Originally created 08/04/98

Close makeup monitoring can save your skin, health



No one thinks of makeup as a bacteria farm. But lipstick, eye shadow, mascara and foundation can harbor harmful microorganisms if not stored and used properly.

Some common-sense guidelines can help prolong makeup's life expectancy, says John Bailey, director of the Office of Cosmetics and Colors for the Food and Drug Administration. He offered some guidelines for makeup safety both at the store and at home.

Cosmetics contain preservatives, Mr. Bailey says, which usually kill bacteria under normal conditions. But time and use weaken the preservatives, which can lead to problems. Makeup isn't like food; the FDA doesn't require companies to list an expiration date on their products, and that means shelf life can vary. Generally, most makeup, if kept sealed in a cool, clean area away from light, can last from six months to a year. Mr. Bailey suggests marking each item with the purchase date so there's no guessing.

Check your makeup periodically for signs of deterioration, such as a strange odor, discoloration or a change in texture, and immediately toss anything suspicious.

Be very careful when trying out samples at a store. Chances are legions of women have been there before you, leaving who knows what behind. Ask a store employee for single-use samples. If those aren't available, find out what precautions are being taken to make sure the samples are clean. If there's any doubt, don't use them.

Lipstick

Sampling lipstick at the makeup counter is a gamble. If there are no single-use samples, wiping the top of the lipstick with a tissue is the least you should do. You also can ask if there's an alcohol solution available to soak the tissue in first. Store sealed lipsticks in a cool, dry place (not the glove compartment of your car). And don't share them with anyone, even your best friend. You might also be sharing cold sores and the herpes virus.

Eye shadow and pencils

Eyes aren't just the window to your soul, they're also a delicate area that can become infected. Pencils and eye shadow applicators can be dangerous if they're contaminated with harmful bacteria and then scratch or harm the eye tissue, allowing an infection to take hold. In some cases infections can lead to blindness. That makes store try-ons risky; ask for untouched samples or try the product on your hand (as long as there are no cuts or open sores). Don't use eye makeup if you have an eye infection, and throw out all the cosmetics you were using when you discovered it. You could recontaminate yourself.

Powder/blush brush

If you use a brush at the makeup counter, don't put it on skin that has open cuts or sores. If the bristles are contaminated with bacteria, they could be transferred. Don't share your own brushes, and wash them periodically.

Mascara

Some mascaras contain alcohol, which evaporates as the product is opened and used. As the mascara gets thicker, the inclination is to add water. Don't. It can create a breeding ground for microorganisms. In fact, don't add anything at all, including saliva, distilled water or alcohol. Make sure the tube is sealed between uses and kept in a cool, dark place. And don't ever put mascara on while driving. One bad pothole and you could have bigger problems than arriving to work without makeup.

FoundationP>Properly handled and stored, foundation can last a year or so. Variables include how often it's used, how well it's sealed, and where it's stored. To protect the product's purity, don't leave it open on the sink or counter for long while using it.