What?s On Your Face?

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Those free makeovers women flock to at counters all over the country may leave them with more than the latest shade of eye shadow or a great new foundation. They also may leave them with a colony of b

Makeup Samples Reveal High Levels of Bacterial Contamination

Those free makeovers women flock to at counters all over the country may leave them with more than the latest shade of eye shadow or a great new foundation. They also may leave them with a colony of bacteria swarming over their faces.

After two years of testing makeup samples from 20 makeup companies in a double blind study, Rowan University biological sciences professor Dr. Elizabeth Brooks and biological sciences student Heather Ragozine, a senior from Marlton, N.J., found that makeup samples taken at different periods showed between 67 and 100 percent gross bacterial contamination. That means between 67 and 100 percent of the products showed at least some level of contamination, though the levels may have varied from product to product.

The Rowan team conducted up to four sampling ?runs? at makeup counters on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays during the two-year period. During those runs, they used sterile swabs to take samples of 22 to 27 products, including skin, eye and lip makeup, that were used by women to try on ?open? makeup samples before purchasing packaged products. The team used the swabs to transfer the makeup to a container of agar, a substance on which cultures can grow.

Their results showed:

Fridays/Two runs/67 percent contamination

Saturdays/Two runs/80 percent contamination

Sundays/Four runs/100 percent contamination

Brooks, who in addition to teaching biological sciences is a podiatrist, said generally what the team uncovered was staph aurus. Brooks said that bacteria can be found on human skin and generally is not a health concern; however, she said, it can become problematic if it is introduced to the eyes, nose or mucous membranes.

?It certainly is not hygienic even if it is not a huge health concern,? she said. ?If it got into eyes, someone could get bacterial conjunctivitis. It?s certainly not a risk we should be taking for makeup.?

The Rowan team also maintained a control group of agar plates inoculated by sterile swabs to ensure the researchers did not introduce bacteria from the swabs or the agar. The control subjects showed no contamination.

Brooks is realistic about the work, acknowledging that women probably will not stop testing makeup at counters. However, she had some suggestions as to how they can minimize contamination to their faces from the samples:

-- Try on makeup when you know there will be less traffic at the counter ? generally weekdays. Because the makeup does not supply nutrients for the bacteria to grow, the bacteria don?t replicate. That means, even though there may be 100 percent contamination on a Sunday after heavy makeup use on a Saturday evening, those bacteria will start to die off as the week progresses.

-- Wash your face immediately with soap and water after trying on makeup.

-- Don?t try on any lipstick or eye makeup, even if the salespeople use a cotton swab to obtain and/or apply the makeup.

-- Consider trying on makeup at counters where the companies require salespeople to dip samples in alcohol and dry them out before offering them to customers. Alcohol kills bacteria.

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NOTE: Brooks earned a bachelor?s degree in biology from Carlow University in Pittsburgh and a doctorate of podiatric medicine from Temple University in Philadelphia. Prior to joining the Rowan faculty, she worked as a podiatrist for close to six years in private practice in Pennsylvania.

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