Cotton swabs are the unsung heroes of the beauty world. They come in packs of a thousand and have about that many uses: everything from ensuring that your manicure is on-point to helping you create the perfect cat-eye, and we’ve gathered up all of our favorites right here. These are the 10 cotton swab hacks that are going to revolutionize your beauty life—guaranteed.
1. Halve them.
Many times when it comes to our beauty and cotton swabs, you won’t use both ends—but what can you do with a half-used swab? Save it? No, that’s super-gross. Instead, cut your Q-tips in half so that you have a bunch of single-ended, short-wanded swabs.
Bonus tip: Use wire cutters to cut them in half; we find they make far shorter work of sawing through the cardboard stems than scissors do.
2. Clean up a cat-eye.
Not even the steadiest hand gets their wing right 100% of the time. The best way to fix it up? Pull about half of the cotton off the end of the swab, dip it into some eye makeup remover, and wipe away any irregular eyeliner. This “skinny swab” method makes it easier to get a very sharp, precise line, which is exactly what you want in a cat eye.
3. Perfect your manicure.
The “skinny swab” is also the perfect way to clean up nail polish mistakes: it allows you to be precise in a way that a regular swab doesn’t, and also won’t get those annoying fibers stuck in almost-dry lacquer. Again, pull about half the cotton off the tip of your swab, dip into your nail polish remover, then clean it up!
4. Fix a mascara mistake.
Dip your swab in a tiny bit of eye makeup remover, place lightly on top of the makeup mistake, and twirl instead of rubbing. The mascara will come away, and if you’ve been gentle enough, won’t disturb the makeup underneath.
5. Boost your lashes.
Speaking of eyelashes, you can use a swab to give yours a boost. In between coats of mascara, use a cotton swab to lightly dust matte black powder eyeshadow onto your lashes. The powder will instantly volumize and lengthen your lashes, while the dark color of the shadow makes them supremely dark and gorgeous. Using a cotton swab instead of a brush ensures that the dark shadow won’t get all over your cheeks as you apply!
Bonus tip: You can use translucent setting powder instead of eyeshadow if you’re in a pinch, but we find that it gives eyelashes a “grey” look underneath mascara. Dark eyeshadow is always preferable.
Another bonus tip: If you’re feeling brave, use a shimmery, bright-colored shadow under your mascara as well. It will peek out just a little, giving your lashes a gorgeous, iridescent look.
6. Fix a zipper.
Raise your hand if your makeup bag zipper has ever gotten stuck, trapping your most necessary cosmetics inside. Yeah, us too—and it’s cotton swabs to the rescue yet again! Dip a swab in a little hair conditioner, rub over the “stuck” part of the zipper, and voila, it opens easily. Your lipstick is saved!
Bonus tip: This also works on clothing zippers, hooray!
7. Create a smoky eye.
If you have your blending game on lock, you can do gorgeous eye makeup with practically any tools—but cotton swabs are easier to use than most. To create a slept-in smokey eye look, line your top and bottom waterlines with black eyeliner, dip your swab in black eye shadow and smudge into your eyelashes. Blink a couple of times to blur the liner, and voila: seriously seductive, second day eye makeup.
8. Clean up dye mistakes.
You can use olive oil to remove hair dye stains from skin—but sometimes it’s not as simple as wiping your forehead. Hair dye has a nasty habit of getting into weird crevices (like our ears) and temporarily staining our scalp, which is never a good look when we part our hair. To really make sure your skin is dye-free, dip a swab in olive oil to scrub your part and the whorls of your ears.
9. DIY lip liner.
Sometimes you test our a brand new lipstick, only to realize—horror of horrors—that it feathers into the fine lines around your mouth. If you don’t have a lipliner on hand, or if you don’t have one in a shade that matches your lip color, dip a cotton swab into translucent powder and trace around your lips. This will form an invisible perimeter that will prevent your lipstick from migrating off your lips.
10. On-the-go concealer.
Let’s face it: we all need concealer touch-ups throughout the day, but if you’re prone to losing things, it’s sometimes not a good idea to take this most essential of beauty products along with you to be forgotten or dropped. Instead, dip a couple of cotton swabs in your favorite liquid, gel or solid concealer, pop them into a small ziplock bag, and take them with you to reapply throughout the day!
Bonus tip: This doesn’t work so well with powder concealers. Just a tip from us to you.