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.

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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.”

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“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.

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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.

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