How to properly clean your make-up and brushes in the age of Covid-19

Can products carry the virus and is it safe to share make-up? Here's everything you need to know

Sarah Young
Friday 07 August 2020 20:32
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The coronavirus outbreak has made us all painfully aware of our cleaning habits, with every surface in sight given a thorough wiping down and our hands washed twice over.

But, as we continue to adjust to this “new normal” we are also being forced to reconsider just how hygienic other items we come into contact with on a day-to-day basis really are.

Mobile phones and TV remotes aside, make-up products and beauty tools are high on the list of objects we should be vigilant with considering they are frequently used and come into direct contact with the eyes, nose and mouth areas.

But, can cosmetics carry coronavirus and, if so, what measures should you be taking to prevent your products from being affected?

To ensure you can keep wearing make-up safely going forward, The Independent has spoken to a handful of experts about everything from whether it is safe to share cosmetics to how to disinfect your products like a pro.

Can make-up products and tools carry coronavirus?

This question is shrouded in uncertainty but according to Dr Jenna Macciochi, a lecturer in immunology at the University of Sussex and author of Immunity: The Science of Staying Well, it is best to err on the side of caution.

“We know that although the virus cannot replicate outside of our body, it can last on different surfaces, such as metal, cardboard and plastic, for different lengths of time. The research shows this can be up to three days for some surfaces like plastic and stainless steel,” she explains.

“Cosmetic products have not been tested to my knowledge, but many come with plastic applicators. So the answer is we don't know but in light of the situation and the knowledge of how long it lasts on plastic, it may be best to be cautious.”

Dr Susan Mayou, a consultant dermatologist at the Cadogan Clinic, agrees adding that “while there haven’t been any specific studies on the transmission of coronavirus through makeup products, the fact that the virus can live on plastic surfaces does pose a risk for the contents of our makeup bags and skincare products”.

Should you stop sharing make-up products?

Earlier this year, make-up counters across the world rapidly changed the way they work, with many adopting “touch-free” policies and removing samples from their counters to reduce the risk of transmission. But, should we be adopting the same attitude towards our own beauty collection?

While many cosmetics contain antimicrobial preservative compounds that help to prevent growth of harmful bacteria, they aren’t enough to ward off viruses like Covid-19. With this in mind, Dr Macciochi says it is “best to avoid sharing products or tools with others". "We know that transmission requires contact between people and it is possible that products, particularly those applied to the face, could act as a vessel of transmission."

Dr Mayou adds that, aside from the fear of spreading coronavirus, people should never share make-up because of the risk of transferring bacteria such as staphylococcus from skin and highly contagious viral infections such as herpes and conjunctivitis from lip or eye products.

How often should you be cleaning make-up products and what’s the best way to do it?

It is important to clean makeup products on a regular basis even in non-Covid times as bacteria can build up on the surfaces and cause infection, acne breakouts and exacerbate skin conditions, says Dr Mayou. But, just how often should you be doing it?

According to Emily-Jane Williams, a make-up artist and co-founder of Em-J Cosmetics, you should be wiping down all of your products at least once a week using an antibacterial spray, which you can buy from most pharmacies. Just make sure the alcohol content is above 70 per cent to ensure the surface is properly disinfected, she adds. Although antibacterial spray will not remove a virus like coronavirus, a high percentage alcohol product will make the virus inactive by breaking down the lipid (fatty) layer around the virus, according to Which?.

The spray can be used on exterior packaging and also actual formulas, including lipsticks, powders and foundations.

Beauty brand Spectrum Collections also suggests you don't neglect your make-up bag, adding that you should take all products out of your kit and wipe down the inside, outside and individual compartments with a liquid disinfectant or pop it in the washing machine, if they're machine washable.

How often should you clean your make-up brushes?

It is important to clean your brushes regularly to avoid build-up of excess products, oils and dirt as this can clog your pores, cause breakouts and even infections.

How regularly you clean your brushes really depends on how often you use them, and while make-up artists might clean theirs after every client, a once weekly wash will suffice for most. Lily Pebbles, a beauty blogger and author of The F Word, suggests incorporating cleaning make-up brushes into part of your weekly routine to avoid letting it slip from your memory.

"If you’re using your makeup brushes very heavily then you may need to clean them more often, but for most of us once a week will do," she says. "I like to make it part of my Sunday routine and give them a good deep clean. If you just want to spot clean throughout the week,, then try applying a small amount of brush cleaner to some kitchen towel and swirl your brush around in it for a few seconds."

What is the best method for cleaning make-up brushes and beauty sponges?

Make-up brushes:

  • Wet the brush bristles with lukewarm water, ensuring you do not submerge the whole brush in water, as this can damage the adhesive and cause the brush head to detach from the handle. 
  • Gently swirl the bristles into your soap of choice until the bristles are fully covered.
  • To further cleanse the bristles, work the brush into a textured surface, such as a special silicone mat and create a lather to ensure all product has gone.
  • Rinse away all soap and squeeze out any excess. Make sure you repeat this a couple of times to ensure no soap is left. Repeat the same process if necessary.
  • Using a towel, gently squeeze any excess water out and reshape the bristles accordingly to ensure they regain their original shape.
  • Lay your brushes down flat and ensure you don't dry all your brushes too close together to avoid any moisture soaking into the handles.

Beauty sponges:

  • Wet your sponge using lukewarm water.
  • Work the soap into your sponge and gently massage using your fingers, to squeeze out build up product, repeat until necessary. Rinse until the water runs clear.
  • Using a clean towel, squeeze out any excess water and leave to dry.

What should you use to clean your makeup brushes?

Thanks to a surge in removal liquids, gels and waxes, keeping your brushes sanitised is as easy as ever and there are an array of specialist brush cleaners available to buy.

While Williams recommends investing in Dr Bronner’s Soap, make-up artist Gemma Sutton says that Fairy Liquid with warm water works just as well.

“Nothing special needs to be used here – if I don't have a specialised cleaner to hand good old Fairy Liquid with warm water works just as well and is far more reliable than an ethanol sanitiser,” she says.

“At a molecular level soap is very destructive for bacteria and viruses – it just breaks down the lipid layer and disrupts any chemical bonds viruses or bacteria are using to cling on to a surface or skin.”

Dr Mayou agrees, adding that soap removes dirt, bacteria and dissolves fat and therefore the lipid membrane of the coronavirus particle which is then no longer infectious.

“Additional antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal can be achieved by soaking in Milton sterilising fluid which is safe for babies,” she says.

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