Microbiology of makeup brushes

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What’s a girl to do? It’s Friday night, I have no plans. Maybe I could catch up on my current Netflix obsession (the Grimm). Or maybe I could bust out the galaxy lush bath bomb I’ve been saving for such an occasion – but wait, why should I be the chosen one? My brush babies need a bath too.

These days there are approximately 1738492829293949595848929292 makeup brushes to choose from. Harry Potter wand inspired, unicorn horn, sable, badger hair, synthetic, the list is almost inexhaustible. But what of these hairy little wonder tools. Sure they make your face look as though it’s been kissed by angels as they flawlessly smooth your high end, dewy but not too dewy foundation lovingly in upward circular strokes across your precious skin. But just what else are they spreading? And is it really worth missing out on that intergalactic party in the bathtub whilst watching a deamon slaying hotty?

Simple answers: Bacteria and yes. STAT.

face-eyes-brushesWe all know that bacteria accumulates on surfaces, but did you know that the surface area of one tiny brush is many times larger than just the tip? Each surface, each side of each hair on each brush soon adds up in terms of square inches. Each surface, each side, each tiny little hair harbours bacteria. Hundreds of thousands of the little beasties. These bacteria range from regular, surface contaminants, that are usually harmless (although people with weakened immunity should be extra careful) through to potentially life threatening strains of staph bacteria – recently a woman hit the headlines after becoming paraplegic due to sharing makeup brushes containing MRSA (staph) bacteria. These cases are rare but demonstrate the importance of hygiene both in applying your own makeup and also when visiting an MUA for makeup.

So what can we do about it? In a recent study into the microbiology of makeup and the brushes by Microbiologist Paul Matewele at the London Metropolitan University, these 6 types of bacteria we’re the most commonly occurring on dirty, used make up/brushes:

Enterococcus faecalis – one of the main causes of the meningtitis infection.
Eubacterium – which causes bacterial vaginosis.
Aeromonas – one of the causes of gastroenteritis and wound infections.
Staphlyoccocus epidermidis – a nasty bug which is resistant to antibiotics
Propionibacterium – one of the main causes of acne and other skin conditions.
Enterobacter – causes urinary and respiratory tract infections, mainly in hospitalised patients with compromised immune systems.

Staph bacteria are often found in the nose or on the skin, and they generally do not cause any symptoms – a phenomenon known as colonisation, according to the NHS. The most common issue with makeup brushes, is however contracting an eye infection – conjunctivitis being the most prevalent. All of that as well as spreading bacteria that cause breakouts and potentially fungal infections that effect the skin.

So needless to say I have now washed and sanitised my entire makeup brush collection (not just the 5 I actually use).

gram-stain

But wait. What about where I store them?

I am guilty of having inadequate makeup storage. I store mine in a burnt out, cleaned out, candle jar. Tail down. This is a beauty brush guru no-no and I am thoroughly ashamed. The oils and contaminates, when stored this way, are effected by the forces of gravity. Oil and debris falls between the bristles, and traces of liquid enter the join between the brush and the handle, loosening glue (particularly oily makeups such as foundation) and creating a haven of moist warm utopia like conditions for bacteria to thrive.face-eyes-brushes-tower

Ok so that’s bad enough but…….

Do you store your makeup brushes in the bathroom? SHAME ON YOU. I repeat SHAME ON YOU! Did you know that the spray when flushing a toilet can reach up to 8m in distance from the source? Yup, tiny poo particles may be living in your brushes, and not just your poop. Every. Single. Poop that graces your proverbial throne (I think I may have thrown up a little in my mouth) could potentially be sprayed onto these brushes then rubbed on your face.

So how do we stop this heathen behaviour? How do we save our tiny facial heros?

Simple. Wash your brushes once a week. Warm soapy water works well as long as you give them a good massage too – I always spritz with alcohol gel –  but be warned this may dry some brushes out. Store them fluff down to allow them to drain and dry hygienically. Don’t let them get too wet when washing (wait, what?) as in make sure you blot off excess water before allowing to dry. Over 24hours moist and you risk mould growing in your fave kabuki. Throw away the beauty blenders. Often. Think about investing in single uses sponges. And be religious with the weekly cleansing. Also use these techniques for your facial cleansing brushes and change the heads quarterly.

Now go, wash. 

Gram stain photo courtesy of @kirstiejane27

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