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Best makeup brush cleaner 2020: How to clean makeup brushes

A dermatologist and makeup artists weigh in on how to effectively sanitize your beauty tools. Shop their expert recommendations — and a few editor picks, too.
How to clean your makeup brushes and prevent acne, pimples and breakouts, according to dermatologists and makeup artists. Easy ways to clean your makeup tools and Beautyblenders include UV sanitizers, Dial soap, Dawn dish soap and Sigma Beauty product.
Cleansing your makeup brushes, sponges and tools don't have to cost a lot of money, according to the beauty pros we consulted — shop their affordable recommendations on Amazon, Walmart and Dermstore.NBC News, Ted Chai/Coraluv

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Cleaning your makeup brushes regularly is always necessary, experts told us, and right now, it might be more critical than ever before because of Covid. "Dirty brushes can become breeding grounds for bacteria, and when used again on your face can lead to breakouts or skin irritations," said Hadley King, a board-certified dermatologist. She noted dirty brushes and sponges could spread bacteria, yeast and viral infections like herpes or pink eye. The combination of dirt and oils from your skin and caked makeup can clog your pores and lead to acne, too. And while there are a slew of skin care products made for acne-prone skinsunscreen, Differin gel and salicylic acid — washing your brushes can help prevent the spread of acne-causing bacteria in the first place. So, it's best to take preventative measures when possible, experts urge. Additionally, King noted, dirty makeup sponges and brushes could cause your makeup to apply unevenly or with streaks.

So what about Covid and makeup brushes? Since applying makeup involves close contact with our eyes, King explained that it might mean contact with the mucosal surface of our eyes, nose or mouth — especially if not applied carefully. “If we touch a contaminated surface and then touch our mucosa [mucus membrane], then, theoretically, the virus could be passed from the surface to the hands to the mucosa — but we don't know exactly how likely that is, particularly with something like a makeup brush,” she said.

Given the above and if you’re inclined to elevate your makeup brush cleaning routine or convinced to begin one, what's the best way to clean your makeup brushes and Beautyblenders? To find out, I also consulted in-demand makeup artists to learn how and what products they use to sanitize their kit essentials during the age of Covid. I also share a few of my favorite products I've come to rely on over the last eight months to clean my collection of 70-plus makeup brushes.

Best products to clean your makeup brushes

1. Cinema Secrets Makeup Brush Cleaner

Scott Barnes, a celebrity makeup artist and founder of his namesake cosmetics line, and Andie Markoe-Bryne, a makeup artist in New York, recommended Cinema Secrets Makeup Brush Cleaner. "To clean my brushes (or any brush), I use Cinema Secrets Makeup Brush Cleaner, to disinfect and get rid of excess product in the brush immediately after use," said Barnes. Afterward, he deep cleans with Dawn Dish Soap and lukewarm water. The LA-based artist said it helps with tough-to-remove makeup like creams from brushes. A general rule of his for disinfecting tools is using something with 70 percent alcohol, which is aligned with the CDC's guidance on hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent ethyl alcohol (ethanol) or 70 percent isopropyl alcohol. "If you use something that is 90 percent [alcohol], it dries too fast and doesn't accurately disinfect the brush," said Barnes. Cinema Secrets claims its highly-rated product — it holds a 4.3-star rating from more than 1,000 Sephora reviews — is an antimicrobial disinfectant that cleans your brushes quickly, no-rinse required, which is why the makeup artists we consulted keep it handy when working. You pour a little bit of the blue liquid into a bowl or dish, dip your entire brush or just the tips into the product and it melts the makeup off your tools.

2. Dial antibacterial soap

Markoe-Bryne uses a three-step system. After utilizing Cinema Secrets Cleaner, she uses antibacterial soap and recommended using a soap bar for synthetic bristle brushes and liquid soap for fluffy brushes to help remove concealer and lipstick. "You can really rub all the product out to the center of the brush," she said. After letting her brushes dry overnight, she disinfects them in her UV sanitizer of choice, the 59S sterilizer box, as a preventative step. She added that after removing the products, she'll wipe the inside and outside of the box down with rubbing alcohol and uses the gadget to sanitize her phone, too. King recommended placing a few drops of antibacterial soap on your finger or toothbrush to scrub brush bristles and crevices. You can rinse your beauty tools with warm water and then allow the brush head to air dry overnight. Look for a gentle option such as this clean-smelling antibacterial soap from Dial. I've been buying it for as long as I can remember, and it's gentle enough not to strip moisture from my hands after washing. The soap is also highly-rated on Amazon with a 4.7-star average rating from more than 1,340 reviews.

3. Coral 3-in-1 UV Sterilizer and Dryer

"UV light devices are worth purchasing because they are known to be effective and have already been in use pre-Covid for sanitation purposes," Ehsan Ali, MD, of Beverly Hills Concierge Doctor Inc, previously told NBC News Shopping. During our chat, he noted that UV sanitizers could disinfect various items, ranging from makeup brushes and retainers to face masks and sunglasses. After speaking with Ali, I discovered this top-rated UV sanitizer on Amazon that was designed to fit up to six baby bottles. Although I can't fit my iPad Pro in there, it can store my reusable water bottles, facemasks, keys, smartphone and Beats by Dre headphones, just not at the same time. The gadget enables me to clean my belongings in as little as 10 minutes or sanitize and dry my items in 40 minutes. There's also a button to sanitize for a full 24 hour period, too — it sanitizes and dries for 50 minutes, then every two hours (up to 24 hours), it sanitizes in your belongings for two minutes.

4. Sigma Beauty SigMagic Brushampoo

My go-to liquid makeup brush cleanser is from Sigma Beauty because the brand claims it is an antimicrobial formula and I find that it removes residual makeup from my synthetic and natural bristle brushes and Beautyblenders with ease. It's also a fragrance- and sulfate-free formula made with natural ingredients like virgin coconut oil and certified sustainable palm oil, which is always a win in my book. While cleansing, I like to rub the brush bristles into the Sigma brush cleaning mat to get into all of the nooks and crannies of my tools and hang them bristle side-down in the Sigma Dry'n Shape, which looks like a tiered wedding cake.

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