The Brush Up: Makeup Brushes 101

The idea of sharing makeup brushes grosses me out. After all, I had read the poll (July 2011) which found that a staggering 45 percent of women surveyed about brush care NEVER clean their makeup brushes. So how do you keep them clean?
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A make-up or cosmetic brush and pink mineral powder blush.
A make-up or cosmetic brush and pink mineral powder blush.

At a recent neighborhood party, my friend Sarah passed me the new Nars blush she was sure I hadn't tried. "A bit dark for me," I replied, secure with my own shade of Deep Throat by the same brand. "Here," she said, thrusting the makeup brush into my hands. It appeared to be covered in powder mingled with tiny bits of dust and I wondered: Did she clean this makeup brush from time to time or... ever?! The idea of sharing makeup brushes slightly grossed me out. After all, I had read the poll (July 2011) which found that a staggering 45 percent of women surveyed about brush care NEVER clean their makeup brushes. Back in high school, I had snuck my baby brother's Johnson's shampoo from under my mom's nose and used a small amount to clean my brushes. Then, I stealthily hid them in a cup on a high shelf to dry. That way, none of my three siblings would throw them out. I always wondered about my own high school hygiene (today, I frequently use brushes just a few times and then replace them, which is an expensive habit, and as you will see below, not what one expert advises!), but after recently passing brush cleaning spray at Sephora, I wondered: How does one properly clean a makeup brush? At BeautyStat, we consulted with the experts and following, are their tips:

Don't Get It Twisted

"The biggest mistake women make is using the same brush for every product," explains Kim Soane, Bobby Brown's Director of Global Artistry, "Each product should always be applied with its own brush. If you use the same brush for every product your face will look muddy or too red." Notes celebrity makeup artist Alison Raffaele: "People tend to pick up way too much pigment on their brushes at once. Better to start with less, blend & then add more."

Wash Often

"The second biggest mistake is not washing your brushes at least once every two weeks," says Soane, "Remember; you bought your brushes without makeup in them. You will always get the best results when using clean ones." Raffaele explains that by not cleaning brushes regularly "the build-up of makeup, dead skin cells & oil turns abrasive over time, leading to hard, scratchy, broken bristles."

How to Clean Your Brushes

Natural hair bristles (used for "dry" makeups) should be washed once per week with a mild shampoo," says Raffaele, explaining that these type of bristles need to be fumigated and it is best to wash before first usage. She warns that if a brush irritates the skin, it's almost a guarantee that it needs washing. "Reshape and blot bristles with a towel and lay flat to dry. Synthetic bristles should be used for all 'moist' makeups, but can be used for dry ones, too. Synthetic bristles wash up best when lathered against a bar of soap." Furthermore, Raffaele adds "Moist products should be washed off each day, dry products once per week -- then blot, reshape & lay flat to dry. Once dry, store makeup brushes standing up or lie them flat, making sure not to crush bristles."

The Experts' Favorites

Raffaele has her own brand of brushes, but as far as other brands go, she likes Bobbi Brown, MAC & MUFE. "Well cared for, quality brushes can last 10-15 years," she explains, "Poor quality or poorly cared for brushes can fall apart in weeks." When working on other people as a makeup artist, Raffaele's preference is a large concealer brush because "it fits under most people's eyes to blend concealer perfectly!" When it comes to doing her own makeup, she loves a foundation sponge: "With one of those babies, I can sheer out or heavy up my foundation in a flash."

For Soane, it is all about a big fluffy (Bobby Brown) bronzer brush which she does not leave home without. This gives her skin a soft wash of bronzy glow. "A good quality fluffy bronzer brush is the BEST and ONLY way to apply bronzers and face powders," she asserts, adding, "It will prevent streaks and uneven application."

...And the Bottom Line ($$$)?"I prefer to buy my brushes individually so I get exactly what I need," says Raffaele "Small brushes for eyes/lips run generally between $15-25 each, and larger brushes for powder and blush, somewhere between $40-75." For quality makeup brushes, she estimates based on experience that a total investment would be within a $100-200 range. "Which Brush Does What?"Raffaele says there are a couple of brush basics to keep in mind:

1. The shorter & more tightly packed the bristles, the more precise & concentrated the application; the longer & fluffier the bristles, the more diffuse the application2. "Moist" products, such as lipstick, concealer & foundation require synthetic bristles (natural bristles are too delicate & would break very quickly if used regularly with moist products)3. Look for a brush that "fits" the area you want to work on. People's faces are different, so what works great for me as a lip brush may be too large for someone else.4. The name of the brush (i.e. "shadow brush") is a suggestion -- Don't be afraid to use it elsewhere. Any brush can be used anywhere, just make sure to clean it before changing products, or you might wind up with "muddy" colors. For quick changes, use a spritz of chemical brush cleaner like Parian Spirit on a paper towel & wipe your brush clean.5. Well cared for, quality brushes can last 10-15 years. Poor quality or poorly cared for brushes can fall apart in weeks.

For even more info on makeup brushes and how to care for them, see the full article at

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