Explained: Makeup Hygiene

Warning: This post contains some images you might not like.

I can’t stress enough how important it is to keep your makeup clean. Whether you use it only on yourself, or if you are an MUA and use it on many people, your makeup and brushes/tools NEED to be clean and well looked after.

One of the problems the beauty industry as a whole faces is that we are not taken seriously. Anyone can buy beauty products online and can start practicing without the correct training or knowledge. This puts the customers health at great risk. You would´t go to an unqualified dentist to have root canal surgery so why go to a cheap nail tech or MUA? Sometimes clients even under value the service they are paying for. They think that they can do the makeup for their shoot or that they can do it better. I’ve had comments like:

“I don’t need her, anyone can apply lipstick”

“It’s just foundation and powder, you don’t need to be an expert to do it”

and finally my all time favorite:

“That eyeshadow cost how much? Why do you waste your money on expensive makeup you can get it on eBay for a dollar!?”

Sometimes it can take a lot of self control not to bite back. I mean designers going on about how expensive and luxurious their fabrics are should surely understand why I choose MAC, Illamasqua, Anastasia Beverly Hills and Urban Decay over unbranded eBay merchandise? These same people often don’t understand just how much work goes into just PREPARING for a shoot. I’m very sure most of them think I just walk in with my normal handbag full of makeup and start throwing it at the model.

So what should you do to keep your makeup clean if you are working on a client?

Before each client I wash and disinfect my brushes, makeup and other tools and the after each client I wash and disinfect my brushes, makeup and tools. During the application I spot clean makeup and brushes with IPA. Everything has to be clean, cross contamination is dangerous and the clients health is the number one priority.

So before we get to the cleaning side of things, I would like to draw attention to WHY I keep everything so clean.

I use my tools on many different people from models, to actors to everyday joes. Models and actors, just like us everyday folk have skin issues. Using brushes on someone with bad skin not only contaminates the brushes but also any makeup which it comes into contact with. Certain skin conditions are not such a worry but depending on which condition it is can mean the difference between losing your kit or losing your reputation. The worst possible thing that could happen is for me to infect a client because of poorly looked after makeup. That would leave a very unhappy client and a reputation in tatters. They say good news travels but bad news spreads like a plague.

What can happen:

Below you can see examples of the different types of infections that can be spread by using dirty brushes, makeup and not forgetting makeup counters. Any kind of public makeup, whether they are testers or the shop assistants ‘own’ brushes, carry a much higher risk of carrying bacteria that can mess up your face.

Uten navn1. Acne, Bad Skin, Breakouts and other people’s oils

While Acne itself is not contagious, the bacteria that causes Acne and spots is transferable from person to person. You will not “catch” acne from being around someone with acne or from sharing their things, but if you can transfer their bacteria to yourself if you choose to share personal items such as makeup brushes. The bacteria on one persons face can effect another persons face completely differently.

2. Impetigo

Impetigo is a highly contagious bacterial skin infection and I mean highly contagious. Touching or scratching the sores may easily spread the infection to other parts of the body, and to other people. Coming into contact with the sores can be enough to catch this skin disease. Using the same towel, face cloth, sponge or makeup brush as someone who is infected can infect you. Symptom start showing 1-3 days after exposure.

3. Conjunctivitis/Pink Eye

I’m sure most of you are familiar with conjunctivitis. Bacterial conjunctivitis causes the rapid onset of conjunctiva redness, swelling of the eyelid, and that yellow discharge you can see in the image. Typically, symptoms develop first in one eye, but may spread to the other eye within 2-5 days. Bacterial conjunctivitis due to common pus-producing bacteria. But, the discharge is not essential to the diagnosis. Commonly, conjunctival infections are passed from person-to-person in the form of poor hand hygiene, but can also spread through contaminated objects or water.

If you are using/share makeup and tools with someone who has Acne you are probably going to be OK. Acne is not considered contagious (although some studies indicate otherwise). The risks that come with this skin condition are vastly minimised by using an antibacterial cleaner or rubbing alcohol (the higher the percentage the better), washing your brushes correctly and if possible, sterilizing them.

Should your brushes or makeup come into contact with Impetigo or Conjunctivitis then you have to trash it. Don’t even risk it, especially if you are using the products on other people. That may mean that you have to trash £200 worth of gear but £200 is nothing compared to your reputation. Keeping makeup that has become contaminated also increases the risk of the infection recurring. You may remember recently that I had an allergic reaction to some eyeshadow that caused a pink eye like infection. Of course I no longer use that product but just be safe I trashed everything I had used up to 4 days prior to the infection setting in and didn’t not use any products or brushes until the infection/reaction had subsided. All of my brushes and tools were washed thoroughly, disinfected and then sterilized in a UV cleaner. I have not had a repeat outbreak which means that any contamination was contained and destroyed.

Of course if you chose not to follow my advice and trash products then please, please, please make sure you clean and sterilize the “shit out of that shit”

Brush and tool care:

The following is one example of how you can clean your brushes and makeup. There are many different methods and this is just one of them.

Photo 21.01.13 20 37 22You will need:

  • A clean towel
  • Baby shampoo or brush shampoo
  • Anti Bacterial Surface Cleaner
  • Anti Bacterial alcohol, IPA or ethanol (I use IPA 75% which decant into 100ml spray bottle as I purchased it in a 5ltr bottle and it is not pictured above)
  • Cotton Pads (lint free are best but normal ones will do)
  • Dirty things to clean

Photo 21.01.13 20 39 40Before you begin with the actual cleaning make sure that you have cleaned your work surface and sink with an anti bacterial cleaner. Whatever surface, material or “instrument” you are using to dry your brushes on should also be disinfected. There are lots of different fancy ways to let your brushes dry but as long as they are pointing downwards so the water can not get inside the ferule, they will not be damaged. I take a towel and roll half of it up then turn it over so that the brushes are at a downwards angle. Then I spray over the towel with IPA and once it is dry there is a clean surface to rest the bristles on. Below you can see other examples of how to dry your brushes that I found on Pinterest.

Uten navn

People definitely get creative with their drying methods and as long as everything is clean and prepped correctly the drying method is not important. As long as it works!

Again, make sure that your workspace is clean. Antibacterial surface cleaners are your best friend. Once you have your work station prepared you can begin. I like to use the kitchen sink. I have the dirty brushes on the left of the sink and as they are cleaned they are placed on the right side of the sink to avoid contaminating the clean ones. (The pictures are from my old apartment, but the method is still the same just in a different location)Photo 21.01.13 20 39 06Begin by wetting a cotton pad with the IPA (or chosen cleaning solution) and swirl the brush in the cotton untill it stops dropping product onto the cotton. This serves two purposes, it removes the majority of the product while also killing off any bacteria that is living in the bristles. The higher the alcohol % the better the clean (and the faster they dry). This is also called spot cleaning which I do throughout the day when working with clients. I don’t have time to wash my brushes properly and wet brushes are no good so this allows for fast cleaning.

WARNING: the more concentrated the alcohol the faster is evaporates but the drier it will make your bristles. So this should not be your ONLY form of brush care.

You don’t have to start your cleaning ritual this way, you can begin with the wet wash but I like to do  this first just to make sure everything is doubly clean. Once you have cleaned all your brushes this way, you are ready to move onto the next stage.

Photo 21.01.13 20 41 15Using baby oil, or brush shampoo, swirl and work the soap into the bristles. Some brushes take longer than others. I find blush, powder and liquid foundation brushes require the most cleaning due to either the fluffiness of the brush or the product in question.

When you start the soap bubbles will be discoloured, for example if you are cleaning a foundation brush then the soap bubbles in the bristles will be orange, then yellow and as the brush is cleaned the bubbles will turn white. Once you are only getting white bubbles, rinse the brush under luke warm running water. If the water is too hot you risk melting the glue that holds the bristles in place. Be careful to keep the brush head pointing downwards to make sure that no water enters the ferule. Make sure that you rinse the bristles thoroughly. Any soap product left in there will make the bristles stiff and stop product applying evenly.

Tap your brush against the heel of your palm to remove as much water as possible.

Photo 21.01.13 20 42 18

Shape the brush back to its original form and place at an angle on the towel. (or in one of the other methods) If you have any brushes that are particularly stubborn to clean you can leave them soapy for a few minutes to allow the soap to work better. I find this helps with foundation brushes and brushes that have come into contact with glitter.

Once you have washed all your brushes leave them to dry for a couple of hours. Make sure that the place you have chosen to dry them is open, not to warm and free for your use. There is nothing worse than having to move brushes halfway through a dry. Once the brushes are dry I then go back and do the spot clean again with cotton pads and alcohol. This serves 2 purposes. If the brush is not clean of product or soap, you will see this one the cotton pad and you know to go back to the wet wash. It also disinfects them again. Once the brushes are dry you can then sterilise them in a UV Steriliser. I would steal clear of steam sterilisation for brushes as that can break down the glue´s and cause your brushes to start shedding. If you are using the brushes only on yourself then you don´t need to work about sterilising them.

Keeping your makeup clean:

Next, clean your makeup! The best way to keep your makeup clean is to use clean spatulas to depot a little product onto a mixing palette. That way you avoid double dipping, but that is not always possible and for personal use you don’t need to worry so much about that. If you are using the makeup on clients then there are a few things to remember.

  • Pencils should be sharpened before and after use on a client, even if the pencil is at a point already. This makes sure that the tip is clean and therefor ready to come into contact with the client.
  • Mascaras, liquid eyeliners, lip glosses, liquid lipstick or anything else packaged with an applicator should always be used with disposable applicators.
  • Never double dip a disposable applicator. If you need more product, use a new disposable applicator.
  • Do not “pump” products in tubes like lip glosses or mascaras. When you “pump” the applicator in and out you are forcing air into the packaging. This can cause the product to dry out, turn bad before its expiration date or even become contaminated due to bacteria in the air being carried in.
  • Even if a product is still full, if the expiration date has passed then trash it. Never use out of date products on clients or yourself. (Advised expiration dates are at the bottom of this post)
  • If a product smells bad, don use is, trash it. If it has lost consistency, trash it. If it seems to have deteriorated, regardless of the expiration date, trash it. Better safe than sorry

Photo 21.01.13 20 45 05


Now, for products like lipsticks, it is always best to depot them into palettes when you are working on clients. It saves room in your kit bag and it also means that you can scoop out what you need. However, if you want to keep your lipsticks in their packaging, you can easily keep them clean and sanitary whilst using them on multiple clients.

If you keep your lipsticks in the tube and you want to clean them, or if you have broken the end and you wish for a nice shape, take a cotton pad soaked in rubbing alcohol and wipe the bullet. not only does this remove the top layer of ‘dirty’ product, it cleans and shapes the bullet. It is best to use lint free cotton pads for this to avoid making a cottony mess of your bullet.

If you keep your lipsticks in a tray, you can use the following method on them. I have pictured this method with eyeshadow but it works for all powder and products in palettes.

Photo 21.01.13 20 44 16

Start off with our ‘dirty’ palette. Knock any excess/loose product off. Now you want to spray your palette. I use a spray bottle ( the spray bottle I used here was an up cycled bottle that was originally filled with E.L.F. Studio Makeup Mist & Set, but you can pick up empty bottles from most drugstores in the holiday department). Make sure you wash the bottle well and fill it with your rubbing alcohol. I then spritz it on each of the shadows/products. Using a cotton pad wet with rubbing alcohol I clean up around the edges of the palette, this mainly because they look nicer to clients if they are not dusty. Then leave it to dry for an hour or so. Don’t try to use it while it is wet.






Many companies do makeup cleaning products if you are more comfortable investing in one of them. I love the MAC Brush Cleanser but baby shampoo works just as well if you are on a budget. If you are working on clients, make sure to wash your hands regularly and don’t forget to keep a bottle of hand sanitizer in your kit, so that you can keep clean as you work! With all this alcohol flying around, your hands will suffer, so its also a good idea to keep a hand lotion nearby to keep your mitts nice and soft.

This is just my “10 cents” on keeping your kit clean. There are a 1000 other methods and many are just personal preference. Get yourself a routine. If you only use your makeup collection on yourself then this is really too much. Once a week wet wash for brushes and daily spot cleaning should suffice. There are also a lot of useful videos on Youtube. One of my favourite you tubers is Gossmakeupartist and he does a great cleaning tutorial.



Expiration dates:

As I mentioned earlier, it is never a good idea to use out of date products on anyone. When you use an out of date product you risk your own health or your clients. I mean, you don’t eat rotten chicken, so why use rotten mascara? Products begin to degrade immediately once the seal has been broken. (they actually begin to degrade almost as soon as they are made but if properly sealed by the manufacturer this is not a huge issue usually). So as soon as a product has come into contact with the air, the real expiration begins.  Usually the first sign of a “turned” product is that it no longer works the way it used too. Mascaras tend to become thick and clumpy, lipsticks turn dry and waxy, eyeshadows become chalky and hard to apply. There might also be a smell. I find mascaras can give off a sort of sour smell when they go bad, as can foundation and other liquids.

But a poor performance is just the start. As the product begins to break down, it changes. The molecular structure of the ingredients change. For example, a foundation that once provided SPF protection no longer protects you, meaning your skin can be damaged by the sun without you realising. As the product breaks down and changes, you could have an allergic reaction to the new formula that the product is creating. Redness, breakouts, blisters, rashes, itchiness can be signs that your once beloved HG product has started to turn against you. Not only this but bacteria present in the product can turn a product, make it unsafe and possibly lead to all those sexy infections that I mentioned in the beginning of this post.

So it really isn´t worth the risk in my opinion, to use products that are past their recommended life span. You won’t find an expiration date as such on beauty products. Not in the same way you see a “use before xx/xx/20xx” on your food. Instead you find a little illustration of a pot with a number inside. Like the one pictured below.


This one indicates that the product should only be used for 12 months after opening. Whatever number is there, indicates the lifespan of the product. Just as each product has a different use, it has a different lifespan. Brands can also differ in expiration but generally products fall under the following expiration dates.

  • Mascara: 3 months
  • Liquid liners: 6 months
  • Pencil products: 12 months
  • Foundation: 12 months
  • Nail polish: 12 months
  • Concealer: 12 months
  • Cream products: 12 months
  • Powder products: 18 months
  • Eye shadows: 18 months
  • Lipsticks: 18 months

These dates are a general guide, so always check your products for the expiration, especially indie products as they tend to have a shorter lifespan. It hurts to throw away something so expensive but when it comes to ours and clients health, it is always better to play it safe.

I hope that this has been useful and if I missed anything, or you disagree with anything then please comment below!



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