Dermatologists and Makeup Artists on the Why and the How to Wash Makeup Brushes

Makeup Brush Cleansers

Ask nearly any makeup aficionado what their least favorite beauty chore is, and you’re likely to hear, “Washing my makeup brushes.” While it can be extremely tempting to procrastinate with this task, experts caution it should be a natural extension of your makeup routine. It’ll ensure that your tools stay in peak condition, and (more importantly!) that your skin stays healthy. 

"I recommend cleaning makeup brushes weekly to avoid the buildup of makeup and bacteria, which can lead to breakouts and potentially skin or eye infections,” advises Jenny Liu, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Minnesota. That includes bacteria that could be living in your makeup. “Staph and strep species, pseudomonas, E. coli, in addition to fungi and yeast, have been shown to grow in certain cosmetic products over time,” warns Jennifer Lee, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Tennessee. “Brushes that handle moist products (like foundation, concealer, and lip gloss) should be cleaned with added care, as the moist environment can foster microbial growth.”

Now that you know the true importance of washing your brushes, you need to find a cleansing formula. Dr. Liu notes that foams, liquids, and even clarifying shampoos will be most effective, as they can cut through creamy, oily makeup. Bar soaps or cleansing oils should be avoided, as they could leave residue on your makeup brushes. “When in doubt, and especially if you have sensitive skin, you might also want to try using a trusted facial cleanser, since these brushes will also be touching your face,” adds Dr. Liu..

As for the cleansing itself, Edwin Batista, Director of Education for Dr. Hauschka®, says you’ll want to rinse your brushes long and thoroughly enough that the water runs clear. You should also make sure you give the tools enough time to dry completely before using them again. “Otherwise, the moistness of the brush can promote more bacterial overgrowth,” adds Dr. Lee.

Now that you know how (and how often) to clean your brushes, read on as makeup artists break down some of their favorite solutions for getting the job done like a pro.

Beautyblender® Blendercleanser® Solid ($16) is among makeup artist Ashleigh Ciucci's favorite formulations, not just for washing sponges, but brushes, too. “It goes on double-duty as a brush cleanser for the toughest of jobs — like a blonde-bristled brush you used for blue eyeshadow,” she explains. “Just wet your brush and swirl it into the solid cleanser. Then, massage it gently in your palm, rinse, squeeze, and lay it flat on a towel to dry.”

Over the years, Andrew Sotomayor, a celebrity makeup artist in New York, has relied on Dr. Bronner’s® Pure-Castile SoapTM ($16) for keeping his brushes in prime condition. “Dr. Bronner’s is affordable, natural, and manages to get tougher makeup out of foundation brushes and makeup sponges,” he shares. “I also try to avoid [formulas with] heavy scents, because I deal with so many different faces, all of which have their own sensitivities.”

Marco Castro, a makeup artist in New York, finds that Le Petit Marseillais® Gentle Body Wash ($10) is extremely gentle, yet still tough enough to remove any cream residues from concealers or foundation. “After soaking your brushes with warm water, gently lather with the palms of your hands and rinse thoroughly, setting them on a towel and allowing them to dry overnight,” he suggests. His favorite scents include Vanilla Milk and Orange Blossom.

If you’re a fan of clean formulas, check out New York makeup artist Mary Irwin's top pick. “The eco-friendly, chemical-free London Brush CompanyTM Goat Milk Brush Shampoo ($18) cleanses and conditions in one step, and leaves my brushes feeling as soft as new,” she reveals. The travel-friendly solid is available in a range of scents, including English lavender and lemon zest, as well as a vegan formula scented with clary sage.

As a consulting celebrity beauty expert for Garnier®, Millie Morales has tried a wide range of methods and products for maintaining clean brushes, but she keeps going back to Cinema Secrets® Makeup Brush Cleanser ($42). “It removes all traces of makeup and dirt from my brushes, and dries instantly,” she explains. Ciucci and Irwin also count among the cleanser’s fans. Pro tip: leave your brushes out in the sun after washing. “It’s important that the brushes dry well to avoid molding,” adds Morales.

Natalia Thomas, a celebrity makeup artist in New York, describes Rebels & OutlawsTM Cleanse & ReleaseTM Brush Soap ($21) as “truly magical.” “Not only does it leave your brushes squeaky clean and smelling great, but there’s sage and clear rose quartz for releasing any negative energy along with your makeup for a truly fresh start,” she says.

Parian Spirit® Professional Makeup Brush Cleaner ($21) is another one of Thomas’s regular go-tos. “The environmentally-safe formula contains citrus mineral spirits that melt away even the angriest of [makeup],” she says. Bonus: this cleanser features an orange scent that Thomas claims is a hit with every one of her clients.