Do Automated Makeup Brush Cleaners Work? We Put One to the Test

I tried the $99 BrushPearl on my hideous, cakey brushes. Here's what happened.
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I tried the $99 BrushPearl on my hideous, cakey brushes. Here's what happened.
A makeup artist's brush kit backstage at a runway show. Photo: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images

A makeup artist's brush kit backstage at a runway show. Photo: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images

I have a confession to make: I don't clean my makeup brushes that often. This is hard to admit, because I am constantly lecturing people about washing their faces, and indeed, I do a double and sometimes even a triple cleanse every night. But my makeup brushes look like they've been used to contour the entire cast of "The Real Housewives" for multiple seasons. I know that the gunk that builds up can harbor bacteria and potentially make my face break out, but I just can't be bothered. Usually the only time I am reminded to clean my hideous, cakey brushes is when I am applying my makeup. Otherwise I never think about it. Yes, I am repulsive.

So it was with great curiosity and excitement that I decided to try the BrushPearl ($99), an automated, ultrasonic makeup brush cleaning machine. The founder, Katie Barnard, is a beauty junkie who owns multiple makeup brushes, is a clean freak and was sick of scrubbing her brushes. She was inspired to invent this gadget after visiting her dentist and asking how they cleaned their instruments. She adapted the BrushPearl to work in the same way, using sound waves to essentially vibrate dirt off your brushes. (It should be noted that this is not a medical strength device and there have been no clinical studies done to show that it decreases bacteria.)

I tried it and took pictures every step of the way. Want to see how it worked? Click through below, but germophobes, be warned: it gets a little gory in there.

BEFORE:

Photo: Cheryl Wischhover's iPhone

Photo: Cheryl Wischhover's iPhone

Here are my most frequently used brushes. Please note the foundation buffer on the bottom. It's hard to see, but product is clumped and built up on it, and the times I HAVE cleaned it, it's difficult to clean because the bristles are so densely packed together. It's my favorite brush, though. I'm obsessed with buffing.

LOADING UP:

Photo: Cheryl Wischhover's iPhone

Photo: Cheryl Wischhover's iPhone

Here is the BrushPearl, which reminds me of a baby crock-pot. You add one to two capfuls of the included cleanser (which has a lovely almond scent) and fill the chamber with warm tap water up to the fill lines. The water looks a bit cloudy with the cleanser in it. Then you wedge the brushes into the rubberized slots. This is a bit tricky, because you have to position them so that the heads are submerged but not touching the bottom of the chamber. It would be hard to clean multiple skinny brushes at one time because the slots seem better suited for medium to thick brushes. Kabukis can be floated in the water since they generally are too thick to fit in the slots. 

CLEANING:

Photo: Cheryl Wischhover's iPhone

Photo: Cheryl Wischhover's iPhone

The device offers five different cleaning times ranging from 90 seconds to 10 minutes. Barnard recommends running your brushes through for two or three cycles the first time you clean them; then if you clean regularly you can use a shorter cycle. I chose the 10-minute cycle x two. The machine makes a buzzing sound that alarmed my cat, but otherwise is not too intrusive. (Here is where you can argue that in 20 minutes you could probably clean 20 brushes by hand. I am lazy, however, and would never do this.)

AFTER ONE CYCLE:

Photo: Cheryl Wischhover's iPhone

Photo: Cheryl Wischhover's iPhone

Hmm. Much like using a pore strip, it was satisfying to see all the gunk at the bottom. But the brushes were obviously not that clean yet. I emptied the chamber, filled it with new water and cleanser and ran the second cycle. Think of the crusty chicken marsala pan that you put into your dishwasher without rinsing first. Perhaps on gunkier brushes a quick pre-rinse in your sink would be useful before putting offensively dirty brushes in here. There's also that whole idea of sitting in a dirty bathtub stewing in your own filth here, but running a second cycle and a rinse cycle, both in clean water, helped to get that image out of my head.

DRYING:

Photo: Cheryl Wischhover's iPhone

Photo: Cheryl Wischhover's iPhone

I'll get to the close-up reveal in the next slide, but things were considerably better after the second cycle. I emptied the water again, then added clean water without cleanser and ran a 10 minute rinse cycle. (Total cleansing time including rinse: 30 minutes.) I used a paper towel to gently squeeze excess water out of the brushes as recommended, then put up the "kickstand" to dry them. This was my favorite feature, because drying brushes flat never works. This allows gravity to pull the water down and prevent flattening. I left them like this overnight and by the morning they were dry and fluffy, except for one powder brush that looked a bit rumpled still.

THE AFTERMATH:

Photos: Cheryl Wischhover's iPhone

Photos: Cheryl Wischhover's iPhone

The before brushes are seen at the left. It's a bit difficult to tell in the picture, but my foundation brush was a revelation. It was fluffy and the build-up was mostly gone. I suspect that it and my blush brush are stained, however. Or maybe it means I need to burn them. I tried to get what I thought was excess product off the brushes by hand after using the BrushPearl to try to determine how much was left on those brushes, but nothing was coming out. The eye shadow brushes were totally clean.

CONCLUSION: 

So, is the BrushPearl worth it? That depends. It costs $99 (mine was comped), so if you have some disposable income and don't mind your brushes being just clean enough, then yes. If you are a germophobe who insists on a spotless brush or takes pride in brush care, probably not. I think it's best for powdery brushes rather than brushes that get used for cream and liquid products. And honestly, it probably took as much time as it would have to do them by hand, but that shouldn't be the case going forward. There is also a space consideration, because it will take up some precious real estate under your sink. But now that I have a cleaner brush baseline, I'm determined to use it weekly (probably on the three minute setting). Overall, I'd recommend it if the above conditions describe you, if you can deal with your spouse/roommate/significant other making fun of you (this happened) and if you can handle the learning curve involved with loading and using the device.