Being extra pale was hot in Elizabethan England. So hot, in fact, that women took their lives in their hands just to get that porcelain-skin look. They dusted their faces with ceruse, a toxic white powder made primarily from lead. These days the risks of getting made-up aren't so drastic. But there are still a few nasties you can pick up from a humble eyeliner or foundation—skin rashes, eyelash lice and even herpes. Here are eight simple rules to ensure that the pink on your lips is a nice gloss, not a burgeoning cold sore.
1. Don't share: Sharing makeup with others, whether they are your girlfriends or random strangers at the cosmetics counter, is one of the easiest ways to spread bacteria. You can contract the herpes simplex virus, which leads to painful, unpleasant-looking cold sores, from using other people's lipsticks—even if the person has no visible signs of a cold sore. You also increase your chance of lip dermatitis, or chelitis. But eye products are the ones to really watch out for. Sharing mascara wands or eye makeup can spread highly contagious pink eye (conjunctivitis) or worse—eyelash lice. If you are trying on makeup in a store, be sure to ask for single-use applicators or, if you have to use shared instruments, ask that they be sterilized before they touch your face.
2. Throw out the old stuff: Do you have a drawerful of old or half-used cosmetics? Get rid of them. As cosmetics age, preservatives are used up and become less effective. Dr. Angela Bowers, a dermatologist at Baylor Regional Medical Center, says that women can develop peri-oral dermatitis from using old products, a condition causing acne-like red bumps on the skin. To make your products last as long as possible, be sure to read the label for storage directions. Typically, products should be kept in cool places, where they are not exposed to extreme conditions. Bowers says leaving makeup in a car over the summer can cause products to quickly deteriorate. Although not required by law, many cosmetics will have expiration dates—usually three to six months for eye products and up to one year for creams and powders. If you are worried about a product, try a simple sniff test. "If you notice that the color has changed, the consistency has changed or it doesn't smell the same, it's probably a sign that you don't want to use that product anymore," advises John Bailey, executive vice president for science at the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association (CFTA). "If it cakes or starts to build up and it's hard to put the top on, then you should replace that too."
3. Replace your applicators: If you've had an eye infection, replace all your eye makeup applicators immediately. Bacteria can remain in the applicator, and there is a chance that you will unknowingly reinfect yourself. But you should always use an applicator—like a cotton tip, brush or sponge—rather than your fingers to lessen the risk of contaminating cosmetics with bacteria from your skin. Bowers suggests replacing makeup sponges once a week. "You will get dead skin cells on the sponge every time you use it, which can cause bacteria to grow," says Bowers. "It gives patients more issues with acne." Bowers also reminds patients to wash their makeup brushes once a month to remove oil and bacteria. She recommends using mild soap or baby shampoo.
4. Get that thing out of your mouth: Many women wet applicators with saliva or use it to thin clumpy makeup. It sounds harmless enough, but don't do it. Your mouth contains all sorts of bacteria, which are OK in your mouth, but not in your eyes. Adding water is also a no-no. Water can dilute preservatives and introduce microbes that can grow in your makeup and cause infections.
5. Don't do it in the car: "When I see people driving and putting on makeup, it makes me really nervous," says Bailey. Your eye is fragile, and doesn't heal easily. A slip of the mascara wand can scratch the cornea, making the eye vulnerable to serious infections including staphylococcus aureus—or golden staph—which can lead to permanent damage, or even blindness. "It's rare, but it does happen," he cautions.
6. Keep a lid on it: Most cosmetics contain preservatives that kill bacteria and increase shelf life. But once a product is exposed to the environment, it becomes vulnerable to microbes that can either lessen the efficacy of preservatives, or introduce bacteria that preservatives were not designed to protect against. The more times a product is opened, or left open, the more organisms can get in. So close those lids tightly, advises Bailey.
7. Be naturally cautious: While products labeled "natural" are often great for people with allergies or those who don't like using too many chemicals, they do have a downside. "Patients sometimes assume they are safer but they don't always contain the same preservatives," says Bowers, so they don't always last quite as long or offer the same level of protection against bacteria.
8. Take it off before you go to bed: When you go to sleep, give your skin and eyelashes a rest, too. If you leave mascara on overnight, it can clump and flake into your eyes causing itching and redness. A simple night-time routine of removing all your makeup before you go to bed will help ensure you wake up from your beauty sleep looking rested and radiant, not bloodshot and pimply.