Wednesday, November 19, 2014


 If the title of this post seems a little emphatic, then so be it. Few things in the beauty world gross me out more than people who never, ever clean their brushes, puffs, or other tools. It might seem like a weird thing to be grossed out by if you're a fellow beauty aficionado and grew up in the world of MAC spot cleaner and olive oil cleansing, but the truth is that the overwhelming majority of people who use makeup never clean their brushes. I'm not joking. Ask random people if you can look inside their makeup bag (for science), and if they don't run away screaming "CREEPER!", you're in for a shock.

Now, let's be fair. I don't entirely blame the average consumer for not knowing how to clean their tools because it's not routinely stressed. I've never seen "wash this brush after use" on a product's packaging, and magazines spend most of their time talking about what colors are on-trend, not how to scrub a sponge. But part of me wonders how brush cleansing doesn't pop in to more minds. I mean, it's only logical: you're rubbing something all over your face (which is a collection of oils, moisturizers and toners, bacteria, and skin cells), then rubbing it all over a product you keep around for months at a time, and you go back and forth and back and forth get the picture. I compare it to eating utensils: you wouldn't use the same fork over and over again without washing it, would you?

You might ask, "Why should I worry about cleaning my tools? They work fine!" Well, if you don't clean your tools, chances are your dirty powder puff and gunky foundation brush are causing you a lot of trouble. Here are some examples of what can happen when you use dirty tools:
  • You might cause a break out or an infection. This is especially true if you're using cream or liquid products, since it's easy for bacteria to fester in moisture, but it can happen with powders, too. Remember that every time a brush touches your face, it's coming in contact with the bacteria, oil, skin cells, and product residue that reside there. When you dip it back in to your makeup, you're giving it a nice place to live.
  • The color of your products might "change." I've heard horror stories from friends at makeup counters. Case in point from a friend who worked at MAC: "I had a customer who really loved Studio Fix Fluid. One day, she came to the counter looking very upset and demanded to speak to a manager. She claimed that her new bottle of NC20 was much darker than it was supposed to be, and there must've been a manufacturing error. I asked her if she was using a clean brush...and she just blinked at me. She had the brush in her bag and she showed it to me. She'd never cleaned it. NEVER. So she had years' worth of product stuck in the bristles, and the bacteria and old foundation was smearing in to her face every time she applied SFF with that brush. That's what was making her foundation look darker: the old, oxidized, bacteria-filled foundation stuck in her brush."
  • You could ruin your products. This is especially obvious with powder products. The oils from your face can "seal" your powders, meaning they'll get a hard, often shiny layer on top that has to be scraped off with a rough tool. Beyond the fact that sealing is gross, it also leads to wasted product.

Now that I've got that off of my chest, here are some personal recommendations for keeping your tools clean.


The most popular (and most readily dirtied) tool is definitely The Brush. This includes all types of brushes: foundation, eyeshadow, brow, spoolie...if it has bristles, we're gonna clean it. I personally clean my brushes once a week unless:
  1. I haven't used them at all AND they were already washed in the recent past (so they're not dirty), or
  2. I used them with a liquid or cream product (so they need washed after each use).
The #1 best brush cleaner has to be Dr. Bronner's Bar Soap. Beyond the fact that it's very effective and easy to store, it's also dirt cheap. My current bar has lasted me well over a year and is barely 1/3 gone: that's $5 well spent, in my opinion.

Washing your brushes with Dr. Bronner's is easy. First, moisten the brush bristles with lukewarm water, making sure you tilt the brush down; this prevents water from getting in to the ferrule and loosening up the glue. Then, rub the moistened brush in to the Dr. Bronner's. It will foam up and be dirt-free in mere seconds. If desired, you can rub the brush bristles in the palm of your hand to spread out the soap. Rinse the brush. Squeeze out excess water. Lay the brush on a flat surface, preferably with the bristles hanging over an edge to facilitate faster drying. In my experience, even the densest brush will be dry within 4 hours.

That's it. That's all there is to it.

NOTE: My brushes are all synthetic hair, partially because they're what I prefer and partially because I think they're easier to clean. Natural hair brushes may require special care. Contact the manufacturer and/or take special precaution when washing natural-hair brushes.


I prefer to use sturdy, reusable sponges like the Beauty Blender over disposable sponge wedges because they're less wasteful. The only downside is that they're a sponge, meaning they soak everything up...including bacteria. They need cleaned often, especially if you're soaking them in water to sheer out product. For reference, I clean my powder sponges (like this white D&G sponge) every couple of my months, and my liquid/cream product sponges (like the pink Beauty Blender) after every use.

My sponge cleaning method is very similar to my brush cleaning method: dampen the sponge, rub it in the bar of soap, rub it in the palm of my hand, rinse, squeeze out excess water. The only real difference with sponges is that they hold more water than a brush, so you'll need to rinse-and-squeeze and several times. I also wrap my sponges in a towel and squeeze to get out every last bit of moisture. Then I lay them on that same towel to dry.


Powder puffs are constantly in contact with your powders and the oils on your face, meaning they have to be pretty clean to prevent sealing. But their fluffy-wuffy nature means that you can't just wash them. Yes, friends, you'll have to just replace the whole puff. You can get cheap puffs that fit most powder compacts from Eyes Lips Face (pictured above) and CoverGirl.

I personally replace my powder puffs about every 3 months, or whenever the bottom of the puff is visibly covered in product. I've never had a problem with sealing.


How often you replace your lash curler pad is really going to depend on when you use your curler. If you like to use your curler after you've applied mascara and eyeliner, you're going to get a lot of sticky residue on the pad, which can yank out your lashes or even cause an infection. It's fine to use your curler after you apply your eye makeup, but you'll need to wipe off the pad with a q-tip or baby wipe after each use, and you'll want to replace the pad every few months.

If you're like me and you use your lash curler before you apply makeup, you won't get as much gunk on the pad. But it's still going to come in contact with your delicate eyes, so you want it to be clean. Also, lash curler pads can deteriorate and lose their "bounce" after many uses. I occasionally wipe off my lash curler pad with a baby wipe, and I replace the pad every 6 months or so.

NOTE: most brands sell replacement lash curler pads; for example, here are the pads for my Shiseido curler. If your brand doesn't sell the pads separately, do a Google search for pads that are a similar shape and size. My Shiseido pads, for example, should fit the infamous Shu Uemura lash curler as well.


Yes, your hands count as tools, and yes, they should be very very very clean when you put on your makeup! A lot of people don't believe me, but clean hands really can make a difference. I used to make YouTube tutorials, and I made a big deal of washing your hands at the start of every one. Without fail, I'd get at least one snarky comment in response, ie, "Ooooooh, I did this and didn't wash my hands! Oooooh, the world's gonna end, ooooooh!"

Then, a few videos later, the same snarky commenter would ask how I keep my skin so nice. Really? Really.

Use whatever soap floats your fancy, but I recommend an antibacterial one over something designed to be moisturizing or look pretty on your counter. The family favorite is Dial bar soap. Also, make sure you use it long enough to really kill bacteria: rub your soapy hands together for about 15-20 seconds before rinsing. If you're having trouble keeping time, just go through your ABCs.

I'm also a huge fan of using my hands like a painter's palette. Instead of dipping my fingers in and out of a pot of product multiple times, I'll scoop out a small amount with a spatula or a clean finger, smear it on the back of my hand, and work from there.

Lastly, I keep baby wipes around. I use these to wipe excess product off of the back of my hands, and to "spot clean" my fingers and brushes.

And speaking of tools: it's almost time to announce the winner of the Kevyn Aucoin Lash Curler giveaway! Enter by November 30th, 2014 for your chance to win.


  1. This post was a much-needed kick in the pants! I do wash all my brushes, but less frequently than once a week, for sure. I know what I'm doing this afternoon...

    Also, that story about the foundation brush is horrifying. :O

    1. I don't think you HAVE to wash them every week--that's just the guideline I follow--but compared to how often some people wash them? C'mon.

  2. Great post! I was hoping you'd have a trick to the flat compact sponges because I toss them too and buying refills is annoying. And I don't know what it is about YouTube but that setting brings out the worst of humanity. You rarely, if ever, see that sort of rudeness on blogs.

    1. If there's ever a trick, I'll post it...but in my experience, any attempt to wash or sanitize them makes them stiff/less fluffy. :(