It's no secret that keeping your makeup tools clean is important, but what can happen if you skip a few washes? We asked the pros to weigh in—and their answers are not for the faint of heart.
You may have seen (and been rightfully spooked by) a story that went viral last spring about a 21-year-old girl who developed a life-threatening case of cellulitis from picking at an infection caused by an unwashed eyebrow spoolie. While cases like that are extremely rare, the story did serve as a good reminder about the importance of keeping your makeup brushes and sponges clean.
Before we get to the horror stories of the infections and viruses (yes, really) that can spread through using unwashed makeup tools, there are some more practical, albeit less shocking, reasons to get washing.
Poor makeup application
First up is the most obvious: your makeup application will suffer if your brushes are covered in weeks' worth of powders and creams. Imagine trying to blend your contour or apply a flawless highlight with a brush full of clumpy residue? Not possible!
Thinking about using an eyelash curler covered in old, clumpy mascara? Be prepared to lose a few lashes that will inevitably stick to the old product and get pulled out when you remove the curler. Don't say we didn't warn you.
Neglecting your brushes' cleanliness will eventually damage them. Makeup residue weighs down the bristles, causing them to weaken and even break. So, if nothing else, think about all the money you spent on your beloved makeup brush set the next time you're thinking of skipping your weekly wash.
Long-term effects on your skin
Constantly using unwashed brushes could lead to premature wrinkles. Skin that's stressed out and congested loses collagen and elastin at a much more rapid pace than skin that's being taken care of. So yes, those dirty brushes are literally aging you.
Breakouts, breakouts and more breakouts
Unwashed brushes are known to cause breakouts—which are bad enough but can also lead to scarring. Celebrity makeup artist (and Lead Artist for Maybelline New York) Grace Lee says she cleans her brushes "after a job and the night before a job." Otherwise, she would risk spreading breakout-causing bacteria to her clients.
Now, let's get to the gross stuff. We spoke to Dr. Julia Carroll, dermatologist at Compass Dermatology in Toronto, to get the scoop on the nasty side effects of using dirty makeup tools.
Besides clogging your pores and causing breakouts, makeup residue on dirty brushes also slows down your skin's cell turnover process, leading to more sensitive skin that's prone to everything from redness to bumps and flakes.
"Not washing your brushes can have serious consequences," explains Dr. Carroll. "I've seen a skin infection known as impetigo spread through makeup brushes. It's a crusty, sometimes weeping red area which can spread rapidly."
"Another common skin infection that could be propagated by brushes is the Herpes Simplex Virus, otherwise known as cold sores," warns Dr. Carroll. "These appear as painful blisters, often around the lips."
One of the main causes of conjunctivitis, more commonly known as pinkeye, is using unclean makeup brushes.
"I advise washing makeup brushes weekly," says Dr. Carroll. "More often if you've had a skin infection or a nasty breakout." While you can certainly invest in products specifically designed to wash brushes (this M.A.C Brush Cleanser is a classic, foolproof choice), a gentle shampoo or face wash works just fine, too.
Now that you're armed with knowledge (and horror stories), go forth and get washing!