The Truth About Makeup Testers

From a woman requesting a lawsuit against Sephora because of their unsanitary makeup testers to claims of foundation samples as ‘dirtier than a toilet’, makeup testers continue to make an appearance on our headlines. These small samples can contain up to ‘5,000 colony-forming units (CFU) of bacteria per square centimetre.’ Yes, they certainly are as unclean as your bathroom.

Eyeshadow, concealer and lipstick are all considered to be the most unhygienic due to being placed on particularly sensitive areas of the face where bacteria resides. As a result, users suffer from a variety of skin problems such as irritation, herpes and infections. The story of how a Californian woman sued Sephora after she reportedly contracted oral herpes further authenticates this. As Allure conveys, “The lawsuit claims the woman (who allegedly had never had sores before that visit) was subsequently diagnosed with HSV-1 infection. HSV-1 is the virus that causes oral herpes, though it can occasionally lead to genital herpes, while HSV-2 is the virus that leads to genital herpes; both infections are lifelong.” She was made to suffer by a makeup store that was seemingly unbothered to clean their testers.

In 2015, another woman developed MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) infection, leaving her paralysed after using a makeup brush infected with bacteria from a Staphylococcus infection. Cases of ‘pink eye’ have also been imminent over the last five years, arising from sharing mascara and eyeliner with friends or strangers in shops. 43% of eyeliner and mascara wands are supposedly infected with contaminants. The moist environments that liquid makeup samples provide can attract viruses and bacteria that are deleterious to skin health.

The chart shown below displays the true horrors of makeup testers. It presents the average number of germs on some of the most common makeup products including, liquid eyeliner, mascara, eye shadow, cologne, perfume and lipstick. Liquid eyeliner can be seen here as having 98,033 germs on it:

The question of whether makeup testers are truly safe has been circulating for years. Here are a few safety precautions to take before smearing these products all over your face:

  1. Avoid application on your face – This can cause skin irritation due to the imminent bacteria on makeup products. Allure suggests swatching on a palm, a hand or your wrist to prevent contamination from someone else’s skin.

  2. Ask a member of staff for a brand new makeup tester – These testers are unquestionably more compliant and hygienic for the skin. Doing this is particularly useful when using moist products such as foundation, lipstick, lip gloss, eyeliner or mascara wands and liquid concealer.

  3. Swatch them on pieces of paper or card instead of on your face – you can still check out a shade while protecting your skin as much as possible! Keep in mind that some stores may not always allow this.

  4. If you still want to continue to use a makeup tester, you can clean it at the store using alcohol spritzers, which are available at many makeup shops. “Take a tissue and wipe the whole tin off so you can remove a whole layer of the product,” says Joanna Schlip, a makeup artist. “Then use a cotton swab to wipe it and use it on the back of your hand.” Lipstick can also be cleansed using another method. “Clean the surface of the lipstick with alcohol spray, wipe off with a tissue, then apply,” says George King, a cosmetic expert.

  5. Do not use liquid product testers – they commonly attract dangerous bacteria (such as Staphylococcus) as shown above on the chart.

  6. Completely withdraw from the use of the testers at all – they have many more negatives than positives if you use them. They can cause life-threatening skin conditions and permanent damage to your skin. Removing them from your life minimises the risk of contracting diseases.

An experiment conducted by the CBS news channel sent a few undercover producers to swatch samples of different makeup testers. These were all sent to be thoroughly investigated by a research lab – ‘they had found 40 per cent of the samples had Staphylococcus aureus bacteria, and 28 per cent were growing a lot of moulds.’

Sephora testers had eight staphs, five moulds and yeast.

Shoppers Drug Mart testers had six staphs, four moulds and yeast.

MAC testers had three staphs, four moulds and yeast.

The Body Shop testers had seven staphs, four moulds and yeast. This test shows the truth about makeup testers, even those of the most popular and named brands.

Makeup testers are not only unclean, but they can cause several life-threatening conditions. It may appear to be simple to try out the new Sephora lipstick, but its long-term effects can cause some catastrophic circumstances. Why not evade all the danger and completely stop using makeup testers? – it’s easier and much healthier for your skin.


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