How - And Why! - To Sanitize Your Makeup and Brushes

Hint: It’s for a healthier face!

It’s a surprisingly easy thing to shrug off, the concept of cleaning your makeup. Maybe you occasionally clean your brushes, but that’s like washing the dishes yet not rinsing your produce or meat before cooking.

You routinely wash your face, taking great care (and surely spending a pretty penny!) to exfoliate and moisturize, occasionally schmearing on a mud mask or some toner... but then you apply makeup to your skin without giving it a second thought.

Well, it shouldn’t be that much of a shocker to you that your makeup can carry just as many germs and bacteria as anything else. Makeup can — and should! — be cleaned regularly. What may come as even more of a revelation is that cleaning your makeup is super easy. It takes virtually no time and little effort, and there may even be vodka involved. What other chores involve vodka? We hesitate to even ask…

We’ll show you how to clean and sanitize your products, laying out tips for everything from lipstick and mascara to powders and palettes, pencils and sharpeners to brushes and sponges.

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A few tips to get started: Daily use makeup should be sanitized weekly or biweekly, especially if you’ve been sharing it or have been traveling or felt sick. Throw out all expired makeup. If you’re not sure, toss it and buy new. Expired makeup, especially something like mascara, can give you a nasty eye infection and it’s just not worth it. Always wash your hands and face before putting on makeup, and use applicators instead of your fingers. The more often you stick your paws into a bottle of concealer or rub them into a palette of makeup, the more germs get transferred into your makeup and can cause bacteria to grow in there.

Okay, so all you need to clean your makeup is 70% isopropyl alcohol, a spray bottle, and some cotton balls. For your brushes, you’ll use some water with antibacterial soap (hand or dish) or your favorite face wash and a small bowl.

Begin with your brushes, sponges, and applicators. Because your eyes are the most sensitive part of your face, eye brushes or applicators should be cleaned at least biweekly. Concealer brushes should be cleaned about once a week or so since they get used most often and their bristles tend to get lots of product residue and buildup on them. Sponges are typically only made for single-use applications, so if you’ve got some used ones laying around, just toss them and buy new. And if your brushes are beginning to fray or lose shape, that’s a good sign it’s time to buy fresh ones.

Pro tip: Before you wash your brushes, be sure to disinfect and sanitize your countertops and sink with antibacterial wipes or spray for maximum cleanliness. We recommend a quick spray of Microban Multipurpose Cleaner, which you can apply to any nonporous surface (sinks, countertops, etc.). Just spray and walk away to keep surfaces sanitized against bacteria for up to 24 hours*.

And wash your hands, of course.

Simple 5 step brush cleaning system technique:

  1. Wet the bristles of your brush with some warm water.
  2. Using a small bowl (or simply the palm of your hand), mix together distilled water with a small drop of soap. We recommend either Dawn Dish Soap, antibacterial hand soap, or whatever you use as an everyday face wash (no need to use your fancy cleanser here). If it’s good enough to wash your face with, it’s good for your brushes (just don’t use any face wash that contains exfoliants, this will be extremely counterproductive).
  3. Swirl around and lightly massage the bristles into your palm or the bowl of soapy water for thirty seconds to one minute. This will help to break down any makeup, bacteria, dirt, or oils that have been collecting on the bristles. Run the bristles of the brush under warm water thoroughly until the water runs clear, free of soap or debris.
  4. Gently squeeze out any excess moisture with a clean, absorptive terry cloth towel.
  5. Fluff the brush’s bristles back into their original shape and let your brush dry with the bristles hanging off the edge of the counter or shelf so that it maintains its shape and integrity. Whatever you do, don’t leave the brushes to dry on a towel or they could become mildewy.

*Extra Credit: Give all of your brush handles a wipe down with antibacterial wipes.

Palettes and powders are extremely easy to clean, including blushes, eyeshadows, and foundations. The only trick is not to overdo it. Gently take a tissue or a butter knife to lightly wipe or skim off the very top layer of the makeup. Careful not to break up the palette. You don’t need to dig too deep to rid yourself of just the topmost layer of makeup. No sense wasting makeup, you just want to remove the exposed, potentially germy bits.

Be sure to test your spray bottle first to make sure it’s working well before spraying directly onto the makeup palette. Now spritz lightly with your rubbing alcohol and let air dry. Too much alcohol can harm your delicate palette makeup, so spritz moderately and from at least 6 inches away from the makeup. One or two light mists can do the trick. Then let the palette air dry completely before closing the lid. You can then use a cotton ball soaked in rubbing alcohol to wipe off the exterior of the palettes.

Liquid makeup in bottles can be cleaned using an alcohol-soaked cotton ball, from the exterior to the mouth of the bottle, and both the interior and exterior of the lid. The makeup itself can’t exactly be cleaned though, which is why we recommend using sponges or brushes to apply the makeup instead of sticking your (potentially) germy fingers into the makeup.

Mascara tubes can be cleaned on their exterior with an alcohol-soaked cotton ball, but the applicators are too tricky to clean and reuse. They are meant to be disposable. If you feel like you’ve had the same mascara for a long time, you probably have. Toss it and splurge on a fresh one, because once it’s expired, it can do actual damage to your eyes — which is not cute.

Eyelash curlers, on the other hand, are quite easy to clean with rubbing alcohol. Allow for them to dry completely before using them again. And definitely remember to change out their rubber or silicone inserts every couple of months or so.

The same rules for mascara apply to tubes of lip gloss. They’re easy enough to clean on the exterior with some alcohol, but it’s hard to really clean inside those tubes so best to get a fresh one seasonally.

Lipstick, on the other hand, is easier to clean than lipgloss. (Beauty hack: Best to buy lipstick in a metal tube, versus a plastic one, since they’re less likely to harbor bacteria!) This is where the vodka comes in. Now, pour yourself a cocktail — just kidding! — but pour a pinch of vodka into a shallow dish (rubbing alcohol works just fine for this, too, but we think booze might be more fun to incorporate). Submerge lipstick in alcohol (be it vodka or isopropyl) for about 30 seconds and then let air dry before using again and/or replacing the cap.

All types of pencils are simple to clean. (Beauty hack: You should always sharpen pencils before using, if only slightly, just to generate a fresh surface before applying!) Whether it’s an eyeliner, lip liner, or brow pencil, you can wipe down the entire thing with an alcohol-soaked cotton ball and let air dry. Pencil sharpeners can be soaked (completely submerged) in an alcohol solution for up to five minutes and then wiped clean or dry with a towel or paper towel. Depending on how often you use your pencils, they should be cleaned biweekly.

Other miscellaneous self-care products that also ought to be regularly sanitized include the following:

Razors: It’s best to store your razor outside of the shower (we know, this seems silly). This is so it is able to dry completely and therefore won’t run the risk of growing bacteria or getting rusty. This will 100% result in one of those “oh shoot!” moments where you have to hop out of the shower dripping wet to grab the razor from wherever you’re keeping it. We recommend hanging a little stainless steel razor holder just outside of the shower — but within reach! — on the wall for easy access. Stainless steel is easy to clean and less likely to grow bacteria than plastic.

Loofahs: Loofahs are bacteria magnets. You should just invest in a new one each month. Yes, that seems wasteful. Alternatively, you can soak your loofah in a diluted bleach solution weekly for at least five minutes and let it air dry for 24 hours before using it again. We suggest that you find a loofah alternative that more effectively dries out between uses or can be easier cleaned. Exfoliating sponges made of soft bristles, silicone, or sponges that can simply be machine washed are preferable, such as a soft-weaved washcloth or a Japanese Nylon washcloth (Google it — it has a major cult following by skincare enthusiasts!).

Hair Tools: Items like your blow dryer, curling iron, and flat iron can (and should) be wiped down with antibacterial wipes after using. Make sure they’re no longer hot or plugged in when you do this! You can wipe them down biweekly or more regularly if you’ve been sharing them or traveling.

Makeup bags and cases: Empty your makeup bag out once a month and wipe out the inside of the bag with antibacterial wipes. If you’ve been traveling a lot, you can wipe down the outside of the bag, as well, but be sure not to damage the material (ie: suede, leather).

Now that all your brushes and products are disinfected and sanitized, you can “beat your face for the gods,” as RuPaul would say. Enjoy your freshly sanitized products and happy germ-free beautifying!

Oh - and wait! - get those makeup smudges off of the bathroom mirror, while you’re at it.

*When used as directed, effective for 24 hours against Staphylococcus aureus & Enterobacter aerogenes bacteria. Microban 24 does not provide 24-hour residual virus protection.

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