The Dirty Truth About Your Makeup Brushes

Makeup brushes are some of the most valuable products in your makeup bag. Obviously, it's important to have quality foundation, blush, and a nice eye shadow palette to highlight your peepers — but having dependable makeup brushes to apply those products is absolutely crucial. Makeup brushes are truly essential to any good beauty routine, and it can actually be quite fun to collect and maintain a solid group of these applicators.


However, when you use makeup brushes every day to apply your powder, blush, eyeshadow, bronzer, highlighter, or any other products you may use daily — the bristles on those brushes tend to become, well, dirty. And while you might not be able to see it with your naked eye, makeup brushes are usually much more filthy than you could ever imagine. 

Just like your cell phone is crawling with ugly bacteria, your makeup brushes are full of stuff you definitely don't want on your face. Even though they're supposed help you look and feel your best, your makeup brushes can actually wreak absolute havoc on your skin. Here's a look at the dirty truth about your makeup brushes.

Some makeup brushes get dirty enough to call for a daily wash

Makeup brushes may be more high maintenance than you probably realize. 

If you are someone who wears makeup every day, it's safe to say that makeup brushes are a necessity for you. And even if you only wear makeup a few times a week, your makeup brushes probably see quite a bit of action. Because of that — and because they can get really dirty — your makeup brushes should be washed regularly. In fact, Stowaway Cosmetics founder Julie Fredrickson told The Fashion Spot that she recommends people clean their makeup brushes after every single use, even if that means you have to wash them daily. 


"Dab some on a cotton swab, twirl the brush and that is enough," Fredrickson told the publication, explaining how to clean the brushes. She continued, saying, "Then, once a week, do a thorough cleaning with a cleanser that isn't too harsh." Added Fredrickson, "I personally use Dr. Bronner's."

Makeup brushes are loaded with fungi and other harmful bacteria

Obviously, your makeup brushes can get pretty dirty — especially if you're a person who wears makeup every single day. But just how dirty do your brushes actually get?

Well, as it turns out, there's a reason experts recommend regularly washing your makeup brushes — and it's not just to remove old makeup products that are stuck on the bristles. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, makeup brushes that aren't regularly cleaned can actually cause fungal infections, such E.coli — or even a life-threatening staph infection. 


As reported by Insider, a study published in the Journal of Applied Microbiology looked at the presence of bacteria in makeup products and found that "70% to 90% of all of these products" contained fungus and bacteria, including E. coli — which can cause diarrhea, urinary tract infections, and respiratory illnesses (via CDC). Since you probably don't want to just spread that all of that bacteria around your face, cleaning your makeup brushes is of utmost importance. No one wants E. coli on their cheekbones, no matter how much glow your favorite bronzer gives you.

Dirty makeup brushes can cause acne breakouts

Aside from makeup brushes just being plain dirty and gross, they can cause a lot of other issues for your skin, such as acne. 

Even if you wash your face regularly — and even if you use clean makeup products that claim they don't clog up your pores — your makeup brushes can still cause breakouts. Laramie, a professional makeup artist and the founder of Book Your Look, told Good Housekeeping that dirty makeup brushes are to blame for a lot of skin issues. "If you don't wash your makeup brushes enough, you spread dirt and bacteria from your face, to your makeup, then back to your face," they said. "If you've been breaking out and you've tried or ruled out everything else, your makeup brushes could be at fault." 


When you think about it, spreading dirt and even old makeup around on your skin really is cause for concern. And it's safe to say that no one wants to revisit those old breakouts from their hormonal high school years –  like, ever. 

Makeup brushes can carry pink eye-causing bacteria

Makeup brushes are helpful when trying to make your eyes pop with the right eyeshadow combo. However, if you're not careful, your makeup brushes could accentuate your eyes in a completely different way. 


When you think of pinkeye, you probably picture red, watery eyes caused by a disease that really only affects schoolchildren. But as it turns out, your unwashed makeup brushes could potentially be carrying pinkeye bacteria, which means you could be just one smokey-eye look away from contracting the nasty disease — even though your school days are long behind you.

Now, while it's unlikely that you'll get pinkeye from just not washing your makeup brushes, your chance increases when you share makeup brushes with other people. The dirty truth about makeup brushes is that they can hold on to pinkeye bacteria and transmit it from one person to another. In fact, the Missouri Department of Health and Human Services even warns that sharing your dirty makeup tools with friends could result in a nasty case of pink eye. "Do not share eye makeup, face make-up, make-up brushes, contact lenses and containers, or eyeglasses," the department's website warns.


Makeup brushes can even attract bugs

As if makeup brushes carrying around bacteria and fungus isn't gross enough, we're here to tell you that it gets even more disturbing. 

As it turns out, your makeup brushes can also attract an entirely different kind of disgusting creatures: bugs. That's right, the bristles that you use every day to apply your makeup can have tiny bugs hidden amongst them, and if that doesn't freak you out, then keep reading — because, unfortunately, it gets worse.


Lynne Sanders, a cosmetic scientist and the founder of Cosmetics a La Carte, told Glamour that even though you can't see them, there are probably bugs hiding out within the bristles of your makeup brushes. "Under the microscope, you may see the remains of mites on your brushes," Sanders said. She continued, explaining, "Most of us have these tiny creatures, about a third of a millimeter long, residing at the base of our eyelashes and nose hairs, living off old skin cells and sebum." Added Sanders, "They're generally considered harmless, but they may be implicated in acne." Harmless or not, we'd definitely rather avoid having bug remains spread all over our faces. 

The dirtier the makeup brush, the less effective it is

Your makeup brush is supposed to provide full coverage; however, most people likely don't know their makeup brushes are serving up a full face of germs.

Still, while most can agree that the germs, bacteria, fungi, and sometimes even bugs hiding out in your makeup brushes are disgusting, some folks might not think that it's really necessary to wash their handy brushes every day. However, there's another side effect of using dirty makeup brushes that just may make you want to invest in a good brush cleaner like, yesterday.


The dirtier your makeup bush is, the less effective it becomes. Not only are you spreading around germs on your face by using a makeup brush that hasn't been properly cleaned in months, but you're also not getting your money's worth out of your go-to applicator. "A dirty brush doesn't perform as well [when] distributing product," Artis founder Matthew Waitesmith told The Fashion Spot, comparing the usefulness of a dirty brush to a clean one. Waitesmith continued, saying, "When a brush is dirty, many people try to push harder on the brush to get a result." 

Makeup brushes may irritate your skin if they aren't cleaned regularly

Makeup brushes are meant to be a tool you can use in your quest to make your skin appear flawless. However, if you're using a dirty makeup brush, you can expect to see blemishes and other skin spots appear due to irritation. 


If you have sensitive skin, then you know how awful it can feel when something irritates your face. Unfortunately, that might become the new normal for you if you never wash your makeup brushes, as these applicators can seriously irritate your skin when they're dirty.

Not only does not washing your makeup brushes cause them to become dirty, but it dries out your brush's bristles, which can seriously hurt your skin the next time you go to powder your forehead (via Byrdie). Shawn Towne, global educator for jane iredale told New Beauty that a brush with dirty, dry bristles "also pushes the makeup into the skin, which can clog pores and irritate." So, make sure you wash your makeup brushes regularly, especially if you have sensitive skin and want to avoid further irritation.


Makeup brushes aren't meant to last forever

Makeup brushes may seem to be quite durable; however, even the highest quality brushes aren't meant to last forever.

If you're the type of person who stays on top of their makeup brushes' cleansing routine, good for you! But regularly cleaning your brushes doesn't mean they're going to last forever — nor should they. Sure, you might have spent a large amount of money on your beloved makeup brushes, but if you don't replace them when needed, those expensive brushes aren't doing you (or your skin) any good.


Famous makeup artist Bobbi Brown told Allure that it's important to spend time going through your old makeup brushes and throwing some away. "It's time to toss your makeup brush when the bristles start to fray, shed, or lose their shape," Brown told the publication. She continued, explaining, "I can't emphasize enough that the right tools are as important in getting the look you want as the actual makeup itself." Added Brown, "If your brushes become too pinched or squashed, then they simply will not be up to the job." 

Expired makeup brushes make expired makeup that much worse

Makeup brushes aren't the only items in your makeup bag that need to be thrown away and replaced from time to time. 

Beauty and skincare products like foundation, eye shadow, mascara, eyeliner, and even sunscreen (just to name a few) all have expiration dates — and if you choose to apply expired makeup with old, dirty makeup brushes, you'll only be worsening the negative effects old makeup can have on your skin.


According to Insider, a study from the Journal of Applied Microbiology found that people who used expired makeup products had even more bacteria on their makeup brushes. Most products have an expiration date spanning anywhere from three to 12 months, according to the website. However, many people didn't pay attention to the expiration date on their makeup products, which caused any antibacterial ingredients within those makeup products to lose their power, and left room for more and more bacteria to form. Add the bacteria from expired makeup products to the bacteria in old, unwashed makeup products, and you get — you guessed it — more bacteria than you'd ever want on your face. 

Dirty makeup brushes can cause cold sores to reappear

You might use makeup brushes to cover blemishes on your face — but if you're not careful, making this makeup mistake might actually cause that pesky blemish to reappear. 

One of the most annoying, uncomfortable things that can happen to your face is a cold sore. This blemish is actually caused by a strain of the herpes virus (via Mayo Clinic) — and if you get one, it may seem like it takes forever for it to fully go away. And if you aren't careful, you could prolong a cold sore's unexpected visit.


Makeup artist and owner of Sonia Kashuk makeup, Sonia Kashuk, told Refinery29 that the most important thing you can do is to wash your makeup tools – especially after battling an infection of the eye or a cold sore. As Kashuk explained to Refinery29,  "If you have an eye infection or a cold sore, you should wash all of your tools and throw away any cosmetics you used during that time." One cold sore is bad enough, but having it come back because you didn't wash your makeup brushes after? That would be the absolute worst.

Dirty makeup brushes may steal your skin's glow

Makeup brushes have the potential to provide your skin with a lovely, sun-kissed glow. However, if you're using makeup brushes that aren't regularly cleaned, you may find your glow growing dimmer with every use. 


As it turns out, you need to wash your makeup brushes regularly if you want your radiant, summertime glow to remain constant. Dr. Elizabeth Tanzi, a dermatologist and the founder of Capital Laser and Skin Care, told Redbook that dirty makeup brushes can really rob your skin of its natural glow. "Sebum is the waxy or oily material produced by the skin that comes out through the pores." Dr. Tanzi said. She continued, explaining, "When that sebum builds up on a brush, it just gets applied right back to the skin."

Added Dr. Tanzi, "Too much sebum on the surface of the skin reduces the reflection of light off the skin, which can make it look dull." Sure, you could buy a $300 serum that's supposed to brighten your skin tone — but if you aren't cleaning your makeup brushes, even the most expensive products — like a quality toner — won't do much for your skin.


Makeup brushes may cause wrinkles if you don't clean them regularly

Makeup brushes are supposed to help you conceal wrinkles, but if you don't regularly clean your brushes, you may end up with more smile lines than makeup can hide.

While it's virtually impossible to avoid getting any wrinkles during your life, it's understandable to want to do what you can to avoid them. And there are definitely things you can do to prevent wrinkles, such as using sunscreen, watching your diet, or just springing for Botox. Unfortunately, however, dirty makeup brushes can throw all that hard work away if you aren't careful. Dr. Debbie Palmer, a dermatologist and the co-founder of Dermatology Associates of New York, told Good Housekeeping that your makeup brushes can actually age you if you don't wash them. "Dirty makeup brushes can expose the skin to oxidative stress from free radicals, which causes a breakdown of collagen and elastin and can result in premature aging," Dr. Palmer explained. 


For most people, the point of makeup and skincare is to preserve your skin's youth and look as radiant as possible, so having your makeup brushes actually make you look older definitely defeats the purpose.

Herpes is a possibility if you use dirty makeup brushes every day

Can makeup brushes cause you to catch herpes? According to some experts, the answer is yes.

In fact, in 2017, CNN reported that a woman who claimed she caught herpes from testing makeup was actually totally valid in her assumption. According to CNN, since herpes on your face can last for ten days or so, any makeup brushes used within this timespan could pick up the virus and spread it to other parts of your face. As microbiologist Amreen Bashir explained, "Makeup brushes that touch these [herpes-infected] parts of the face can then spread the infection to other people." 


Additionally, if a makeup brush contracts herpes and then comes in contact with a cut on your skin, you could possibly get it again. Dr. Bethanee Schlosser, the director of the Women's Skin Health Program at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, told Self, "The risk is always greater if there's an open sore already, or an irritation of the skin." Added Dr. Schlosser, any kind of microscopic nick in the skin could set you up for potentially getting an infection."

Dirty makeup brushes can literally paralyze you

Dirty makeup brushes can cause a myriad of problems for your skin. However, the scariest side effect of using dirty brushes could negatively impact your entire body.

Not to scare you too much, but when you use a dirty makeup brush, you actually run the slight risk of rendering yourself paralyzed. Yes, it's rare, but paralyzation from contaminated makeup brushes has happened – and if you aren't careful, it could potentially happen to you or someone you know.


In 2015 a young mother in Australia was determined to have developed a staph infection which paralyzed from her waist down, leaving her in a wheelchair for the rest of her life. And as the woman, Jo Gilchrist, explained to the Daily Mail, it all started with dirty makeup brush. "The only thing we can put it down to is the makeup brush," Gilchrist told the publication. She continued, saying, "My friend did have a staph infection on her face and I was using her brush just before." Added Gilchrist, "I had no idea that could even happen, I used to share with my friends all the time."