Microbiome of Your Makeup Brush

Get ready to wash your makeup brushes and applicators right away. Sometimes we get lazy or busy and it is easy to avoid washing them. But makeup brushes and sponges are hotbeds for gunk and bacteria, and neglecting proper washing can wreak havoc on our skin and our health.


Most Bacteria Found on Makeup Brushes are Harmless

Believe it or not, your body is an ecosystem. Your human microbiome consists of trillions of small organisms called “microorganisms” and “microbes” and their byproducts.[1]  These microscopic forms of life are crucial for the healthy functioning of the body such as aiding digestion, strengthening the immune system, and maintaining the health of the skin.[2]

Most of the microbes are either commensal, meaning they benefit from living on our skin without harming us, or mutualistic, meaning they are beneficial to our skin.[3] Helpful bacteria serve our skin by protecting us from pathogenic invaders that cause infections and help balance our immune system.[4]


Harmful Bacteria Do Exist

Although we can coexist with most bacteria living on our skin, pathogens should be avoided. Pathogens are different from our normal germs and consist of bacteria, viruses, fungi, or other organisms that cause disease or infections.[5] 

Alterations to the bacterial community structure or overgrowth of pathogenic microbes can cause problems including atopic dermatitis, psoriasis, rosacea, acne, redness, irritation, or body odor.[4,6]


Bacteria in Your Makeup and Brushes

Every time you touch your makeup, you transfer all the dirt and tiny little organisms from your face to the product and back again to your face. Meanwhile, your makeup and brush accumulate dead skin cells, dirt, oil, and bacteria.[7]

These germs are invisible to the naked eye, but we notice their effects on your skin over time.


Storage Matters

Dry your brushes completely

Bacteria loves to breed in warm, dark, and moist places. Not drying bushes completely before throwing them in a drawer can cause microbes to overgrow.

Avoid storing makeup and brushes in the bathroom

Humidity from showers can cause bacteria on makeup and brushes to breed. Storing them out in the open can also be problematic if you don’t keep your toilet seat down. One flush can cause microorganisms from the bowl to aerosol up with the plume, and land on surfaces and objects in your bathroom.[8]

Proper storage

Keep makeup brushes in tightly closed containers to avoid collecting dust and dirt. Especially when taking them on the go, leaving them uncovered at the bottom of your purse or makeup bag is an apparent way to get them dirty. Instead, use a travel bag or even a clean plastic bag when transporting your brushes to avoid contamination.


The Following Could Happen if You Don’t Clean Your Brushes

Aggravated acne

Dirt, oil, and bacteria spread from your applicator back to your face every time you use you apply makeup. When your tools are filthy, your skin may begin to break out. This can worsen preexisting acne or cause new flare-ups to occur.[9]


Staphylococcus, streptococcus, e. coli, fungus, and viruses can be spread.[6] Do not share makeup brushes with other people, and be sure to clean them thoroughly after each use. The risk is also greater if there is an open sore or irritation already on the skin. 


Dirty makeup brushes can disrupt the skin barrier and expose the skin to stress. When the skin barrier is not working as well, the skin can become drier leading to more visible wrinkles.


How Often Should Makeup Brushes be Cleaned?

Depending on use, washing more often is highly encouraged. Foundation and concealer brushes, in particular, should be cleaned more often because they are used all over the face and the product tends to stick onto the brush.

Ideally, brushes should be cleaned after every use. This may seem like a lot of work, however, easy techniques such as spraying makeup remover or alcohol on a towel and then swiping your brush through it can quickly remove unwanted bacteria right away.


How to Properly Clean Makeup Brushes

The best method for cleaning your tools requires only water and either a gentle soap or brush cleanser. Common alternative soaps and cleaners include face wash, baby shampoo, and dish soap.

Step-by-step cleaning method

  • Wet the bristles with lukewarm water.
  • Place a dime size drop of makeup brush cleanser or soap into the palm of your hand.
  • Gently massage the tips of the bristles in your palm.
  • Rinse the bristles.
  • Squeeze out the excess moisture with a clean towel.
  • Reshape the brush head.
  • Let the brush dry with its bristles hanging off the edge of a counter, allowing it to dry in the correct shape. Do not dry brushes on a towel because the bristles can become mildewed.

When washing, always keep the base of the brush head away from soap and water and do not dry brushes vertically. The bristles are glued to the base, and water and detergent can cause the glue to disintegrate and the bristles to loosen and shed.



Dust, dirt, allergens, toilet germs, bacteria, product buildup, oil, dead skin cells, and more all accumulate on your makeup brushes indirectly. There are many studies that discuss the relationship between the microbiome of makeup and our skin, and more research needs to be done on makeup brushes specifically. Since we already put so much time and effort into our skin care regimen, cleaning our brushes more often is an easy habit to fix that promotes cleaner and healthier skin. 

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