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How to clean makeup brushes and beauty blenders

Do you know what’s in your makeup brushes and beauty blenders, other than leftover makeup? Think dirt, dust, skin cells, sebum – and proliferative colonies of bacteria and fungi. And that’s why it’s essential to know how to clean makeup brushes and beauty blenders, the right way.

More than 90% of us have makeup brushes and beauty blenders contaminated with these microbes. And it’s not just these beauty tools. Cosmetics such as mascara, eye liner, eye shadow, lip gloss, concealer and blush can be contaminated too, as can skin care products.

As makeup brushes and beauty blenders get older, more and more bacteria and fungi accumulate. Cleaning does not kill off all the bugs. The more resistant microbes live on and continue to multiply silently without you having any awareness that they are there.

A study published in the Journal of Applied Microbiology found that 93% of beauty blenders provided by participants for testing had never been cleaned and 64% had been dropped on the floor and reused. Equally concerning, about 79-90% of the used cosmetics tested were also contaminated with bacteria. These cosmetics included those we commonly use, such as lipstick, lip gloss, mascara and eyeliner.

Meet the microbes

Makeup Brushes and Beauty Blenders


Citrobacter freundii, Enterobacter, Escherichia coli, Klebsiella, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus spp. and Streptomyces spp.


Aspergillus and Penicillium

Cosmetic Products


Bacillus, Enterobacter, Staphylococcus spp. and Pseudomonas spp.


Aspergillus, Penicillium and Candida

Bacteria were found to build up after one week and to double by week two. At the one-month mark, the bacteria were so great that they couldn’t even be measured!


Not all microbes are harmful, with many living in harmony with us in and on our bodies. But a change in the balance of the microbes on our skin from those that are harmless towards those that are pathogenic can cause a number of skin conditions or exacerbate existing ones.

Some can even be potentially deadly if they make their way into the bloodstream through an open cut or wound or if used near the eyes or mouth, especially in anyone who is immunocompromised.

Why you should care

An Australian woman made the news in 2015 when she became paralysed after contracting the difficult to treat bacterial infection MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) in her spine. She contracted this dangerous infection after using a friend’s makeup brush on her face. The brush was contaminated with Staphylococcus bacteria, which led to antibiotic-resistant MRSA.

For most people, the infection would be limited to the skin and show up as warm and painful red bumps that may look like pimples or a spider bite. But in a small number of cases, it can lead to serious health consequences, and potentially even death. The bacteria can burrow deeply into the body and infect the bloodstream, bones, joints, heart valves and lungs.

Any makeup products applied around the eye, nose and mouth present a greater risk, and extra care should be taken to ensure they are not contaminated.

There are a host of other infections that can be caused by makeup brushes, beauty blenders and even products in your cosmetic bag, ranging from mild to severe, including:

Existing skin conditions – such as acne, blepharitis, psoriasis and rosacea – can be worsened and become even more difficult to manage.

It’s essential that you learn how to clean your makeup sponge and beauty tools correctly.

How you’re spreading the germs

Every time you apply makeup using a makeup brush or beauty blender, you’re transferring skin cells and microbes onto your tools. These then multiply in your makeup products. When you use them again you’re transferring them onto your face and then again from your face onto the tools. Using a makeup brush or beauty blender across cosmetics also spreads the microbes around.

Most people store their beauty tools, cosmetics and skin care products in the bathroom – the ideal breeding ground for bacteria and fungi. Not only is there usually a toilet nearby, but the bathroom creates a warm and moist environment.

Studies have found that most of us overlook our makeup brushes and beauty blenders and just don’t clean them often enough or thoroughly enough.

You wouldn’t use a dirty dishcloth to cleanse your face, so why would you use a dirty makeup brush or beauty blender?

Clean your beauty tools regularly

It’s very easy to forget when you last cleaned your makeup sponge brushes and beauty blenders. That’s why it’s best to make it a habit to clean them every week. Why not do a recurring calendar entry to remind yourself of this weekly hygiene appointment? And make sure you store them away from dust, dirt and new jimmies.

It’s also good practice to do a full clean-up and clear-out once a year. Just like you do this for your wardrobe, you should do this for your bathroom cabinet. Go through all your beauty tools and throw out any that are more than two years old, are heavily stained or have an odour. Then do a thorough clean of the rest. We’ve provided our preferred cleaning method below.

In between full cleans, you can use apply an antimicrobial beauty tool cleanser and blot on tissues or paper towel. This may be helpful too to prevent the cross-transfer of bacteria and fungi across cosmetic products.

Check your cosmetics too

You should also check your cosmetics, skin care products and sunscreens, and do away with any that are outside their expiry dates. These too can harbour undesirable bacteria and fungi.

Wondering how your cosmetics and skin care products get contaminated? This may be due to:

The US FDA is looking into the microbiological safety of cosmetics, citing that injuries may not be common but that they can be serious.

Another issue is the sale of counterfeit cosmetic products. These are often made with contaminated raw materials and no hygiene practices.

Most of us assume that the unexpected breakout or rash we’ve just got was caused by a new skin care product we’ve used. But it could have been caused by the bacteria or fungi that have been quietly populating in our makeup brushes or beauty blenders.

How to clean makeup brushes and beauty blenders

Here’s our how to clean makeup brushes and beauty blenders. Just don’t fully immerse a makeup brush in water as the water will get into the ferrule and can cause rust and affect the glue, making the hairs fall out.

Cleaning items needed


  1. Wash and dry your hands thoroughly before you start.
  2. Spray your makeup brush hairs or beauty blender with antimicrobial cleaning solution and gently work it through. Also spray the handle of your makeup brush and wipe off with a clean towel.
  3. Put some cleanser or liquid soap into a small container and dip in your brush hairs or blender, making sure there is adequate coverage. Work your tool gently on the silicone cleaning pad to remove the makeup. Place in clean water and squeeze out a number of times.
  4. Repeat the process until you get your makeup brush or beauty blender as as clean as possible.
  5. Do a final rinse or two in clean water and squeeze out excess water.
  6. Blot your beauty tool on a clean towel.
  7. Allow to dry horizontally on a clean towel. Do not leave brushes standing upwards as water will get into the ferrule and trap bacteria and fungi, as well as affect the glue.

With beauty blenders, the outside may appear clean however the inside may still be harbouring old makeup, skin cells and, of course, bacteria and fungi! Other cleaning methods just don’t do a good enough job and that’s why microwave cleaning is not recommended. Cut open an old beauty blender after cleaning to check whether your cleaning method is doing the trick.

Avoid putting clean beauty tools in an unclean storage container or makeup bag, or you’ll reintroduce bacteria. Try wiping the inside of your storage container or makeup bag with an antibacterial wipe  first for a quick and easy way to do it.

When is it time to toss?

There are times when you need to throw out your old and dirty makeup brushes and beauty blenders, as well as your cosmetics, skin care and sunscreens. They could be unsafe to use. Not sure when to toss them? Here’s a guide to help you. We like to be cautious and you should too.

When-to throw-out-old-makeup-tools-and-cosmetics-infographic

You can help your skin be at its glowing best by making this a regular beauty hygiene practice.

Why not share this How to Clean Makeup Brushes with a sista!


Yours in better skin

Anna Marie from Skin Clinica - The Skin Experts

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