Any makeup artist will tell you your brush set is just as important as the makeup itself. And knowing when to replace makeup brushes is often the difference between a near flawless finish and one that just seems a bit off.
Below is your guide to knowing if your makeup brushes have a bit more life in them, or if it’s time to retire them — and when to say goodbye to a less-than-fresh foundation, mascara, and more.
Synthetic Vs. Natural Hair Brushes: It’s All About The Product
To get the longest life out of your brushes, it helps to know when to use synthetic over natural, and vice versa.
- Natural brushes are made from animal hair and work best with powders. Natural hair bristles have the advantage of moving freely, which allows you to pick up a lot of product in one swipe and blend it out easily.
- Synthetic brushes consist of manmade bristles, and since they don’t have a cuticle like natural hair, which is absorbent, they are very well suited for creams and liquids.1
How To Wash And Store Makeup Brushes
To wash natural brushes, use a gentle soap or baby shampoo with lukewarm water. Air dry them with the brush end hanging off the edge of a table. Wash your natural brushes once a week, but remember to be gentle with the bristles since they are real hair and prone to damage when wet.
To wash synthetic brushes, use an alcohol-based brush cleanser and lukewarm water. Gently massage the bristles to remove all the caked in liquid and cream products. Dry your synthetic brushes the same way as your natural ones, but aim to do this twice a week if you use them daily.
When your brushes are clean and dry, store them brush side up in an open container that allows them to have circulation all around. And keep them in a cool, dry place — not the bathroom, which is often humid.
If you need to carry your brushes around regularly in a makeup bag, make sure it’s a bag you can clean regularly with soap and warm water.2,3
Telltale Signs Your Brushes Need To Be Replaced
Your high-quality makeup brushes have served you well — maybe even for years — but they just aren’t what they used to be. Here’s when you know it’s time to let a brush go.
- A patchy or spotty finish. When a brush that used to blend beautifully is leaving you with uneven coverage, it could be a sign it’s on its last legs.
- Constant shedding. A loose bristle here and there is not uncommon, but if you’ve noticed an uptick of loose hairs stuck to your skin, it could mean the bristles are starting to come unglued.
- Lost natural shape. If your brush no longer holds its original shape, for example, a domed-topped brush looking more like an angled brush, it can result in an uneven application.
- Broken handle or ferrule. While the bristles may seem to have a lot of life left in them, cracked handles and ferrules (the metal piece that holds the bristles to the handle) can allow water to creep in, creating an environment for bacteria to grow.
- A lingering smell. If your brush smells funky (and different than it ever did before), even when just washed and dried, it may have a bacteria issue you don’t want to mess with. That’s a brush you’ll want to let go of.4,5
Replacing Your Brush Set
So, you’ve decided your old brushes have seen better days, and you’re going to start fresh. Here’s a quick rundown of some of the more common brushes to build your collection.
- Foundation Brush: The classic foundation brush has thick, dense bristles that are flat like a paintbrush; however, foundation brushes can also be full, angled, or domed. A foundation brush allows you to apply and seamlessly blend cream or liquid foundation.
- Concealer Brush: This brush is like a mini foundation brush, in that it can easily and precisely apply and blend concealer to the sides of the nose, on top of blemishes, or under the eyes.
- Powder Brush: This brush has long, fluffy bristles that are super soft to the touch. Its bristles are designed to dispense loose powder thinly and evenly across the skin. It works particularly well with bronzer, blush, and setting powder.
- Kabuki Brush: The versatile kabuki brush is a standout with its full, flat-topped, buttery-soft bristles. It can be used to apply bronzer or powder or to blend out most liquid or cream products.
- Contour Brush: An angled top with dense, soft bristles, contour brushes are designed for a concentrated application of bronzer without fallout.
- Blush Brush: Smaller than a powder brush, but with the same soft, fluffy bristles and a domed top, it allows you to evenly disperse powder pigments in a concentrated area.
- Fan Brush: This fancy, flat brush has feather-light bristles that enable you to not only sweep away powder makeup uh-ohs but apply a barely-there highlight for an ethereal glow.
- Flat Eyeshadow Brush: This is your quintessential eye brush that allows you to apply and evenly blend eyeshadow. Its tip is slightly tapered. Its bristles are soft and fluffy — but not so fluffy that you can’t seamlessly build your color.
- Eye Shadow Crease Brush: Small and with a pointed tip, this eye brush works to concentrate color in the crease of the eyelid.
- Pencil Brush: This tiny brush has flat, dense, soft bristles with a pointed top. Its design enables you to push eye shadow down into the lash line and blend beneath the lashes with precision. Additionally, this brush works great for smudging cream eyeliner for a smokey eye.
- Eyebrow Brush: With an angled top and flat, blunt bristles, a brow brush enables you to draw individual hairs with brow powder, gel, or cream.
- Lip Brush: With an ultra-thin pointed top, this brush helps you color within the lines — particularly useful when applying a dark shade to your lips that requires the utmost accuracy.6,7
Face Makeup And Eye Shadow
Face makeup and eye shadows now come in so many diverse formulas to accommodate your personal preferences and needs. But with such a vast array of products, it’s easy to get confused about how long you should keep something and when it’s time to really toss it.
Below is your quick reference for face makeup (foundation, concealer, blush, highlighter, etc.) and eye shadow, broken down by three common formulations: liquids, creams, and powders.
When to toss: 6 months to 1 year
When to toss sooner: Liquid face makeup, such as foundation and concealer, tends to have a lot of direct contact with fingers and brushes. This can lead to a lot of potential exposure to bacteria. If oils are rising to the top and the consistency of the product thickens, it’s time to let it go even sooner. You’ll notice the effects of this when the product begins to go on uneven and appears streaky or inconsistent on your skin.
When to toss: 6 months to 1 year
When to toss sooner: The telltale sign your creams have gone off is when they start to thicken up and smell a little funny. Additionally, you may feel the texture become clumpy.
When to toss: 18 months to 2 years
When to toss sooner: Powder lasts the longest because bacteria can’t grow without water. Powder that has turned, however, may have a funky smell, or the color may be off.8,9,10
Mascara And Liquid Eyeliner
When to toss: 3 months
When to toss sooner: Mascara and liquid eyeliner suffer from the same problem — the wand or applicator carrying the liquid product makes contact with your eyes and is then inserted back into the dark, wet tube. Can you say mega bacteria-breeding ground? You know to chuck it even sooner, though, when it gets clumpy or has an off smell.11,12
Kohl Eyeliner And Brow Pencil
When to toss: 1 year to 2 years
When to toss sooner: Pencils have the advantage of being routinely sharpened, which leaves you with a fresh, clean surface (so long as you remember to sanitize your sharpener). However, if the tip forms a white film or oozes an oily substance, you know it’s time for the waste bin.13,14
Lipstick, Lipliner, And Lip Gloss
When to toss: 1 year to 2 years
When to toss sooner: Lip products tend to contain a lot of moisture, which is not only a breeding ground for bacteria, but it also means when the product ages, it tends to dry out as it loses moisture. If your lipstick or gloss no longer glides across your lips, it’s time to toss.15,16
Remember, It’s Your Skin You’re Talking About
When in doubt, err on the side of caution, and toss products and brushes you don’t have 100% confidence in. Your skin is your largest organ.17 It deserves the freshest, healthiest make-up and make-up brushes available to you.