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How to Clean Out Your Makeup Bag for a New Year Refresh

Seriously, how did it get so dirty in there? Unless you’re a super neat freak, there’s no way your makeup bag doesn’t have a bunch of stains or old makeup lingering. But once it comes time to get clean, it’s so hard to let go. Well, with this guide you can know exactly how to clean out your makeup bag while keeping the best essentials for everyday use.

woman holding black framed mirror
Photo by Kelly Sikkema from Unsplash

Find what needs to be thrown out

If you’re the type of person who never cleans their makeup brushes, you need to read this. Makeup enthusiast and Rutgers sophomore Lauren Reid has some great advice based on her experience doing her own and others’ makeup. She says, “When you haven’t used something in a while it depends. Certain powder products like eyeshadow or bronzer will get tougher to use. But it’s just the top layer and once you work past that they should be good to go.”

Liquid products are a different story. You may have seen your foundation separate after a few months — Lauren says this shouldn’t be a problem until much later. “Concealer and foundation are good to use after a while of no use, but it just depends on each bottle.” Use your best judgment and think about how most watery substances gather bacteria after standing for a long period of time. You don’t want to clog up your pores and get acne just from applying makeup!

Long story short: If it’s liquid, it’s the party for bacteria. If it’s powdery, it’ll last you much longer. “I always keep blush and highlighter and throw away mascara because it expires, and I don’t use foundation very often,” says NYU sophomore Monique Muse. If you’re like her, you’re probably doing a good job of keeping tabs on your makeup habits. 

You might want to give your unused, but not too old, products to friends as a gift (as long as it isn’t something you used on your eyes). Florida State University sophomore Nicole Garcia added that she keeps a drawer specifically for this reason. “I put them in a small makeup bag in the drawer so when I do my spring cleaning I check the products in the bag and either give them to my friends or throw it out,” she says.

Find your essential items

Because your makeup bag goes with you everywhere, you can’t keep the whole world in it; that’s probably what made it dirty in the first place! So how do you know what your essentials are? Whether you’re a chapstick and mascara kind of girl, or you can’t leave the house without a full face of makeup, your essentials will never include all of your makeup.

“Since I love makeup and always do a full face, I take everything with me when I pack makeup,” Lauren says. But her everyday bag looks different (and it should): “In my purse I’ll have my pressed powder and lipstick to freshen up throughout the day as well as blotting papers.”

Aujanae Dickson-Whitfield, a sophomore at UNC Charlotte, is the perfect example of finding what works for you. “I should start keeping makeup wipes on me, because when I wear eyeliner I accidentally rub my eye and end up smearing it throughout the day,” she says.

University of Alabama sophomore Nicole Kaye says she isn’t too invested in her makeup. “I always have a tweezer, tampons, eyelash curler, tissues, and then all the general makeup stuff,” she says. This is the perfect group of products for a quick touch up during the day (and she’s super prepared for emergencies), nothing more!

The key is finding what you use the most. Take mental notes to figure out what usually goes into your beauty routine to help narrow it down.

a cup of makeup brushes is in focus on the right, and a small handful of brushes lays out of focus on the table to the left
freestocks | Unsplash

Actually clean it

Makeup bags usually have a plastic inside, so they’re not too hard to clean. The hardest part is simply setting aside the time to do it. The quickest way to tackle it: Take your makeup wipes or micellar water on a cotton pad and wipe out the inside. To disinfect, put some rubbing alcohol on a cotton pad or in a spray bottle and wipe it down thoroughly. Let it sit for a few minutes before refilling it.

The long way to tackle it is with dish soap, water, and a scrubber. If your makeup bag is in desperate need of a clean, this method may be for you.

As for brushes, you should probably focus on cleaning these the most. “I clean my brushes less than I probably should but I’ve forced myself to get in the habit of washing them when I do my weekend deep cleans in my apartment,” says Nicole Garcia. Include brush cleaning in your regular cleaning! Then you’ll never forget.

“So much bacteria gets on brushes that people don’t realize, and a clean brush always applies a lot better than a dirty one. For cleaning brushes I just use warm water and baby soap and brush them, and then put them back to shape to dry,” Lauren says. Although she owns a lot of brushes, she still puts in the effort.

Your makeup bag doesn’t have to be the source of grime. With these tips you can keep it looking as fresh and beautiful as the products you store in it!

Morgan is a sophomore at St. John's University in Queens, New York. She is a journalism major with a passion for news and culture, and a staff writer for St. John's independent student newspaper The Torch. Aside from writing for Her Campus, she is a spoken word poet and pianist. Her past work can be found at morgancmullings.wordpress.com. Twitter & Instagram: @morgancmullings