Danger Lurking at the Makeup Counter-If You are Living with Cancer Stay Away!

+ Pamela Friedman

Want to test out that new lipstick color? You’ll find a tester at the makeup counter-but you may want to think twice before using it.

A recent study conducted by Dr. Elizabeth Brooks, a biological sciences professor at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, found that lipstick, moisturizer, and mascara testers were contaminated with E. coli, staph, and strep bacteria. The percentage of testers contaminated? A whopping 100 percent!

“We went to department stores, specialty stores, drugstores-everywhere,” said Brooks. “Wherever you see E. coli, you should just think ‘E. coli equals feces.’ That means someone went to the bathroom, didn’t wash their hands, and then stuck their fingers in that moisturizer.”

Gross, right? And it’s not like the makeup artists didn’t try to keep things clean. They replaced anything they saw contaminated (if a woman put lipstick directly on her lips, for instance) and scraped off product every night to supposedly reveal clean lipstick underneath, but it wasn’t enough.

If you’re going through cancer treatments, you need to imagine skulls and crossbones on any testers you come across. Most likely, your immune system is down from all the drugs, and you may also have a low white-blood cell count. All this puts you at higher risk of infection, so you just can’t afford to expose yourself to germs in makeup testers.

Other dangers potentially lurking at makeup counters? The herpes virus and pink eye. It’s all about germs traveling from person to person, with nothing standing in the way. Even the FDA warns women: “Don’t share or swap cosmetics-not even with your best friend. The risk of contamination may be even greater with ‘testers’ at retail stores, where a number of people are using the same product.”

If your immune system is strong, you can take some precautions that may protect you. For instance, if you want to try a lotion, use one you can squeeze onto your skin rather than dipping into a jar. You can wipe off the surface of makeup testers with a tissue dipped in alcohol, and always use disposable applicators and cotton swabs, never communal makeup brushes. Best of all are the little individual testers, which some brands have. But during cancer, it’s just best to stay away.

“Every makeup display we tested,” said Brooks, “always had disposable brushes and little pads to put on makeup.” And still they found 100 percent contamination. “Even when the ladies [behind the counter] are very diligent about dipping it in alcohol, they’re not lab technicians….Viruses are so small in comparison to bacteria it’s harder to get rid of a virus.”

Brooks advises customers to try lipstick on their hands, and to never, ever use a tester mascara. Otherwise, keep everything away from your eyes, nose, and mouth no matter what.

Have you changed your shopping habits since this study came out? Please share your thoughts.

Photo courtesy BMichael via