DO THIS NOW: Clean Your Makeup To Make It Last Longer

You clean your makeup brushes, so why don't you clean your ACTUAL makeup?
Publish date:
July 19, 2013
makeup, germs, dirty makeup, cleaning, disinfecting, preservation, pressed powder, tips

I’m a huge fan of bringing my good ‘ol Laura Mercier Secret Camouflage to the bars with me. Just ask Annie. She’d usually bring bronzer and lip-whatever to shows (and subsequently let other girls we didn’t know borrow it--ew!) when we lived together in Austin. But never concealer.

One time we met up at a venue in Dallas. When I get there, she whips around, nearly knocking over our Lone Stars, and whispers, “Do you have any concealer?” She's really bad at packing for trips. I rolled my eyes and sent her off to the bathroom with my palette.

Anyway, now Annie says zits are IN, so this story is kind of outdated, but I remember that an hour or so later, she came BANGING on the bathroom door (while I was totally peeing, y’all) telling me to let her in because "we needed to talk." Apparently some weirdo guy thought I was cute and she had to tell me right away.

Obviously, I asked for my palette back, opening it up to see that there was this huge black stain in the THE color I was going to use to do whatever to my face to make it look more attractive to someone who obviously just spent 10 hours in a van. I was far too confused about Drunk Annie telling me about Weirdo Guy to really care about the gross crap in my makeup at the time.

Not that I think Annie is gross (I do), but the next day back in Austin, you BET I gave that palette a deep cleaning, along with you know, the rest of my apartment because Weirdo Guy and I really hit it off.

So here are my methods to keep your makeup clean and hygienic for 16M+ of gettin’ weird. (Ever notice those weird symbols on makeup packaging? M stands for months, my symbologist padawans.)


So I’m not sure how my favorite tube of Chanel got this huge canyon of abstract black archipelagoes, but it definitely happened during Austin Psych Fest, and if you remember that weekend YOU WEREN’T REALLY THERE. Just kidding, I have a superhuman memory (it’s not as glamourous as it sounds), but this smudge obviously escaped my memory. I’m assuming I let aforementioned Weirdo Guy use it to match the dress Annie and I suggested he buy at Saver’s earlier in the weekend and his scruff scruffed it up.

Over two months later, I’m still looking at this gross crater, and my other tube of the same color (my favorite, remember?) is getting low, so: omigod it’s time for a makeover!

First, grab a Q-tip, hold it at an angle and use a little twist action, gently wiping product onto the cotton fluff but rotating said fluff at the same time.

You don’t want to rub the product you just rubbed off into the product, non? So twist! You don’t have to remove a huge chunk of product, just enough to get the gunk off and still have enough to let your pretty guy friends borrow in the future.

I noticed that the Q-tip method got MOST of my lipstick clean, but for some extra germ-fighting power, pour a little bit of isopropyl alcohol into a small glass and hold it there for 20-30 seconds. Alcohol kills bacteria, so vodka is an option if you’re roughin’ it and don’t own a first aid kit or live closer to a liquor store than pharmacy (I used to live in that same neighborhood!). Afterwards you can let it air dry or pat clean with a paper towel (tissues tend to shed).

This disinfecting technique is great if you like to share makeup. I highly recommend AT LEAST disinfecting your makeup when swapping face and mouth bugs between friends. It’s just a good idea. Kissing is moist, of course, but makeup is moist and doesn’t brush its teeth regularly. Microbeings like nothing more than moist environments for growing, and hiding your products in a drawer or bag is asking for gross.

To keep stray color from ending up anywhere but your lips, wind down the tube and rub an alcohol-soaked cotton pad over the top.


The best way to keep pencils clean is to sharpen them before each use. Hopefully you do this already to make those clean lines on your eyes and lips. If not, get in the habit!

If your pencils are retractable, instead of sharpening, use the same alcohol solution mentioned earlier. Thirty seconds: later, germs. Clean up the edges of your pencils with a makeup brush covered in a simple makeup brush cleaner; mine’s Sephora’s Daily Makeup Brush Cleaner. This will prevent weird marks from straying on your cheekbones when you’re just trying to line your eyes.


As far as germs go, pumps and squeezeables are the most hygienic ways of dispensing product. I also like to use Simple Skincare Eye Makeup Remover Pads after I've used them on my face, and clean up the edges of any product that needs touching up.

If you like displaying your makeup in the bathroom or on your vanity, this is an easy way to stretch your dollar and not take up 30 minutes of your day cleaning makeup. Just do it as needed while you’re waiting for your primer to set. Pots of foundation are some of the least hygienic, but if you’re using clean fingers or disposable pads to get the product out of the jar, then you’re doing it right. Just be careful not to “track dirt into the house” and more or less ruin an entire bucket of pretty.


I live with Chef Roommate, who works at a badass restaurant here in town where they know how to cut some effin fish. His knives have to be mega sharp in order to keep up with the big-boy chefs he works with, and he probably sharpens every knife every day. I employed his Togiharu Japanese Steel Petty Knife for this part of the tutorial. Bummer if you have to use a butter knife, but it’ll still work.

Simply (carefully if you’re using Japanese Steel) scrape off the top of the product. I highly suggest doing all of this cleaning at your kitchen table or bar so that you keep your makeup out of the trash can, sink, or other household dangers. The logic behind the scraping is the same as sharpening your pencils. Just say L8R to the layer you've been using.

I can’t stress the importance of throwing out your sponge applicators and switching to brushes. Sponges are built to soak up material: the dead/synthetic ones don’t contain living cells programmed to flush out toxins and “gross.” If you’re carrying little sponges around every day in your purse or makeup bag, those sponges are gonna sponge and you might end up with, I don’t know, gum or tobacco microflakes caught inside with no hope of being flushed out.

It’s much more hygienic to throw a short kabuki brush in your purse and let it loose a few hairs than to keep dabbing oil and dirt between your face and product. Obviously, disinfect and clean the brush regularly, but you can at least shake and slam it on something to release most of the gross a sponge would hoard.


We’ll talk about that Laura Mercier Secret Camouflage here, because the technique is a bit different from pressed powders and foundation. My favorite way to get those fuzzies and random Annie induced black smudges is much like the technique I use for lipstick.

Get those Q-tips and go to town with the twist action. I like to douse them in a little bit of rubbing alcohol to disinfect and lift dirt and grime instead of just twisting Q-tip fuzz back into the palette. Just find the undesirable bits, and go at them, twisting them into oblivion.

Q-tips are cheap, so don’t be cheap and use the same one for the entire process. Douse, twist, and repeat until all that gross is gone. If you’re having trouble lifting a particular mark or bit of dirt, use a super-fine brush soaked in alcohol to do the job. I know this is super-detailed, but I don’t want to do my homework.


While mascara is more or less manufactured to deteriorate quickly, you can get better mascara application by keeping your wands clump-free. Each time you use your mascara, you’re loading up the wand with new mascara ON TOP of whatever was leftover in the brush from before.

To clean the wand, VERY gently put the wand between the folds of a paper towel and rub off the excess product. I suggest moving the wand back and forth in both directions in order to get the product loose, rather than “painting” product off onto the paper towel. It livens up the bristles and spreads them apart for the next step.

Boil some water and put it in a shallow cup, like back in the day when you’d shove all of your paintbrushes in water and let it sit overnight because as a first-grader the next morning’s gray composite water-paint was the perfect color to paint your friend’s blonde hair.

Don’t let it sit overnight, though. Five minutes is enough to get excess product released and create a similar black water-paint. Then empty the cup, fill it with isopropyl alcohol, and put the wand in for a minute. Don’t leave it sitting there too long, but if product is still releasing from the wand, you can repeat this step until you’re satisfied.

Pat dry, again gently, and make sure the wand is totally dry before reinserting it into the tube. You may or may not want to touch up around the end for a better seal--do it anyway. This will prevent your mascara from drying out.

How often do you clean your makeup? What really happened to my tube of Chanel? What do you want me to clean next?

Hit me up in the comments or on Twitter; I’m a child of The Internet and need to start using it to make friends!