Contagious: Beauty Store Cosmetic Makeup Tester Applicators Contaminated with Herpes, E. Coli

Next time you walk into a cosmetic store, observe how may people are putting on lipstick, gloss and other makeup from public test applicators. Researchers who evaluated makeup testers and applicators at cosmetic counters in department stores, drugstores and specialty stores during high-traffic Saturdays found staph, strep, E. coli bacteria on 100 percent of these makeup trials. Researchers also found the contagious cold sore virus herpes and microbes that cause conjunctivitis or pink eye on the demonstration applicators.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns against sharing any type of makeup, especially eye makeup (See FDA: ‘Eye Cosmetic Safety‘). “Don’t share or swap eye cosmetics — not even with your best friend, the FDA warns consumers. “Another person’s germs may be hazardous to you. The risk of contamination may be even greater with ‘testers’ at retail stores, where a number of people are using the same sample product. If you feel you must sample cosmetics at a store, make sure they are applied with single-use applicators, such as clean cotton swabs.”


Lipstick has also been a suspected risk factor of developing systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). In 2008 a study investigated the association between lipstick use and risk of SLE. Using lipstick at least 3 days/week was significantly associated with increased risk of SLE. There was a trend of greater risk with earlier age of initiation of lipstick use (<16 years vs. never use) and with increased frequency of use (7 days/week vs. never use). Biologic effects of chemicals present in lipsticks absorbed across the buccal mucosa (membrane of the mouth)and confounding from unmeasured lifestyle factors could be the explanation of this association. SLE or lupus, is a chronic autoimmune connective tissue disease that can affect any part of the body. As occurs in other autoimmune diseases, the immune system attacks the body’s cells and tissue, resulting in inflammation and tissue damage. SLE most often harms the heart, joints, skin, lungs, blood vessels, liver, kidneys, and nervous system. The course of the disease is unpredictable, with periods of illness (called flares) alternating with remissions. The disease occurs nine times more often in women than in men, especially between the ages of 15 and 50, and is more common in those of non-European descent. SLE is treatable through addressing its symptoms, mainly with cyclophosphamides, corticosteroids and immunosuppressants; there is currently no cure. SLE can be fatal, although with recent medical advances, fatalities are becoming increasingly rare. Survival for people with SLE in the United States, Canada, and Europe is approximately 95% at five years, 90% at 10 years, and 78% at 20 years. A study in Saudi Arabia in March, 2010 found that four different lipstick brands contained toxic elements like lead, cadmium and chromium which are carcinogenic, can cause dermatitis, allergies and eczema. Elizabeth Brooks, M.D., a biological sciences professor at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia conducted a two-year study on public makeup testers when she was with Rowan University in New Jersey about five years ago. SOURCES:

Gondal MA, Seddigi ZS, Nasr MM, Gondal B. Spectroscopic detection of health hazardous contaminants in lipstick using Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy. J Hazard Mater. 2010 Mar 15;175(1-3):726-32. Epub 2009 Oct 27

Wang J, Kay AB, Fletcher J, Formica MK, McAlindon TE. Is lipstick associated with the development of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE)? Clin Rheumatol. 2008 Sep;27(9):1183-7. Epub 2008 Jun 4.

The Elizabeth Brooks study was not cited.