“If a woman has a cut on her lip and borrows lipstick from someone who has a cold sore, she’ll get a cold sore. You can pass herpes [the cold sore virus], conjunctivitis [pink eye] and all sorts of things through sharing makeup,” says Dr. Zein Obagi, a dermatologist based in Beverly Hills. Now imagine sharing your makeup with a few thousand or so of your closest friends when you sample makeup in testers in stores…
Dr. Elizabeth Brooks, a biological sciences professor at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, conducted a much-quoted two-year study on public makeup testers when she was with Rowan University in New Jersey about five years ago. “We went to department stores, specialty stores, drugstores–everywhere,” she says. Her researchers found staph, strep and even E. coli bacteria on makeup testers. “Wherever you see E. coli, you should just think ‘E. coli equals feces,’ ” Brooks says. “That means someone went to the bathroom, didn’t wash their hands and then stuck their fingers in that moisturizer.” Brooks says that when they tested the makeup on Saturdays–the day with the most traffic at cosmetic counters–the percentage of tainted makeup was 100%.
The FDA concurs. In recommendations for cosmetic safety, the agency warns against sharing makeup, saying, “Don’t share or swap eye cosmetics–not even with your best friend. Another person’s germs may be hazardous to you. The risk of contamination may be even greater with ‘testers’ at retail stores, where a number of people are using the same sample product.”
Brooks’ most adamant advice is not to test publicly used makeup on your eyes, nose or mouth. “Mascara is the most troubling,” Brooks says. “I have two teenage daughters–I tell them never, ever, ever use a tester mascara because there could be cross-contamination, and this is your eye –there could be some serious ramifications.”