If you’re one of the millions of people worldwide that use mascara, lip gloss, or beauty blenders, then you may want to take a second look at the products in your makeup bag. Nine out of 10 cosmetic products currently being used are contaminated with potentially harmful superbugs, including E. coli and Staphylococci, with beauty blenders, mascara, and lip gloss containing the highest levels of bacteria.
While such bacterium may occur naturally on the skin, researchers at Aston University note that they can cause serious illnesses – from skin infections and conjunctivitis to blood poisoning – if they gain access to the body through the eyes, mouth, or any wounds or sores on the face. This risk is amplified in individuals with compromised immune systems, write the study authors in the Journal of Applied Microbiology.
To come to their findings, the scientists studied the microbial contamination of nearly 470 cosmetic products that had been used by a consumer, including lipstick, lip gloss, eyeliners, mascaras, and beauty blenders. Cultures revealed that between 79 and 90 percent of once used products were contaminated with bacteria Staphylococci, E. coli, and C. freundii, while Enterobacteriaceae and different types of fungi were also found in more than a quarter of all products. However, the study did not determine how often exposure resulted in an infection.
Because sponge-like beauty blenders used to apply liquid foundation products are often left damp after use, they are an ideal breeding ground for bacteria and contained the highest levels. Overall, such high levels of bacteria are largely due to users either not cleaning their products regularly or using them well beyond their expiration date; 93 percent had never been cleaned and 64 percent had been dropped on the floor at some point. Additionally, beauty store makeup testers were found to provide a route for contamination and infection. Such products are often not regularly cleaned and left exposed to the environment, with people touching and trying on the product.
The authors say that their study is the first to look at beauty blender products, which have grown in popularity in recent years. In 2016, more than 6.5 million had been sold across the world. Without knowing it, makeup users may be putting themselves at risk.
"Consumers' poor hygiene practices when it comes to using make-up, especially beauty blenders, is very worrying when you consider that we found bacteria such as E.coli – which is linked with fecal contamination – breeding on the products we tested,” said study author Amreen Bashir of Aston University in a statement.
"More needs to be done to help educate consumers and the make-up industry as a whole about the need to wash beauty blenders regularly and dry them thoroughly, as well as the risks of using make-up beyond its expiry date."
Bashir adds that regulatory bodies should do more to protect consumers, such as make expiration dates and cleaning requirements more obvious on packaging.