In-use makeup products, namely blending sponges, crawling with infectious bacteria: study

From mascara to lip gloss, the makeup products you are currently using are likely crawling with infectious bacteria that could cause skin infections and blood poisoning, according to a new study.

Conducted by researchers with Aston University’s School of Life and Health Sciences in the UK, the study found that roughly 90 percent of the makeup products tested – such as mascara, lip gloss and “blender” sponges – were contaminated with “superbugs” like E. coli and Staphylococci.


The bacteria from these products, if used near the eyes, mouth or cuts or grazes on the skin, could possibly cause an infection. This is especially true for immunocompromised people who “are more likely to contract infections from opportunistic bacteria,” according to a news release on the findings, which were published in the Journal of Applied Microbiology.

Researchers tested 467 products, including 96 lipsticks, 92 eyeliners, 93 mascara, 107 lip glosses, and 79 bender spongers. Blender sponges – egg-shaped sponges used primarily to apply and smooth foundation – were the more egregious offenders, containing the highest levels of possibly harmful bacteria.

Blending sponges were the biggest offenders, the researchers found.

Blending sponges were the biggest offenders, the researchers found. (iStock)

“The Aston researchers found these products are particularly susceptible to contamination as they are often left damp after use, which creates an ideal breeding ground for harmful bacteria,” per the news release.

In general, the cause for the bacteria overgrowth was due to users not cleaning products, or using makeup past its expiration date. (Unlike in the European Union, the U.S. does not have any laws or regulations that require expiration dates on cosmetic products, as per the FDA.)


For example, 93 percent of the blenders analyzed had never been washed — despite the fact that some two-thirds of them had been dropped on the floor at some point, the researchers said.

“Consumers’ poor hygiene practices when it comes to using makeup, especially beauty blenders, is very worrying when you consider that we found bacteria such as E. coli – which is linked with fecal contamination – breeding on the products we tested,” said one study leader Dr. Amreen Bashir, in a statement. “More needs to be done to help educate consumers and the makeup industry as a whole about the need to wash beauty blenders regularly and dry them thoroughly, as well as the risks of using make-up beyond its expiry date.”