Mid-Week Beauty Masterclass: Bacteria in Cosmetic Counter Testers ~ What You Need To Know!

Good afternoon ladies :) Here's an interesting topic for this installment of the Mid-Week Beauty Masterclass... Bacteria in Cosmetic Counters!  In Malta, we do not have a lot of large shops that sell exclusively make-up like Sephora for example (in fact, the only one that comes to mind is Inglot) as we usually buy make-up from pharmacies and sometimes some stationers also sell a limited range and testers are not always available.  

Cosmetic Counters at Galleries Lafayette, Paris

However, in the larger shops and cosmetic counters, we all love to have a play with the skin-care and make-up product testers available as there is always something that catches our eyes. The irresistible displays and easily accessible tester units beckon you to try on a lipstick, foundation, concealer, eyeshadow, or moisturizer directly on your face. But you might want to think twice before doing that again because it may be riskier than you know!  

Our skin houses a number of commensal bacteria, such as species of the Staphylococcus genus, some of which may be termed opportunistic pathogens, meaning that they are capable of causing disease given the right conditions (for example, you get a cut and that makes it easy for the bacteria to gain access to the deeper skin tissues and cause infections). 

Coming to the think about it, it is quite easy to get an infection from cosmetic counter testers as that lipstick you have just put on, may have been already used by a lot more women with unknown hygiene/health issues (like pink eye or Herpes simplex).

While preservatives in cosmetics do a great job of reducing the risk of contamination, they only can do so much and they get less effective with time and exposure to numerous microbes from people. Plus, a product’s preservative stability isn’t tested for use by hundreds of users.

In your daily life you would not willingly share your own makeup and skin care with countless women you don’t know, but that is exactly what you are doing when you try on a cosmetic that’s open and available on the counter. It becomes even more problematic on a busy day as a tester is used repeatedly in a short period of time. When this occurs, the preservative system doesn’t have enough time to kill off the contaminants, and that leaves you vulnerable to picking up something you don’t want.

Thankfully, at some cosmetic counters there are salespeople and makeup artists who try very hard to be as sanitary as possible when helping women test products. But given how busy a cosmetic counter can become or if no salespeople are present (which happens quite a bit), or the person behind the counter isn’t well trained, sanitation efforts go right out the door.

While we know there are microbes running amok at the cosmetic counter, the real issue is what are the risks to you? Unfortunately no one knows. Theoretically, if someone with herpes just tried on that lipstick or lip gloss it could get transferred to you, same for getting pink eye from an eye liner pencil or mascara, but there just isn’t any data to reference one way or the other. Theory isn’t fact and there is no evidence anywhere that women are getting any sort of disease from cosmetic tester displays, but we know they’re not bastions of hygiene, either.

So, the real question here is 'do you have the pass up the cosmetic counters?' The answer is up to you but if you are not willing to, here are some tips for playing it safe:

~ Powder eyeshadows, pressed powders, loose powders, and powder blushes have the least risk of containing microbes because they contain ingredients bacteria, fungus, and molds don’t like, so they are probably the safest for you to play with. It can be helpful to scrape off some eyeshadow (you want to be the most cautious with your eyes) on to Kleenex and then apply it, but check with the salesperson first before you damage a company’s testers.

~ Lipsticks and lip glosses are problematic to trust, but for lipstick you can roll up the tube and take some color from the bottom. You can also ask the salesperson if they have alcohol spray so you can spray the top of the lipstick or the applicator for the lip gloss before you try it on. Be sure to allow several seconds for the alcohol to disinfect before applying the product to your lips.

~ Mascaras should never be tested at a cosmetic counter. The application and applicator makes it the riskiest item on the display unit. What about cosmetic counters that offer disposable, single-use brush applicators? They’re a nice touch, but you don’t know if the person before you double-dipped or, for whatever reason, didn’t have hygiene at the front of her mind.

~ Eye pencils are best tried on your hand, not your eyes. This especially applies to liquid eyeliners, which are almost always water-based. Used on multiple people, liquid eyeliners serve as a fertile breeding ground for bacteria.

~ Foundations should be tested on the side of the face away from the eyes and mouth to be the safest, but using a clean or disposable sponge is best of all so everyone keeps their fingers out of the product.

~ For concealer or any product in a tube, squeeze out a little amount on a Kleenex and discard. The contents at the top are the most likely to be contaminated. Next, squeeze out a bit more on a Kleenex and use that to test.

~ Skin-care products are best tested on your hands to judge the texture (you can’t tell efficacy with one application anyway so there is no benefit of putting it on your face or eye area), or ask the salesperson for a sample if available.

~ Brushes should be sprayed with alcohol before you use them. Wait for the brushes to dry before using them.

It would be ideal (though given the pervasiveness of jar packaging, not realistic) to test products whose containers kept fingers out of contact with the contents. Products packaged in airless containers or with pump or dropper applicators are safer than those housed in open-mouth jars.

Tester units at salons and spas which have far fewer traffic than department stores are a safer bet as well (though of course there are less brands and options to try on—but if you are just trying to judge color these can work great).

I hope you found this post interesting and of use ladies :) What do you think of cosmetic counters?

5 comments on "Mid-Week Beauty Masterclass: Bacteria in Cosmetic Counter Testers ~ What You Need To Know!"
  1. This is really useful, I hardly ever try testers except a tiny bit of foundation on my jawline because I'm so paranoid about germs! It's really good to be aware xx

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  2. I feel the same too... the last thing I want is to end up with a bad break-out or infection because of some tester!

  3. Wonderful post sweetie :)
    Really helpful and it really awake some thoughts :)
    I have seen on youtube when "gurus" show their hauls that mascaras come packaged in some plastic things (wow my explanations are wonderful :P)
    Over here they are displayed in the open. The testers are at the front of course but these testers are not always there cause someone have stolen them or something and then people test on the ones that people are going to buy.. I ALWAYS tend to grab the mascara, eyeliner, lipstick etc that is far away in the back.. :)
    I have been very very cautious with the makeup I buy after I got an eye infection from an eyeliner I bought. I tested it on my hand using the tester.. then I took the pencil that was just behind the tester and someone must have used it cause the infection was AWFUL :/ I even cleaned it before I used it.. oh well.. lesson learned :)

  4. I'm sorry to hear about your infection dear :( In fact I really like the US packaging of mascara as you would know for sure if someone used it before you. I do the same thing when buying make-up... always reach for the back ones and if possible make sure the items are properly sealed

  5. WOW I did not even know that people would actually test the makeup on their eyes, face or even lips. When I pick up a tester product I only ever swatch it on the back of my hand, just to get an idea about texture and colour. I swatch lipstick on my fingertips as they are the part of ones hand that resembles ones lip colour the best. If I really have to try something on my face I ask the person at the counter to disinfect the product if possible. If that's not possible I won't test it. Thanks for this post. You really did your research. Love your blog btw.