Stop the (Bacteria) Swap: Staying Safe at the Makeup Counter

You might share your makeup with a close friend every now and then but what about with hundreds of strangers at the makeup counter?

With products being touched by so many people every day, experts warn you could easily be at risk for picking up a number of germs, including those that cause the common cold, pink eye and even herpes.  One New York woman recently filed a lawsuit claiming she contracted the viral disease after sampling a lipstick at a pop-up shop held during a Rihanna concert.

“There are several dangers that come to mind when using samples, but the biggest is contamination,” says cosmetic surgeon and dermatologist Dr. Joel Schlessinger. “Large displays can and will run the risk of people handling samples and leave behind germs, which can easily be transmitted to others.”


Fortunately, experts say there are ways to assure yourself a hygienic makeover.

“Always watch a beauty associate wash their brushes in front of you before you allow them to demonstrate their technique,” says Emmy Award-winning makeup artist Vanessa Elese.

Elese also adds it’s perfectly acceptable to ask for a fresh sample to try before you buy. As for creams or lotions, look for pump bottles instead of those that allow you to dip your fingers directly in the product.

“Always try opened containers, like lipsticks and shadows, on your hand,” says New York City-based celebrity makeup artist Kimara Ahnert. “Avoid testing mascara. It’s always best to go with a new one. And never use makeup samples that look half empty. These have had multiple users.”

The rules also apply to applicators. Look for fresh disposables and if none are available, use your own or ask a makeup artist to disinfect theirs with alcohol swabs before using.

Dr. Schlessinger advises avoiding testing directly on lips or eyes and to wash off immediately after using the products.

When all else fails, take it home, he says.

“I would try to find samples that are in packets when possible,” says Dr. Schlessinger.