Is Your Makeup Making You Sick?

Is Your Makeup Making You Sick?
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Is Your Makeup Making You Sick?

Think Twice About Testers

The beauty of department store cosmetic counters is the opportunity to test before you buy. The not-so-pretty downside is the potential to catch something — including the flu or a fungal infection.

Consider the scenario Dr. Torres describes: "You go to one of these places, and they are asking you to try lipstick. Well, how do you know that a woman with a cold sore wasn't in front of you testing it? She applies it, and then the virus that causes the cold sore gets into the product. Then you come next, and you try it, and that will pass the virus directly to your mouth."

But Dr. Wu adds that it is perfectly okay to ask the sales associate to open a new tester for you, especially if it's a lip or eye product. "If that's not possible, check to see whether fresh applicators are used for each customer," Dr. Wu says. Otherwise, she suggests twisting the lipstick up and taking a sample from the side of it with an applicator, rather than from the top.


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Don't Double Dip

The way a product is applied also determines the likelihood of it becoming a playground for bacteria. Pots and jars that require you to dip your fingers into the product are more likely to become contaminated than products that need an applicator.

If you're sick, use a cotton swab to apply eye and lip products, being careful not to double dip. Use a sponge when you apply foundation and toss it after each use. Also, avoid licking your lips before applying gloss to minimize the bacteria transfer.

Another consideration when deciding what to buy is that powders are a less welcoming environment for microorganisms than liquids and creams, Dr. Torres says.


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Start With a Clean Slate

"Sterilize, sterilize, sterilize," Dr. Torres says — it's the surest way to prevent infecting your skin with harmful bacteria. "Wash your face or area where you are applying the makeup to make sure you don't have any bacteria there that you will trap with the makeup. It might get trapped close to your skin and create irritation."

Your hands also must be clean, or you risk spreading germs to your skin and makeup. We all have those mornings running from the blow-dryer to the microwave to the computer and then back to the bathroom to do our makeup. Just try to keep in mind that if your skin and hands are clean every time you touch your makeup, the chances that you'll contaminate a product will drop dramatically.


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Give Your Brushes a Bath

Sometimes the contamination may not be in your makeup but in the applicator or brush you're using. Honestly — when, if ever, was the last time you cleaned that blush brush?

Dr. Wu suggests you clean your brushes and applicators once a week. "Not only does this keep bacteria to a minimum, but your makeup will go on better if the applicator isn't caked with old makeup and oils," she says.

To clean brushes, a gentle face cleanser or even baby shampoo and warm water will work just fine. If you do have a cold sore, pink eye, or some other illness, Dr. Wu says to switch to disposable applicators until you're healthy so that you don't reinfect yourself.


Photo Credit: Daily Glow

Know the Signs of Makeup Contamination

An act as seemingly harmless as blowing the excess off your powder brush or your blush compact can start a colony of germs (they migrate from your saliva). Aside from being more careful (though everyone has slips, of course), you should be aware of the signs of infection.

Red skin is likely the first symptom you'll notice, Dr. Torres says. "You might start to get an allergic reaction to the product that may not even be associated with the actual cosmetic but may be a reaction to the potential contaminate that is found in the product," he says.

Other immediate warning signs that things are going wrong include any change in the skin, slight inflammation, or itchiness, Dr. Torres says. If you see any symptoms, it's best to stop using the product immediately. See your doctor for advice on treatment as soon as possible.


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Learn to Let Go

Because there are no expiration dates on things like mascara, eye shadow, or foundation, there's a bit of a debate about when it's best to toss them out and start fresh. While Dr. Torres says you shouldn't use any product longer than three months, Dr. Wu says that if the makeup appears to be safe, then it should be all right to use. However, she says, "If the color has changed, or there are different colored specks sitting on top (which could be bacteria or fungus), then toss it."

But for products that do have an expiration date, such as lotions and lip balms, well, it's there for a reason, so you should really try to stick to it, just as you would for the milk in your fridge. "Some of the components in the beauty products have a shelf lifetime, just like food products," Dr. Torres says. "There's a time that you can use it. Otherwise, you will increase the chances that any microorganisms have been able to colonize and grow in these products." Many of these types of products contain active ingredients that just aren't effective after a while, he says.

For a complete guide to the life expectancy of specific makeup products, check out Daily Glow's guide.


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What's Living in Your Makeup Bag?

Take a look inside your makeup bag and you'll likely see your favorite lip gloss, maybe a well-used mascara, and a few battered compacts. But what you don't see is the real problem. Microorganisms can colonize your cosmetics, creating unhealthy conditions that can make you sick and wreck your skin.

Among the most common bad guys found in makeup are Staphylococcus epidermidis (which causes staph infection), the cold-sore-causing strain of herpes, and mold. Before you consider adding Lysol to your makeup routine, check out these easy guidelines from Dr. Jessica Wu, a Los Angeles dermatologist, and Dr. Alfredo Torres, an associate professor at the University of Texas Medical Branch and an expert on infectious diseases, to keep your makeup clean and your health in the clear.

Photo Credit: Daily Glow

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