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I'm going to get this out of the way immediately and just say that I don't clean my makeup brushes that often. I know! I'm garbage. I'm disgusting. I just can't be bothered.
I've tried to find shortcuts, believe me. I have the Brush Pearl, a machine that looks like a tiny dishwasher. While it was easier than manual scrubbing, it still took me a good half hour from start to finish, otherwise known as 30 minutes during which I could have been watching Million Dollar Listing.
I've also tried the Sigma brush cleaning mat, a bumpy silicone mat that you stick in your sink. Again, it was easier than scrubbing brush heads with my hands, but it reminded me of an old-timey laundry washboard. Too much labor.
So imagine my utter delight upon learning that there is the equivalent of dry shampoo for makeup brushes. (I should note that I don't use real dry shampoo very often, but I understand why so many women are devoted to it. Because they are lazy. I support them.)
SEPHORA DRY CLEAN: It currently has a 4.4 star average rating on Sephora's website. The most divisive thing by far is the scent, which I would describe as musky almond. It's not subtle, so if you don't like heavily fragranced products, beware.
The two main active ingredients are solvents, and the rest (1% or less, according to the packaging) are things like almond oil, aloe, fragrance, and other plant extracts. You just spray a few times directly onto the brush head and wipe off on a tissue.
My daily brushes include a dense foundation brush, a fluffy kabuki, several eye shadow brushes, and the occasional eyeliner brush. This formula worked best on the brushes that were coated with powder versus liquid. It's brilliant if you're using a few different eye shadow colors and don't want to change your brush out (lazy!) in between.
It worked less well, unsurprisingly, on the gunky foundation brush, but I'd say it got about 70% of the residue off, which is fine (you're going to still have to scrub it once in a while). The brushes felt soft and pliable after cleaning, not like they were coated with any sort of residue.The smell also dissipates pretty quickly.
JAPONESQUE WATERLESS BRUSH CLEANSER: This cleaner also got four out of five stars on Ulta, and again, the biggest point of contention was the scent. It contains only three ingredients: alcohol, castor oil, and fragrance.
It feels much wetter than the Sephora product, both in the container and after you spray it on the brushes. However, presumably thanks to the alcohol, it evaporates quickly. This one has a sweet scent that is slightly less strong than Sephora's.
Again, it was most effective on the brushes that were coated with powder. It worked a little bit better than Sephora's on my eye liner and foundation brushes. I think the fact that the brushes are wet for a few seconds helps to lift some of the product off when you rub them on the tissue. Again, it left no residue or stickiness on the brushes and I was able to use them immediately after wiping.
I'd say both of these perform more or less equally well. If it came down to fragrance, I prefer Sephora's. The bottom line is there's no getting out of using elbow grease to clean your brushes once in a while, lest they become teeming hives of bacteria. But these are really great alternatives for quickie cleaning in a hurry.
You can also try pro products like Cinema Secrets (less portable, since it comes in a bottle. Correction: It does come in a spray bottle, here!) and Parian Spirit wipes that makeup artists have used forever, and which are also quick drying. But I love the ease of the spray concept. I'm predicting more brands will release similar products, a boon for lazy makeup lovers everywhere.