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Michelle Obama’s Makeup Artist On The Dos And Don’ts Of Beauty Tool Cleaning

Carl Ray offers his pro tips to keep your go-tos free of germs and bacteria.
Michelle Obama’s Makeup Artist On The Dos And Don’ts Of Tool Cleaning
Andrew Lipovsky/NBC

In this new normal we probably have more time on our hands than we’ve ever had before. While it can often lead to boredom, the upside is that we can execute projects that typically go neglected during the commotion of a typical work week. Now is a great time to not only clean up our vanities and lose all the expired makeup and empty bottles, but it’s also a great time to give our tools a thorough cleansing.

That’s where celebrity and bridal makeup artist Carl Ray comes in. He’s not only the chief makeup artist for Albolene, he is the man who glammed up our forever FLOTUS Michelle Obama for years and for the cover of her book Becoming (she even gave him a mention in it).

He’s been in the beauty industry for nearly 20 years and has also touched the faces of some of our favorite beauties including MJ Rodriguez, Hannah Bronfman, and Kerry Washington. So when he offers tips, we listen. And when ESSENCE caught up with him recently, he offered some sound advice on how to clean our beauty tools like a pro.

Why is it important to clean your brushes using certain techniques?

Cleaning your brushes, especially your foundation brush, is an important step towards maintaining clean, healthy skin. Even before applying makeup, you want to be sure you’ve actually removed any previous makeup that might still be present on your skin with an effective makeup remover. I work a lot with clients who require heavier stage makeup and I swear by Albolene Moisturizing Cleanser, which effectively removes even the toughest, most stubborn makeup that could be left on the skin. When we apply our makeup with brushes, the oils from our faces get in between the bristles and can generate bacteria growth and germs, which can lead to unwanted blemishes.

Michelle Obama’s Makeup Artist On The Dos And Don’ts Of Tool Cleaning

How often should we clean our tools?

For regular makeup users, you should deep clean your brushes once or twice a month (depending on how often you use them) to avoid bacteria build up. However, for makeup artists like myself that work with clients multiple times a day, be sure to clean your brushes after each use with brush cleaner and then engage in a deep clean at the end of every work day. Not only is cleaning your brushes amazing for your skin but it’s equally beneficial for your tools themselves.

What are the tools that tend to go most overlooked even when folks are cleaning their brushes?

Unfortunately many frequent makeup users will forget to clean some of their smaller and not as heavily utilized makeup tools like beauty blenders, eyelash curlers, tweezers and eyebrow shapers, which is essential as they are capable of carrying bacteria as well. Pro tip: If you take care of your brushes, they will last for years—not to mention how lovely clean brushes feel and perform on your skin. I’ve had some of my favorite brushes for a decade!

What are some of the don’ts of cleaning makeup tools and brushes?

When cleaning your makeup brushes, the first “no-no” is to never completely submerge your brushes in water. This can cause the wood handles to swell and crack and can loosen the glue that holds the brushes in place. Additionally, after washing your brushes, don’t ever leave them to dry in an upright position. This can trap water in the base of the brush which in turn can cause rotting of the wood and loosen bristles. Always lay them flat to dry. And finally, I find it best to wash them after you’ve applied your makeup for the day, because your brushes will need a few hours to dry after a deep cleaning.

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What are some behaviors that we can adopt to keep our tools clean when quarantine is over and life is back to busy?

Right now, we’re all hyper focused on cleanliness and keeping the things we use germ-free. It’s an important habit to have all the time. While investing in a bottle of makeup brush cleaner is the easiest solution, deep cleaning each of your tools is the key to keeping your collection polished and free of bacteria build up. I recommend setting aside time once a month, especially when your schedule gets busier, solely dedicated to cleaning some of your most prized possessions, as they should be considered since they directly affect the health of your skin!

Try Carl Ray’s Five-Step “Deep Clean” Routine

Step One: Begin by running all of your brushes under lukewarm water, rinsing out all of the residual makeup. Try to focus on the actual bristles while avoiding the part of the brush where the handle meets the head.

Step Two: Fill a bowl with lukewarm water and add a squirt of baby shampoo or even antibacterial soap to the bowl and gently swirl your brush tip in the water. If needed, you can also swirl the brush in the palm of your hand to work up a lather.

Step Three: Rinse the brush tip under running water once again. Repeat steps two and three until the water runs clear from the brush.

Step Four: Use a cloth to wipe your brush clean, reshaping the bristles as you go.

Step Five: Lay your brushes flat on a cloth to dry.