Is There Harmful Bacteria Hiding in Your Makeup Applicators?

Dirty makeup brushes? We're here to warn you. Bacteria could be lurking inside dirty brushes

The lowdown on what germs may be lurking in your makeup brushes

Makeup is a medium we use to make us pretty, but more than that, it gives us the confidence to go out into the world with our outward appearance reflecting who we are inside. And we spend a lot of money on the perfect makeup brush set or foundation to complete our look. But what happens when the very products and applicators that we are using contains bacteria that irritates our skin and causes breakouts? We then use more makeup and other products to cover up those blemishes and flaws, and it becomes a vicious cycle.

According to a survey by Anisa International, 39 percent of women who use makeup applicators, such as brushes and sponges, clean them less than once per month. Twenty-two percent admitted to never cleaning them. And 31 percent of Millennials stated that they didn’t know how to properly clean them, while 21 percent claim they didn’t know it was necessary to clean them.

But how dangerous is it to use a dirty makeup brush?

What Lurks in Your Favorite Makeup Brush or Sponge?

Most of the microscopic organisms living on our skin are harmless, and many are even helpful by providing protection against harmful pathogenic microorganisms. However, also lurking on our skin are some of the pathogens that can be harmful, such as fungi, bacteria, and viruses. When these are transferred to our makeup applicators, they can lurk inside and multiply unchecked. Then, these increased colonies of bacteria are transferred back to our skin during the next makeup session.

In some recent tests made by Byrdie, makeup and beauty specialists, makeup brushes which had been cleaned and stored unused for two weeks were tested for bacteria. Petri dishes containing obtained samples began to develop bacteria colonies within hours. While most samples only developed one or two small colonies because the brushes had been cleaned before storage, this was enough to show that some bacteria remained even after a proper cleaning. According to their tests, the makeup brush with the smallest amount of bacteria was a newer one that hadn’t been used as often, showing that the longer a makeup brush or sponge is used, the harder it is to get rid of all bacteria during cleaning.

The colonies of microorganisms grown from the brush samples contained two different types of bacteria and a fungus.

What Problems Can These Microorganisms Cause Us?

Using makeup applicators containing harmful overgrowth of bacterial colonies can cause such skin irritations as redness, irritation, acne, atopic dermatitis, psoriasis, and rosacea. In some instances, they can cause serious infections if they enter a scratch, open wound, pimple, or tear duct. In one recent instance, a 27-year-old woman was paralyzed after a MRSA infection caught from a borrowed makeup brush attacked her spine. While this was a rare and unusually severe reaction, more common complaints are minor infections including boils, styes, and skin irritations.

Some conditions resulting from contaminated makeup brushes and sponges may be minor enough that you might not even connect it with your makeup applicators. Scientists tell us that the bacteria found in your makeup applicators could be responsible for your acne, clogged pores, and even conjunctivitis, or pink eye.

Cleaning Your Makeup Brushes and Sponges

You can clean your makeup brushes by washing them thoroughly with soap and hot water. Many makeup experts recommend using baby shampoo for its oil, dirt, and skin-flake lifting properties. Then allow the brushes and sponges to thoroughly dry.

Proper storage is also important. Experts tell us that tossing freshly washed brushes and sponges into a drawer while they are still damp can allow remaining bacteria to thrive in dark, warm, damp conditions. Instead, once completely dry, store your makeup applicators in sealed containers. This is especially important if you keep them in a bathroom. Among other substances found in tested makeup applicators, human feces has been discovered. This most likely occurs when toilets are flushed with lids open while makeup applicators are out in the open nearby.

So, while we want our makeup to help us to look our best, it’s important to keep applicators clean and replace them completely around every three months.

Resources — Byrdie, Dermveda, Anisa International, Medical Daily

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