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Common Makeup Mistakes That Could Jeopardize Your Health

Linda Sarhan has been a freelance writer and researcher for 20+ years and has a B.A. in English and creative writing.

Learn how to apply makeup while avoiding bacteria and fungus.

Learn how to apply makeup while avoiding bacteria and fungus.

The Breeding Ground for Bacteria

Makeup and makeup accessories are a breeding ground for bacteria, viruses, and fungus. Many women use tools and tips without realizing that they could be jeopardizing their health.

There are many common mistakes women make when applying makeup and storing their products. Why would you want to jeopardize your health or beauty by ignoring some simple ways to keep your makeup and makeup accessories free from contamination?

1. Wash Your Hands

Before applying any makeup to your skin you need to thoroughly wash your hands. Imagine all that you do with your hands. Your hands can easily pick up a variety of germs that will transfer to your makeup containers and your face, which can pose serious health risks as these germs grow over time. Even still, applying makeup without washing your hands first can also cause blemishes to form as bacteria gets into the pores of your skin.

When washing your hands, it is best to use an anti-bacterial soap and warm water. Also, do not neglect washing your nails, especially if you have long nails. Nails provide a haven for bacterial and fungal growth.

Be sure to remove any jewelry such as rings or bracelets. If you are wearing a wedding band and do not want to remove it, be sure to lather the soap under the ring and twist it around your finger to ensure you have cleaned the skin between the ring and your finger.

2. Dispose Makeup Sponges

Makeup sponges, also referred to as foundation sponges, are designed to be disposable. This doesn't mean use you should use them for several days and then toss them. They are disposable for a reason and should only be used once.

These makeup sponges become a breeding ground for bacteria, especially Staphylococcus epidermidis, which is the cause of staph infections. According to Dr. Elizabeth Brooks, makeup sponges commonly test positive for Streptococcus bacteria, a variety of molds, a cold-sore causing strain of herpes, and E. coli bacteria (which is found in fecal matter).

So what are your options for a healthier face if you still want to use a foundation sponge applicator? As soon as you are finished applying the foundation, throw that makeup sponge away! If you want something more economical and doesn't contribute as frequently to your local landfill, consider investing in a makeup sponge that is washable and can be used again and again.

The Beautyblender sponge is a great investment. It is made from microbial resistant foam, is hypoallergenic, and can be washed after each use. This option will save you from having to run out to the store to purchase dozens more of the disposable sponges. The Beautyblender can also be used for a variety of techniques like covering up blemishes and, combined with your favorite foundation, will help even skin tone to leave a flawless finish.

3. Clean Makeup Brushes

Did you know that 72% of women do not wash their makeup brushes, according to a 2010 study by Debenhams? Just like makeup sponges, makeup brushes are a breeding ground for a variety of bacteria and viruses. If not cleaned regularly and properly, they can make you sick and cause a variety of acne breakouts.

Cleaning makeup brushes is fairly simple. You can use baby shampoo or Dawn anti-bacterial dish soap with a little bit of olive oil. Rinse the brushes thoroughly and gently squeeze out excess water. Do not pull at the bristles. Then allow the brushes to air dry completely.

You are probably wondering, why use olive oil? If you do not add the olive oil then the soap has a tendency to dry out the bristles leaving them coarse. Most professional makeup brushes are made from horsehair, squirrel hair, or goat hair. Just as you use conditioner on your own hair, the olive oil conditions the hair bristles of the brush. The same is true for synthetic brush bristles as well.

4. Disinfect Makeup Bags and Caddies

Be sure to wash and disinfect your makeup bag or caddy at least once a month. Some makeup bags come with washing instructions. Other bags can be washed out using a warm, wet, and soapy cloth. Caddies can also be washed out with anti-bacterial soap.

5. Do Not Share!

Many teens and younger women have a tendency to share their makeup with friends, especially when getting ready to go out. This is a huge no-no! By sharing makeup with your friends, you are also sharing germs. This is one of the causes of pink-eye, cold sores, acne, and other skin conditions.


  • Toss out any eye makeup after having an eye infection.
  • Toss out any lip glosses or lipsticks used while you have a cold, the flu, or any lesions in the mouth area.
  • Wash or toss any makeup applicators used while ill or even while your have a cough or runny nose.

6. Watch Out for Expired Makeup

Did you know that makeup expires? According to cosmetic chemist Nikita Wilson, with Cosmetech Laboratories, "unopened, well-formulated cosmetics can remain stable for a couple of years at room temperature." You may not readily see an expiration date on your favorite mascara but once the item is opened the clock starts ticking on how long you can use it. Just as with most makeup health follies, constantly exposing the makeup to air and your face can transfer a variety of germs that begin to grow and fester over time. Nikita Wilson continues to explain that once a cosmetic item has been opened some of the ingredients begin to oxidize and degrade. Below is a chart with guidelines on when to toss your old makeup.

Guidelines for Tossing Out Your Old Makeup

Makeup TypeWhen to Throw It Away

Liquid makeup, such as foundation and liquid or cream eyeshadows

6 months

Powder makeup, such as eyeshadow, blush, and facial powder

1-2 years


2-3 months


8 months


2 years

Liquid eyeliners

3 months

Pencil eyeliners

2 years

Nail polish

1-2 years

7. Wash Before Re-Gloss

Dr. Andrew P. Ordon, an assistant professor of plastic surgery at Dartmouth School of Medicine, suggests that before you retouch your lipstick or lip gloss, you should wash your lips or at the very least wipe them off. As he pointed out on The Doctors television show, if you have just eaten a meal and you want to re-gloss your lips, your lips can carry food particles and bacteria not seen by the naked eye. By reapplying lipstick or lip gloss without washing the lips first, you are trapping those food particles and bacteria on your lips with the new coat of lipstick or lipgloss. This can cause illness, unsightly blemishes, and other skin conditions around the lips.

8. Do Not Use Testers

Do you know those tempting makeup testers found at the makeup counter of many departments stores? Did you know that you can be putting yourself at major health risk by using them? Most testers come up positive for feces, pink eye, and the cold sore strain of herpes. Those are just the common findings.

Think about this: Let's say that someone walks into the store with a cold or flu and samples one of the testers. You come in an hour later and try the same tester they did. Guess what? You have now transferred their cold or flu germs to yourself.

The best rule of thumb is to not use the testers at all. If you absolutely must try out the shade to see how it looks on you, dab a little on your hand and immediately wipe it off with an anti-bacterial wipe and hand sanitizer. Just keep in mind that you still are putting yourself at risk for getting sick.

The biggest risk to your health is being lazy about caring for your makeup supplies. It's not worth making yourself sick over. More women need to stay diligent in their beauty routines and include some simple hygiene tips. Not only will it make for a more beautiful you, but it will help make you a healthier you for years to come.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2015 Linda Sarhan