Cleaning makeup brushes is one of those laundry list annoyances—kind of like dry cleaning, AKA hand washing—that rarely seems necessary. “You can just NOT clean makeup brushes, right??” says the lazy girl in me.
Welllllll, not really, according to the professional beauty artists who create fresh makeup canvases for stars every day. Dirt and oil from the skin combined with powder accumulate in the brushes we use frequently, and without regular sudsing action, they can cause skin irritation and breakouts.
Dallas-based makeup artist Joanna Hathcock, for one, recommends a regular rinse every two weeks, if not weekly. If you have extra-sensitive skin, of course, that process may need to happen every few days.
But how do you actually, uh, do that? After all—as any novice learns the hard way—it’s not just a matter of running your brushes under the sink and calling it a day. Every makeup pro has their own specialized way of doing things, so here we unpack some of the most efficient ways to get the job done without ruining the brush itself.
Beauty vlogger Desi Perkins provides two step-by-step methods below of cleaning brushes, from the most basic (dish soap/bar soap and olive oil) to a more specialized way of removing dirt.
We lazy girls simply working with what we have in the kitchen can settle for Method One:
1. Perkins works with a regular dish soap and olive oil, mixing mostly dish soap and a small amount of olive oil in a bowl. As she explains, the dish soap works to disinfect while the olive oil conditions.
2. She dips her dirty brushes into the mixture, head down, and swirls them around on the textured mat. Note that instead of working the brushes against her hand, the textured mat (that she sourced from a Dollar Store!) creates more friction while breaking up the dirt and powder.
3. To finish, she rinses the brush to remove all remaining soap and residue. As a substitute for the dish soap, she also recommends using bar soap, a favorite of makeup artists like Mario Dedivanovic and Lottie to remove dirt and condition brushes.
For Method Two, Perkins goes ahead and reaches for a cleanser specifically designed to nourish and clean brushes.
FWIW, makeup artist Gucci Westman recommends brush cleanser for every day use and shampoos for deep cleaning brushes.
1. To begin, she starts out in the sink this time, dampening her brush by holding it with the bristles downward (to avoid the moisture breaking up the glue in the brush head). The less moisture by the handle, the less likely your brush will fall apart on you 👍.
2. Then, she uses a brush shampoo and conditioner from Blvd. Cosmetics, dipping the brush head into the jar and swirling it around. This time, she works her brushes against the multi-textured surface of a Sigma Beauty Cleaning Mat, which has a variety of dense striations designed to clean different brushes, from a fat foundation brush to a little lip liner brush.
3. To remove all of the cleanser and dirt out of the brush, she rinses the brushes thoroughly under water and disinfects the handles with some rubbing alcohol. Anyone who’s tried to clean their keyboard *knows* this is because the alcohol evaporates rather than saturating with moisture.
4. Optional: For spot treatments between cleans, Perkins suggests that people use liquid cleaners. She squeezes a few drops of the formula onto a paper towel, swirling the heads of her brushes into the paper towel to break up the pigments.
For drying, Perkins uses an upside down method, as seen below. Except instead of buying a specialized drying rack she straps her brushes to a cutting board secured with elastic bands. People swear by the way drying upside down retains shape, pulls moisture from the bristles, and avoids bacteria growing in wet brushes.
On the other hand, many famous beauty pros just lay their brushes out on a regular old paper towel, so…your move.