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Brush cleaning 101

  If you are a makeup artist, one of the most important things you can do is keep your brushes clean and sanitized. Having clean brushes is more than just an aesthetic, you can seriously infect someone with staph or the herpes virus by simply not cleaning your brushes properly, or thoroughly.     

there are different methods to cleaning brushes, and different circumstances where each method comes into play. I'm going to break down each method, and explain the anatomy of the brush itself.

The brush:

Your makeup brushes are one of the biggest investments you can make for your kit, and when properly taken care of you can keep your brushes in your kit for upwards of ten years. There are 3 main sections to your brush.

1- the handle. The construction of the handle can be a very important decision in your choice of which brush to purchase. There are many different types and materials that handles are made out of, like plastic, wood, and metal. And each type also has a coating on top. Plastic handles generally have a varnish or rubberized handle which can be very comfortable to hold, however keep in mind that most rubberized finishes wrinkle and peel when exposed to alcohol. Wooden handles are quite often dipped in a lacquer finish and can be quite sturdy. A con to the wooden handle is that its quite common for it to come loose from the ferrule over time. Metal handles are one of my favourites as they are easy to clean, however they are hard to come by. Some of my favourites are by Bdellium Tools.

2- the ferrule. The ferrule is the metal part that attaches to the handle and houses the end of the bristles and where all that gooey glue lives. Its most important when you are washing your brushes to avoid getting water into the ferrule as it can rust over time and lead to shedding and bacteria.

3- the bristles. In the best quality brushes, the bristles are hand layered into the ferrule and pressed into shape, sometimes with the help of small string & a bit of glue. In more commercial brushes, or mass produced brushes, The bristles are put into the ferrule by machine & lots of glue. There are lots of different types of bristles or hair, it can be synthetic, natural, a blend of both, or it can be a synthetic that mimics a natural hair like Natrafil. There are pros and cons to each type, personally i love synthetic for blending creams and natural fibers and hairs pick up powders the best in my opinion. Blends of synthetic and natural can be found in many stippling brushes and can be great for applying foundation. Natrafil and synthetic that mimics the control of a natural hair can be a great option for Vegans or anyone looking for an animal cruelty free option in their kit. Natural hairs have a cuticle that hang onto powders really well, whereas the synthetic brush is more solid and therefore easier to control those wetter products.

The sponge: Always make sure that if you are using sponges in your kit, they are disposable. With the growth and popularity of the beauty blender, it seems we have forgotten that this wonderful product is absolutely NOT sanitary to be using on several people. Many people will claim that you are able to clean the sponge out, however in my experience it is best never to risk it. Keep the beauty blenders as a personal tool. Not to mention in our local community of York Region, it is actually against health Canada policy to re-use a sponge (this rule can be found under the “spa/tools” category). Imagine having your business shut down by the government just for using a cute little pink sponge! not cool.


The spot clean: Spot cleaning your brushes is vital during your makeovers. Each brush that you use should be completely cleaned and sanitized between clients. It is also recommended to spot clean your brushes after your appointment and before replacing them into your kit for storage. How do you spot clean? well its simple, but doing it properly is important! What you want to use is paper towel, avoid kleenex or tissue that is thin as it will pill and create a giant mess. You should be using a high quality brush quality such as Beauty So Clean Wipeout, Cinema Secrets, or any of the many other options that are out there. Avoid brush cleaners that have a high content of citrus scent, as the citrus acids in the brush cleaner can dissolve the glue over time. Take your brush and hold it upright against the paper towel, spray once with your brush cleaner, flip the brush over and spray again. Then lightly run the brush downwards against the paper towel in an upwards/downwards motion, not in a circular rough and uncontrolled mess. Keep doing this until the brush runs clean of any colour. After the colour is gone from the brush, take 70% alcohol and spray the tips of the bristles liberally, and wash it against the paper towel and let it air dry. The alcohol step is important to kill any bacteria, however you want to be careful that you dont get it too close to the ferrule of the brush as the water content in the alcohol may ruin the brush over time.

The Deep Clean: Once you are home from your appointments its important that your brushes are deep cleaned to ensure they are properly disinfected. This is where an actual brush shampoo comes into play. I like to use Ecotools or BeautyBlender soap. Another favourite in the industry is Blue Dawn (the original dish soap) This is highly debated as to whether or not it is safe for brushes, so use it carefully. what you want to do is carefully soap and rinse the brushes while being very diligent not to get too much water up near the ferrule and handle. Make sure your brush is properly rinsed of all the suds and is the water is running clear before you decide to put it aside to dry. Keep in mind that some new brushes will have a dye on the hairs that will run the first few times you wash it, so if your nice new brush starts running the water black - not to worry ! that should stop happening after the first few washes. When drying your brushes, its important to dry them as upside down as you possibly can. There are many drying racks on the market these days that can help out with that. I also devised this handy device out of some local dollar store items to help me keep my brushes upside down while they dry. This of course is to make sure the water doesn't get into the ferrule. Once the brushes are dry its a good idea to give them a spray of 70% alcohol before storing them for good measure.

Tips for the working artist:
- Use disposables whenever you can, I love using wedge sponges for applying foundation, they give a great finish and you simply throw them away after. Of course every working artist should always have things like mascara spoolies, and lip wands in their kit. These little gems can be used for tons of other things besides their original intended use. For example i love to use a spoolie to brush out the brows, remove glitter, and soften any dead skin off the lips. The great part about disposables is that you throw them away after and don't have to worry about sanitizing them. they just disappear!
- Stock your kit with tons of brushes! I always need to know how many faces i will be doing before i go off to a shoot, that way i can stock my kit with the appropriate amount of brushes per each model, and move onto the next face without needing to clean anything. For example if I am working on two models I stock two of every type of brush.
- work with some type of system so you can differentiate between clean and dirty. I love using my Dany Pouch from Make Up For Ever to do this, one side is clean brushes and once they are used they go into the other side. Simple and easy!