Clean-Up Crew
Clean-Up Crew
Photo by Deverill Weekes
KJ at work at IMATS Los Angeles


By Kevin James Bennett

In my last article, I guided you through the endless sea of make-up brush choices. We discussed materials, construction and brush shapes. We didn’t discuss cleaning and maintenance, though, which are the two most critical steps in protecting your new investment or reviving older brushes.

With each use, your make-up brushes become coated with more than just make-up residue. They pick up body oils (sebum), dead skin (yuck!) and airborne dust and dirt (what?). The most dangerous consequence of dirty brushes is that they become a playground for bacteria, which can cause skin problems and possible infection. In short, your brushes need to be cleaned regularly and properly. If they aren’t, all this debris will build up and decrease the life expectancy of your brushes, forcing you to replace them more often, which can get very expensive.

There are two main ways to clean make-up brushes: Quick fixes are good for daily maintenance; deep cleanings are more time consuming and should be practiced weekly at a minimum. Both are necessary for optimum make-up brush health.

If your brushes are only for personal use, spot cleaning daily and deep cleaning once a week should keep them in top condition and safe for your skin. If you’re a professional make-up artist, it is imperative that you clean your brushes between every application and perform a deep cleaning at the end of each workday. And I have two “never” rules for you: Never use a dirty brush on anyone sitting in your chair—it’s an open invitation to pass infections like herpes and pinkeye. And never blow excess product off your brushes—do you realize how much bacteria is in saliva?

At jobs where I’m working on several people, I carry at least two full sets of brushes. After a make-up is complete, either my assistant or I will do a quick cleaning/disinfecting of the first set before I begin the next make-up with the second set. This allows the first set to dry completely so it will be ready for the next face.

Quick Cleaning Tips

You’re probably familiar with spray-and-wipe or quick-dip make-up brush cleansers. Most of the commercially available cleansers disinfect as well as clean. Simply spray the cleanser on brush bristles or quickly dip them into a small amount of cleanser in a shallow bowl or cup, then gently wipe dry with a paper towel or shop towel. These instant cleansers usually have a high alcohol content so that brushes dry quickly, but unfortunately, this time-saving benefit can also leave a film of cleansing agent and some of the debris behind. This quick-clean process is great for removing surface make-up and disinfecting, but will not get the imbedded make-up and debris out of your make-up brush.

Some of the most popular professional make-up brush cleansers are:

•    Cinema Secrets: This is a very popular brush cleanser. Bonus: It has a yummy vanilla scent. Be careful, though: the blue tint will stain light-colored or white brushes.
•    Parian Spirit: Parian uses citrus solvents to cleanse and condition brushes while leaving a pleasant citrus scent behind. One drawback: It also leaves a slightly oily residue on synthetic (nylon, taklon, polyester) brushes.
•    Ben Nye and Kryolan: Both of these brands work very effectively to remove cream and liquid products like foundation and concealer from make-up brushes. Possible deal breaker: no pretty scents. You can definitely smell the high alcohol content of both products when brushes are wet, but the smell disappears when the brushes are dry.

Prefer the DIY approach? You can make a batch of KJ’s Homemade Quick Brush Cleanser, which is an effective and cost-saving alternative to buying brush cleanser. To make, combine the following ingredients and store in a tightly sealed, non-corrosive acrylic or glass bottle:

12 oz. 90- to 99-percent alcohol
3 oz. cosmetic-grade acetone
1 oz. jojoba oil
About 30 drops of tea tree or grapefruit-seed essential oil (both are highly antibacterial)

Full Cleansing and Maintenance Tips

Regular deep cleaning, along with occasional conditioning, will preserve your make-up brushes and keep them in optimum shape. Natural hair make-up brushes deserve the same treatment as the hair on your head. Would you shampoo your hair with dishwashing liquid? Of course not! That kind of treatment would make your hair dry and brittle, causing breakage. The same thing will happen to your natural-hair make-up brushes if you use the wrong products to clean them.
I wash my brushes with a quality “detox” shampoo. These shampoos are designed to remove styling product build-up on your hair, so they easily remove make-up from your natural-hair or synthetic-fiber make-up brushes. Some excellent detox shampoos are:

•    Abba Pure Detox Shampoo
•    Rusk Sensories Clarify Shampoo
•    Healthy Sexy Hair Pumpkin Detoxifying Shampoo
•    Kevin Murphy Maxi Wash Detox Shampoo
•    Ojon Detox Recovery Cleanser

Mix one part shampoo to eight parts warm (not hot) water in a small bowl or mug. Dip the brush head in the solution and gently massage it through the bristles. Rinse the bristles well with warm water and squeeze the excess water out of the brush with a towel. Reshape the bristles and lay them out on paper towels. If you can, lay the brushes on a counter with the bristles hanging over the edge. This will allow air to circulate all around the brush head to dry faster. Never stand your brushes up to dry. The moisture will seep back into the handle, loosen glue and rot or warp the wood. It will also cause the bristles to splay or fan out and lose their original shape.

Prior to every sixth washing, I condition my natural-hair make-up brushes. Massage some jojoba oil into the bristles and let it sit for about five minutes. Do not rinse. Add a small amount of shampoo directly to the bristles and massage it into the oil. Now begin to add small amounts of water until lather appears. Rinse and dry as described previously.

Please send your questions for KJ to  kjbennett@makeup411.com