acid can help make other antioxidant products more powerful

Smiling person under sunny blue sky, holding tube of sunscreen, applying to face
May 24, 2024/Primary Care
The Difference Between Mineral and Chemical Sunscreens

Mineral sunscreens have a heavier texture to create a physical barrier, while chemical sunscreens are lighter and use a chemical reaction to prevent UV damage

Person holding jar of moisturizer, with moisturizer on fingers
May 15, 2024/Skin Care & Beauty
7 Tips for Treating Dry Skin on Your Face

Deal with dry skin by preserving your skin’s moisture, using moisturizing products and taking preventive action

Adult receiving eye drops from a healthcare provider
May 10, 2024/Eye Care
When Is It Too Late To Treat Lazy Eye?

While it’s best to fix amblyopia during childhood, it can also be addressed as an adult

female examining neck wrinkles
April 29, 2024/Skin Care & Beauty
Neck Wrinkles? Here’s What Can Help

Give the delicate skin on your neck some TLC by wearing sunscreen every day and trying a retinoid or topical antioxidant

Acrylic nails being filed by manicurist
April 24, 2024/Skin Care & Beauty
Are Acrylic Nails Bad for Your Nails and Skin?

Before your next manicure, weigh the reward against the risk of infection, irritated skin and damaged nails

Fingers with globs of petroleum jelly above container
April 18, 2024/Skin Care & Beauty
Slugging: Does This Skin Care Trend Work?

Go ahead and get goopy to help boost hydration and repair damaged skin

Trending Topics

Female and friend jogging outside
How To Increase Your Metabolism for Weight Loss

Focus on your body’s metabolic set point by eating healthy foods, making exercise a part of your routine and reducing stress

stovetop with stainless steel cookware and glassware
5 Ways Forever Chemicals (PFAS) May Affect Your Health

PFAS chemicals may make life easier — but they aren’t always so easy on the human body

jar of rice water and brush, with rice scattered around table
Could Rice Water Be the Secret To Healthier Hair?

While there’s little risk in trying this hair care treatment, there isn’t much science to back up the claims