Toxic Talk and Labels

Deadly Superbugs in Your Makeup Bag?

+ Pamela Friedman

How often do you clean out the products in your makeup bag?

If you’re like most of us, not often. But we may all need to change that habit, and quickly, considering the results of a recent study.

Scientists tested a group of products commonly found in makeup bags, and what they found would make anyone recoil. Here’s more, and how to make sure your products are safe for your skin!

Study Shows Illness-Causing Bacteria in Common Makeup Products

For the study, researchers from Aston University’s School of Life and Health Sciences investigated several used cosmetic products that had been donated by participants. These included lipsticks, lip glosses, eyeliners, mascaras, and beauty blenders, like sponges and brushes. The scientists then tested the products to determine the microbial contamination in each.

Results showed that about 79-90 percent of all products were contaminated with bacteria like Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli (E. coli), and Citrobacter freundii. These bacteria can cause illnesses ranging from skin infections to blood poisoning, particularly when used near the eyes and mouth, or over cuts and grazes.

Why was the ick factor so high? First, the products hadn’t been cleaned. Nearly all of the beauty blenders—which were the dirtiest of all the products—had not been cleaned, and 64 percent had been dropped on the floor and continued to be used. The beauty sponges were particularly susceptible to contamination because they were often left damp after use, which creates a welcoming environment for bacteria growth.

Second, many of the products had been kept beyond their expiration dates—far beyond the dates in most cases, meaning they had been used and reused far longer than they should have been.

The researchers concluded that customers are unwittingly putting themselves at risk and that manufacturers should be doing more to warn customers by making expiration dates more clear and adding cleaning requirements on the packaging.

“Consumers’ poor hygiene practices when it comes to using make-up,” said lead author Dr. Amreen Bashir, “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.”

Tips to Keep Your Makeup Clean and Safe

To avoid potentially making yourself sick when applying your makeup, follow these tips:

  • Watch expiration dates. Once the expiration date has passed, throw out and replace the product.
  • Check for damage. Any products that are damaged, throw them out. If it starts to smell or look funny, get rid of it.
  • Keep track of age. For products that don’t have expiration dates, keep track of when you buy them so you know how old they are. Throw mascaras, liquid foundations and concealers, lipsticks, lip pencils, and eye pencils out after three months. Powders you can keep for up to 6 months.
  • Clean your brushes. It’s best to wash these once a week. Simply run them under some warm tap water, drop some shampoo in your palm, swirl the brush around, rinse until the water runs clear, reshape the bristles, and air dry over the table or sink edge.
  • Clean your eyelash curler. You can wash this with warm soap and water too, and every 3-6 months, replace the rubber strip.
  • Clean your makeup bag. Every month or so, take a wet wipe to the inside lining, or turn it inside out and soap it up with a small brush.
  • Use sponges only once. These are not wise to re-use. Consider them strictly one-use products.

Do you regularly clean out your makeup bag?

Bashir, A., and P. Lambert. “Microbiological study of used cosmetic products: highlighting possible impact on consumer health.” Journal of Applied Microbiology 128, no. 2 (2019), 598-605. doi:10.1111/jam.14479.

ScienceDaily. “The Deadly Superbugs Lurking in More Than Nine in Ten Make-up Bags.” ScienceDaily. Last modified February 6, 2020.

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