Sanitary Makeup Application & Cleaning Makeup Products

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I want to take a moment to talk about how to apply makeup to a client in a safe, sanitary manner, and also how to clean and disinfect your products, whether they are part of your kit or your own personal makeup collection.

I realize that the spread of infectious diseases is a major cause of concern for many people right now, and I’ve received a great deal of messages about this subject. In no way do I, or have I ever, claimed to be an authority on sanitization, but I have shared with you all of the things I know from attending a world renowned, highly credited makeup school and working in the makeup industry for well over a decade. This guide was compiled from doing some of my own research as well as talking to other makeup artists, and even a few people who are in the medical field. I have done my best to provide you all with the most accurate information I possibly could.

 

First off, let’s go over different types of sanitizing and disinfecting solutions:

  • Antimicrobial or hygienic makeup and brush cleansers are usually (not always) a medical grade disinfectant or sanitizing solution that contains 70% to 90% isopropyl alcohol and are effective at killing any kind of bacteria, virus, or fungi that may be a threat to your health. Many antimicrobial brush cleaners from makeup supply stores are these type of solutions, and this is something you’ll see at many stores and makeup counters (it’s like the pink spray that MAC used to have, and still uses in a new “hygienic cleanser” formula).
  • When you look at an isopropyl alcohol solution that is labeled as 70%, it will contain 70% isopropyl alcohol and 30% water. If it is labeled at 99%, it will contain 99% isopropyl alcohol and 1% water.
  • The lower the percentage of alcohol and higher the percentage of water, the longer the isopropyl alcohol solution will take to evaporate.
  • The longer the alcohol takes to evaporate, the more effective it is at breaking through the cell wall of some types of bacteria, viruses, etc, and completely killing them. That’s because it has a longer period of surface contact with the germs, destroying the outer barrier or cell wall of the microorganism, then getting inside to fully denature (dehydrate) the proteins within the cell, which kills the germs entirely. Any isopropyl alcohol solution of 90% or under can sufficiently do this. It’s not advised to use anything under 70%, though, due to the lower alcohol content, which may not be as effective at sanitizing things.
  • Due to the fact that isopropyl alcohol of 91% or higher evaporates so rapidly, when the alcohol touches some types of germs, it will instantly coagulate the cell as a whole, “freezing” it and putting it into a sort of dormant state, but it may or will not break through the cell wall and kill the proteins inside microorganism or “germ” cell.

In makeup school, and from many other professionals, I had always learned that using 95% to 99% isopropyl alcohol was completely acceptable for any product. Now that may be the case, or it may not. I have not read or done any type of in depth study to compare various types of products and what kind of germs or how many germs they commonly have on them, or what kind of alcohol kills those germs, on that product, most effectively.

According to some people that I’ve spoken to in the medical field, they agree with what I learned from many people in the makeup industry… that 91% and up should be fine for products that are not typically susceptible to harboring lots of germs and are hydro-sensitive (aka can be damaged by water), such as powder products. They also agree that the practice of wiping down a powder’s surface, spraying with alcohol, and wiping the surface down again seems sufficient. However, no one I’ve spoken to in the medical field has agreed that any isopropyl alcohol solution OVER 90% would be okay to use on products such as lipsticks or pencils. The only problem with that is that allowing alcohol to sit on a creamy lipstick for a longer period of time can destroy the product, so it may be best to stick to lipstick palettes that are easier to use in a sanitary way.

After finding all of this information, I will certainly be carrying more than one type of isopropyl alcohol in my kit, and using the appropriate solution for each product. As I stated earlier, I’m not a medical professional or an authority in disinfection and sanitization, and all of these things are based on my own experience and practices, so this is in no way a gold standard in sanitary makeup application practices, but I think it’s a pretty decent guide to start off with and I hope it will help some of you out!

 

Now let’s go over different types and formulas of products and their likelihood to be little cesspools of germs:

  • Pressed Powders (blush, eyeshadow, powder, highlight, bronzer, etc): Not a very germ-friendly environment unless they are exposed to liquid (like dipping a dampened brush in an eyeshadow to apply it as liner). Pressed powders are dry, therefore they will not provide a moist environment in which germs (bacteria, viruses, and fungi) are likely to grow and thrive.
  • Loose Powders (setting powder, highlighter, pigments, etc): Also not very germ-friendly because, like pressed powders, they do not provide the moisture needed for bacteria, viruses, and fungi to live and grow.
  • Gels, Creams, and Liquids (gel liners, blushes or shadows; cream shadows, primers, foundations, concealers, blushes, highlighters, contours, bronzers, any and all bullet-style lipsticks; liquid foundations, concealers, lipsticks, lip glosses, mascaras, skincare, etc): These products are a great place for germs to thrive due to the moisture in them and the fact that many products like this are used around the eyes and mouth. That said, no makeup artist should EVER allow these products to be exposed to the open air and environment around them UNLESS they have the container opened to safely collect product for application.
  • Pencils (solid or gel-like eye, brow, and lip pencils): Very germ-friendly, since most of these products are not 100% dry formulas and are used around areas of the face such as the eyes and mouth.
  • Liquid Liners (felt or brush tip pens or liquid products with an applicator wand): Also highly germ-friendly, and should NEVER be applied directly to a client’s face.
  • Tools (palettes, makeup spatulas, palette knives, tweezers, lash applicators, scissors, pencil sharpeners, eyelash curlers, etc): Germs can certainly live on these surfaces and tools, but because most of these are made from stainless steel, germs are easy to kill if these items are properly disinfected and sanitized. Spatulas, palette knives, tweezers, scissors, and eyelash curlers MUST be cleaned and disinfected between EACH client and after you are done with the makeup application. Sharpeners should ideally be sanitized before each sharpening. You should NEVER dip any of these tools into a product unless the tool has been properly sanitized first, or you will introduce all kinds of nasty things into that product, which you may not be able to completely sanitize after it’s been contaminated.
  • Brushes: Brushes can be porous since they are made of fibers, and can harbor all kinds of germs if they are not properly sanitized after and between each client, or if product is left on them after a makeup application. Luckily, they’re very easy to clean!
  • Lashes: Lashes cannot be sanitized and reused.
  • Lash Glue: Lash glue would make a great breeding ground for germs, which is why you never touch it directly to the false lashes you are applying, even if they are brand new. You also must be careful not to double dip if you are applying the glue using a disposable applicator wand.

 

Next, let’s discuss how to properly sanitize these various types of products:

  • Pressed Powders (blush, eyeshadow, powder, highlight, bronzer, etc): You will want to start off by gently wiping away the surface layer of the powder using a clean, sanitary tissue. With a great deal of powder products, this is considered sufficient sanitization by many industry standards. If you would like to go a little further with your sanitization (as I ALWAYS do), you will want to spray alcohol onto the powder and allow it to evaporate. After the alcohol evaporates, gently wipe the surface again with a tissue. Because some powder formulas can be easily altered and damaged by water (typically more softly pressed formulas such as highlighters and shimmery eyeshadows), and powders don’t tend to harbor as many germs as other product formulas do, I have been informed that it’s safe to use a higher percentage alcohol on them, like 90% to 99%. If you want to try an isopropyl alcohol solution that contains more water and evaporates less rapidly, 70% to 90% may work, but I cannot guarantee that it will not damage the product that you are spraying it on.
  • Loose Powders (setting powder, highlighter, pigments, etc): Because these are a loose formula, it’s pretty much impossible to sanitize the loose powder itself. However, if you are using a loose powder product that is in a jar with a sifter, you may spray the sifter with alcohol, or wipe it down using a tissue dampened with alcohol. Because loose powders aren’t highly likely to harbor a great deal of bacteria and other germs, and are even more susceptible to being damaged by water than pressed powders are, I would recommend using a higher percentage of alcohol like 90% to 99% to disinfect the sifter and jar if there’s a chance of it coming in contact with the loose powder itself. If there’s no chance of it damaging the powder and making it a goopy mess, I feel like using an isopropyl alcohol solution of 70% to 90% would be fine. To keep your loose powders from being exposed to any germs at all, you can keep them in little squirt bottles, which I’ll include a photo of below. You can find these bottles at places like The Container Store, most art supply or beauty supply stores, or online from places like amazon. If you feel the need to sanitize the lids/dispenser tops of these jars, you can use 70% to 90% isopropyl alcohol to wipe it down as long as it can’t get into the jar and compromise the loose powder.

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  • Gels, Creams, and Liquids (gel liners, blushes or shadows; cream shadows, primers, foundations, concealers, blushes, highlighters, contour sticks, bronzers, any and all bullet-style lipsticks; liquid foundations, concealers, lipsticks, lip glosses, skincare, mascara, etc): These can be tricky products to sanitize. Liquids are impossible to sanitize, although you can clean the pump or bottle they are contained in by using 70% to 90% isopropyl alcohol as long as it cannot get into the container itself and ruin the liquid product inside. Gels are probably the second most difficult to sanitize, followed by creams, and can easily be ruined and turned to sludge if you get too much alcohol in or on them, or use an alcohol solution that is more than about 90% isopropyl alcohol, due to the time it takes to evaporate when using a solution with a lower percentage of alcohol/higher percentage of water. Cream and gel products should never even be touched by anything that is not completely sanitary to begin with, though, and should NEVER have a finger or brush dipped directly into the container (unless it’s your own personal product), so while they are a great place for germs to grow, germs shouldn’t even be introduced into these products if you are following basic sanitary procedures. When I sanitize my gel eyeliners, cream concealers, lipstick palettes, or similar products, I do it in a way similar to how I clean up pressed powders… I use a tissue or paper towel (sometimes paper towels hold up a little better and scrape more product off that a softer tissue does) to gently wipe off the top layer of the product, spray it with 95%+ isopropyl alcohol, then use a new tissue or paper towel to wipe the top layer of the product again. In the case of sanitizing lipsticks, it’s best to use a lower percentage isopropyl alcohol solution, such as 70% to 90%, assuming that will not ruin your product. To sanitize, you will want to hold the lipstick upside down (lipstick bullet pointing towards the ground so no alcohol gets into the tube and breaks down the product), and dip the lipstick into alcohol or thoroughly spray it. After you dip or spray your lipstick, you will then want to gently wipe the surface of the product with a clean tissue or paper towel.
  • Pencils (hard, solid or gel-like eye, brow, and lip pencils): Because these products are typically used around moist areas of the face that are most likely to contain and spread bacteria, it’s absolutely vital that you thoroughly sanitize your pencils after you use them on a client and again before you use them on the next client, even if they’ve only been sitting in your kit, untouched in between makeup appointments. You’ll want to begin by sharpening them and removing the outer layer of product, using a clean, freshly sanitized sharpener (see below for how to sanitize your tools). After your pencil is sharpened, you will want to dip it in or spray it with alcohol, letting it evaporate for about 10 seconds before the next step… Depending on the formula of the pencil and whether it’s more soft and gel-like or harder and more solid, you may be able to use an isopropyl alcohol solution with an alcohol percentage as low as 70% to 90%, which would be ideal. However, if your product basically melts using that percentage of alcohol, you can dip it in or spray it with 91% to 99% alcohol, with the lower percentage of alcohol being preferable. After it’s sprayed or dipped and the alcohol is allowed to evaporate a bit, you may wipe it down with a clean, sanitary tissue. Once it’s been wiped dry, I recommend sharpening it again AFTER you spray your sharpened with alcohol and letting it dry as well. I know it seems like a lot of steps to take, but considering the areas of the face where you are using a pencil product and the fact that you will usually be applying a pencil directly to your client’s face, it’s incredibly important to make sure that the pencil is sanitary or you may risk spreading an infection to your client, which is serious stuff! Also, DO NOT put the cap back on the pencil in between ANY of these sanitizing steps or you will have to start from scratch! It is, however perfectly fine to lay the pencil on a clean tissue to repeatedly use on the client during the same makeup application, as long as it doesn’t touch any other surface.
  • Liquid Liners (felt or brush tip pens or liquid products with an applicator wand): In my opinion, there isn’t really any way to effectively sanitize these so you can directly apply them to a client using the applicator wand or felt/brush tip that’s part of the liquid liner’s component. However, you CAN, and should, sanitize them in between clients, even if you are only dispensing product by touching the applicator wand or felt/brush tip to a clean, sanitized palette or fresh, disposable paper palette. You should also sanitize your liquid liners that you use on yourself from time to time! To do so, you can spray the applicator wand or felt/brush tip with alcohol, then wipe it down with a clean tissue or paper towel. Since the wand or felt/brush tip is not being touched directly to anyone’s skin or to an unsanitary surface, I feel like it’s safe to use a higher percentage of isopropyl alcohol and I prefer 95%+. I also feel like this is the best type of alcohol solution to use on these products because, especially with the felt/brush tip pens, the product can be ruined if the alcohol sits on the pen too long and does not rapidly evaporate.
  • Tools (palettes, makeup spatulas, palette knives, tweezers, lash applicators, scissors, pencil sharpeners, eyelash curlers, etc): All of these tools must be sanitized before use, in between clients, and after you are done with your makeup application before storing them back in your kit. These type of tools should be made from stainless steel, which is not a germ-friendly surface and is easily sanitized. To clean and sanitize any of the tools mentioned, you can thoroughly spray them down with alcohol (I would recommend 70% to 90%), or even soak them if there are not any parts that will be damaged by the alcohol, such as plastic handle on scissors or eyelash curlers, or the rubber inserts that most eyelash curlers have. After you spray or soak your tools, wipe them down with a clean tissue or paper towel to make sure they are completely dry before using them on a client, especially if the tool is to be used around the eyes, since alcohol can cause serious irritation and damage to the eye.
  • Brushes: Brushes are very easy to clean and sanitize, and are the most important tools you have as a makeup artist, so it’s vital to take good care of them! You will want to start out with clean brushes, and you must sanitize them in between clients if you are using the same brushes for multiple makeup applications that day. To spot clean/sanitize, you can spray your brushes with, or dip them into an antimicrobial brush cleaner, like the one made by Cinema Secrets (my personal preference). There are a ton of great, quick drying brush cleaners out there, but make sure that it’s one labeled as antimicrobial or that it is formulated to kill bacteria, viruses, and fungi. After you spray or dip your brush, wipe it with a clean paper towel until there is no product left on the brush or coming off on the paper towel. You may repeat these steps several times, if necessary. After you are done with your makeup appointment, I recommend putting your dirty brushes into their own bag or container so they don’t contaminate anything else in your kit. Once you are home or back in your studio, it’s time to thoroughly wash your brushes with soap (I like Dr Bronner’s liquid castile soap) and water, or a mixture of soap, water, and your antimicrobial brush cleanser that you also use to spot clean. Make sure you always hold your brushes with the fibrous brush end pointed downward when they’re wet so water doesn’t creep up into the ferule, ruining the brush and eating up the adhesive that keeps the fibers in there! Once you’ve cleaned the product out of the brush, rinse well, pat or gently squeeze dry with a paper towel, and lay flat to dry on a clean paper towel.
  • Lashes: As I mentioned earlier, lashes cannot be sanitized and reused on clients. You can sanitize your own lashes at home by taking some alcohol (I would suggest 90% isopropyl alcohol so it evaporates quickly but will still clean off the old glue, as well as any germs) on a cotton swab and cleaning up the lash band and lash fibers themselves, assuming they aren’t made of something that will melt if alcohol touches it. I’m not sure what types of lashes can be damaged by alcohol because I always just use new ones when mine start to seem gross or dirty, but if I find out, I’ll add that info!
  • Lash Glue: The outer part of a lash glue tube and wand can be sanitized by spraying or wiping it down with alcohol, being careful as to not get any alcohol inside the tube where it can damage the glue itself. I would suggest using 70% to 90% alcohol for this.

 

Lastly, let’s talk about the types and formulas of products that are being applied to a client and how to apply them in a sanitary, safe way:

First things first, though… ALWAYS make sure that your makeup station is set up on clean, sanitary, disposable paper pads or palettes, or paper towels, so that any product or tool you use can safely be set back down and you won’t have to worry about it touching a dirty table or countertop. Also, please remember to use hand sanitizer before your makeup application begins, before you pick up a brush or tool, and before touch your products or your client’s face. If you have taken a break and touched anything else (like your hair, your own face, a phone… eww, grabbed your coffee cup, whatever), sanitize your hands before touching your tools, products, or your clients face again.

  • Pressed Powders (blush, eyeshadow, powder, highlight, bronzer, etc): It is fine to apply sanitized powder products by dipping your brush into the product and applying it directly to the client’s face. It is also safe to dip your brush back into the product, then apply more to the client’s face. However, you MUST disinfect the pressed powder after you are finished with your client AND before using it on the next client.
  • Loose Powders (setting powder, highlighter, pigments, etc): These should be dispensed onto a clean, sanitized palette, paper palette, or a clean tissue or paper towel. You may then dip your brush or applicator into the powder and apply to your client. Never dip your brush directly into a loose powder product jar or container, apply to a client’s face, then dip back into the container. If that happens, it is impossible to effectively sanitize the remaining loose powder within the container.
  • Gels, Creams, and Liquids (gel liners, blushes or shadows; cream shadows, primers, foundations, concealers, blushes, highlighters, contour sticks, bronzers, face primers, any and all bullet-style lipsticks; liquid foundations, concealers, lipsticks, lip glosses, skincare, mascara, etc): As I stated earlier in this post, no makeup artist should EVER allow these products to be exposed to the open air and environment UNLESS they have the container opened to collect product for application. You must NEVER put your finger, brush, or any other unsanitary instrument into a gel, cream or liquid product. The ONLY acceptable and sanitary way to dispense cream, gel and liquid products for use on clients is by using a palette knife, or spatula that has been properly sanitized prior to collecting the product, or a clean, unused, disposable applicator, scoop, or spatula. After collecting the product, it is safest and easiest to put the product onto a clean, sanitized palette or a fresh disposable paper palette. You may then dip your brush or preferred applicator into the product that has been placed on the palette and apply it to the client’s face. You may also use a disposable applicator wand, such as a lip or mascara wand, to collect the lipstick, lip gloss, mascara, etc. In this case, you must apply the product from the disposable applicator directly to the client’s face, then DISPOSE OF THE USED WAND. If you need more product, collect more with a new, clean wand and dispose of it immediately after application. If you are dealing with any gel, cream, or liquid that pours or pumps out of the container, dispense directly onto a sanitized palette or disposable paper palette, and dip your brush into the product on the palette for application. NEVER drip a gel, cream, or liquid product onto a client’s face (like you see on Instagram and YouTube). If the dropper touches the skin, it will contaminate the whole product once it’s placed back into the bottle or container. Furthermore, if you ever double-dip into any gel, cream, or liquid product, you should throw it out. They are impossible to completely sanitize if this should happen, and it’s no longer considered safe to use on the next client.
  • Pencils (solid or gel-like eye, brow, and lip pencils): These must NEVER be applied without being properly sanitized first. You may scrape some of the pencil onto a palette, if you prefer to apply it with a brush or wand, but it still must first be sanitized the same way as if you were going to apply it directly to your client. Also, as stated earlier, if you put the cap back onto the pencil during the makeup application, you must sanitize the pencil again before applying it to your client or scraping it onto a palette.
  • Liquid Liners (felt or brush tip pens or liquid products with an applicator wand): These must NEVER be directly applied to the client! Liquid liners may be applied by dipping a new, sanitary applicator wand into the product and dispensing the product onto a clean, sanitized palette or a disposable paper palette. You may then collect the product from the palette, onto your preferred brush or applicator wand, and apply it to the client’s face. After the product is placed onto your clean palette, you may double dip into that small amount of product. If these type of products are contaminated by applying directly to a client or double dipping, you should dispose of the product and not use it on a future client.
  • Lashes: A fresh, clean pair of lashes should be applied to each client, and preferably for each new makeup application. To get the lashes in place and pressed closely to your client’s lash line, use a clean, sanitized lash applicator tool or tweezers (never sharp ones), or your clean, sanitized little fingers but ONLY if you have your client’s approval to do so.
  • Lash Glue: Never use the lash glue’s own brush applicator to apply the glue to a pair of lashes, or hold the tip of the squeeze tube up to a lash band. It’s best to squeeze the glue onto your clean palette or disposable paper palette, or dip an applicator wand into the tube of lash glue, then using the wand,  apply the glue to the the lash band. Remember not to double dip the applicator wand and always get a fresh one each time if you are dipping directly into the tube of lash glue. It’s fine to use the same disposable wand if you are picking up the glue from your palette.

 

I realize that was incredibly long and detailed, but if you read through the whole guide, I appreciate you spending your time here and I hope that helped you out in some way! If you have any input on this subject, please feel free to comment below! I welcome an open discussion, but since this is a sensitive time for many people when it comes to the topic of germs and such, I must ask you to refrain from sharing false information that cannot be backed up, or spreading panic and paranoia. If I feel that a comment is misinforming or contributing to unnecessary levels of paranoia or anxiety, the comment will be subject to moderation. Thank you all for stopping by and thanks in advance for any additional input you may have on this subject!

1 reply

  1. This is very well written. Perfect amount of details and fact. I actually have given products away(they were new at start and samples from a company or small sized, etc to keep items clean. I prefer to soak in alcohol any metal items because it’s just what i learned in my 30 years of nursing. I also am soo funny about it all i HAVE to give it all that 1 extra wipe down. None of this should take to long once you figure out how and the what. Again you explained it all beautifully. Thank you for sharing and taking the time to do this. It’s much appreciated.

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