Ever ducked into a beauty store and given yourself a little makeover using tester products right there in the aisle? We’re definitely guilty of that. But there are some horror stories out there that are enough to make you want to shop for beauty products online, from the safety of your computer. Redditors on the Makeup Addiction Forum shared some of the grossest tales of makeup tester abuse:
“I used to be okay with using testers, provided that I get one of those clean applicators...until I went into a Sephora with my friend and she coughed all over everything because she apparently never learned to cover her mouth with her arm when you cough. She was recovering from a cold at the time."
“The grossest I've seen was a woman who swiped on a lipstick and then proceeded to lick her lips from corner to corner before swiping on another layer. She repeated it so many times with that one single lipstick, and I have no idea why. It was revolting.”
“I also work in a Sephora and see it all.the.time. Ironically I saw a teen refuse to drink from the same straw as her boyfriend but was more than happy to put a liquid lipstick straight on her lips...We try to replace these as fast as we can, but can you imagine the one's we've missed?”
“I work at Cosmoprof (Beauty Supply store for licensed professionals) and we have testers for most of our makeup. Yesterday a lady asked me about an eyeliner I haven't tried, so I told her she could look at the tester. She then proceeds to put the liquid eyeliner that's been there longer than I've been employed ON HER EYES. Guys. Even her waterline.”
OK, this is all disturbing, and enough to make you think twice before trying out a lip gloss or mascara—even with the disposable applicator. It’s not just gross— it could be dangerous to your health.
“Using a dirty makeup tester in a store can potentially spread infections if they have been contaminated,” says Dr. Joshua Zeichner, Director of Cosmetic & Clinical Research in Dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.
“Moist environments—like those in lipsticks or liquid makeups—may allow bacteria or viruses to grow, putting a new user at risk,” Dr. Zeichner tells The Lookbook. “Bacteria can cause skin infections like impetigo while viruses may cause cold sores.” Other hazards include staph infections from dirty brushes or pink eye from mascara wands.
In fact, researchers at Rowan University in 2005 tracked public makeup testers over a two-year period and found staph, strep, and even E. coli bacteria on makeup testers. That means people went to the bathroom, didn’t wash their hands, and stuck their fingers in moisturizer. Ick!!! That’s not something you want on your face.
Trouble with makeup samples doesn't even have to be as brazen as that. "You don't double dip. It's the whole double dipping thing that gets people in trouble," says Tracey Garcia, makeup artist and co-founder/CEO of D.C.'s on-demand hair and makeup service StyleMeBar, about customers trying out makeup samples. Garcia used to work as a trainer at MAC, where she says lipsticks and pencils were shaved down and sanitized with alcohol every night and makeup brushes were cleaned after each person—hygiene standards that she and her employees at StyleMeBar live up to as well.
"I truly believe that if you walk by every makeup counter or every makeup store, they do have all the precautions to keep it clean, but there's only so much you can do because people are out there being, not to be rude, but a bit disgusting," she says.
At healthy beauty store Follain, with locations in Massachusetts and New York, employees take similar cleanliness measures. The store is stocked with one-use applicators like bamboo tester sticks, open containers are switched out often, and store educators give out the testers so customers aren't dipping into products themselves. “It’s important to be vigilant about testers with all natural products - because they’re free of those strong, toxic preservatives,” Follain founder Tara Foley tells The Lookbook.
Wherever you’re shopping for makeup, you can take into account Dr. Zeichner’s suggestions how to protect yourself when testing out makeup at stores before you buy following these steps:
Never apply makeup samples directly to your skin. Clean off makeup with an alcohol swab then use an applicator on the makeup and then use that to touch your skin.
Do not apply to open or raw skin.
Do not use makeup samples in stores where samples are unsupervised by employees because you don't know who has used the sample before or how it was used.
Dermatologist Dr. Annie Chiu of The Derm Institute in Manhattan Beach has even more tips.
Use common sense: closed containers with disposable tester sponges and brushes are best. If an openly displayed blush looks cracked, faded, or old, avoid or ask the store for another tester.
Try makeups on the back of your hand, or even your neck, which is less sensitive than your face, and clean it off immediately after.
Ultimately, shop where there is a reasonable refund or exchange policy, so you can truly test a new product on the right areas.
And to be extra careful, you could even take into account the day of the week you shop for beauty: Rowan University’s study found that samples were most contaminated after a busy Saturday at the makeup counter, and least contaminated during weekdays.
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