Trounce Germs When You Test Cosmetics

I was about to Tweet part of a slideshow about cleaning makeup brushes, but stopped to let the info sink in: we can get Staph infections from dirty brushes.  Nasty.  This needed investigating.

Leaving brushes in a frilly mini-planter sure looks cute, but they’ll pick up dirt and dust and texturizing spray and heaven knows what else that does an invisible pollution dance in the air until they rest on your bristles.  Even clean brushes stored well can snuggle unsuspectingly next to dirty ones, only to suffer the consequences of a game of “leap germ.”  Sweep some foundation and blush on your face with this grimy arsenal and don’t be surprised if acne, pimples and blackheads pop up for an unwelcome visit.

Not that big a deal?  O.K.  Are you using someone else’s dirty brushes or having someone else’s bacterial bouquet used on you?  Then how about getting the gift that keeps on giving – Herpes?  Or a serious bout of E-coli (from feces), skin lesions, random rashes?  Or getting a couple of humps of pinkeye – not a good match for your well-flicked cat eye.

Am I trying to scare you?  You bet I am.

What about having a person at a makeup counter whip out her brush roll and use the product-heavy (and surely bacteria-heavy) brushes on you, the consumer?  You might have seen this common sight – a haphazard woodpile of brushes strewn on a counter, touching its equally-product-drenched bristle buddies, magnetically grabbing every “achoo!” that shoppers expel.  Oh, the infected face flakes clinging to an oily brush and fill-in-the-blank “-coccus” that await the next innocent lady looking forward to getting a makeover.

Do all makeup associates clean their brushes every night for a fresh start in the morning?  Doubt it.  Even if they do, using a pleather brush roll – not to mention one that isn’t cleaned – doesn’t allow the brushes to breathe like cotton rolls do.  I have yet to see one being used at a department store.  Microbes multiply like crazy in plastic and no testing of a gorgeous, new eye shadow quad on your peepers is worth the contamination.

A smattering of department stores keep some (usually expensive) skin products to test behind the counter and use a mini-plastic spatula to dole out a daub from a jar for a potential customer to try.  This keeps infections to a minimum, but most front-of-the-counter creams are available for anyone to dip into.  Places like Sephora have little stations that include makeup remover and alcohol as a sanitizer for hands and lipstick, but who knows who has touched these sanitizer containers during store hours.

Most stores have a clean supply of cotton rounds, cotton swabs, tissues, latex sponges and individual mascara wands – all good.  But this doesn’t solve the problem of how to use eye shadows and blush in a germ-free way.  I’ve tried using a cotton round or a triangle of latex to apply blush and the application looks like a shocking thud of color on my cheeks. Occasionally, you can get a card/sample with a one-time use of eye shadow or blush on it that ensures cleanliness and can give you a pretty-good idea of how the product looks on you, but they are not commonplace.  Surely gloss incubates a galaxy of germs, as any cosmetic liquid or eye gel formula must.  I don’t use lipstick or gloss testers, so it’s try it at home and like it or return it, which is hardly convenient.

At my local, natural pharmacy, they have Dr. Hauschka makeup that had separate acrylic coverings for each makeup group (eyes, cheeks, etc.) – a good idea to prevent drive-by finger swipes of color that bring on the germs.  Jane Iredale’s and Zuzu’s offerings were left exposed to unhealthy elements or kept in thin drawers as a form of protection, but airborne viruses can wriggle their way into the little slots with ease.  So much for promoting health.

There is nothing like seeing a product on one’s face to make sure a color works with one’s complexion, but I’ll rarely chance it anymore unless all cleanliness requirements are met.  Sadly, I’ll lose out on seeing how makeup is applied on me and learning new tricks, but the risks outweigh the benefits.

Battling Cosmetic Germs

I thought of some solutions to chancy product testing, but they are hardly foolproof.  Neither are they the most convenient way to go shopping, but they’re better than nothing.  Some ideas might be known to you, but they’re worth repeating. There might be purchases involved, but they are cheap:

1)  Bring your own brushes.  If you don’t want to haul your own good set of brushes along with you, invest in a cheap set of four basic brushes just for testing purposes.  After product testing, use a brush sanitizer, such as one made by e.l.f. Cosmetics ( or Parian Spirit (  If you are trying more than one product per brush, clean your brushes as you go.  Each sanitizer has directions on how to speed up brush drying.  You can also use alcohol-saturated sanitary wipes on your brushes after you use them.

2)  Finger strip testing.  Instead of applying product to your face, do a test strip.  For example, put a strip of gloss on the length of your finger and hold it up to your lip (eye shadow up to your eye, etc.) as you look in a mirror (thank you, McCall from my local Santa Monica Sephora for the tip) to see if you like the color on you.  Then get the makeup off your finger with alcohol ASAP.

3)  Hand sanitize.  Use a product like Purell with aloe frequently when makeup testing.  There are other hand sanitizers out there that aren’t as harsh on your skin, like Hempz, but I’d rather go full-on surgeon with cleanliness.  Wash your hands when you return home.  Then use a good hand cream afterward.

4)  Hover.  Loiter around someone getting a makeover by watching them from a short distance.  This way, you can see how a makeup or brand artist applies products and check out how the colors look on a human being.  It won’t be a complexion match, but it’s better than seeing the products just sitting in a compact.

5)  Pencil sharpener.  Ask for a makeup pencil sharpener (or bring one) and do a few twists of a lip pencil, for instance, to get a clean, sharp tip.  Then spray it with alcohol before using.

6)  Clean testers.  When shopping, ask the person behind the counter for some makeup sanitizer (might only be alcohol) to spray on testers.  If none is available, tell the rep that you want to use a makeup sanitizer like Beauty So Clean (various products at on pressed powder products or lipsticks you want to try.  These sanitizers can also be used on your products at home.  Beware: using straight alcohol on your products at home can dry them out and change their color.

7)  Cotton fabric brush roll.  Buy (Etsy has many) or make (DIY-ers) a cotton fabric brush roll to hold all of your clean brushes.  Let those bristled investments breathe.  Keep dirty brushes separate until they’re cleaned.  When shopping for makeup, get a smaller makeup bag for your sanitary stash.

8)  Ghost.  Use what the cleanest makeup pro I’ve ever seen behind a counter just used on me (bless you, Beauty Specialist Cheryl Bowers from Clinique at Saks in Beverly Hills, who cleaned her hands and brushes before using products on me) – a “ghost.”  This means using a cotton ball to really clean, for example, a blush tester by scrubbing off a few layers of color.  Then, the cotton ball is shrouded in a piece of tissue which is then redipped in the now-clean layer of blush, ready for application (thus, the term “ghost”).  Then you dip a clean brush into the “ghost” tip for application.  Works great.

9) Post-shopping.  After shopping, clean your brushes.  Spray the sanitizers and sharpener with alcohol and wipe off.  Toss out all the unused cotton supplies.  Spray inside the makeup bag with disinfectant and wipe it clean.

Extreme steps?  Maybe for some people.  Not everyone has a strong constitution for germ/virus immunity, so this should help.  We can’t be completely germ-free, but we can lower our exposure out in the beauty swamp with simple measures.

Now there’s Order in the Beauty Court!

How about you?  Got any ideas to make makeup testing less germ-y?