I see it in my office almost every day–a woman who spend a lot of time, money, and energy researching the best cleanser and using at-home cleansing devices to be certain that her face is squeaky clean. But many are applying cosmetics that may be years old, or they’re using brushes that have never been cleaned. Sound familiar?

Clinical testing has shown the average makeup bag can harbor all kinds of nasty bacteria including Coliforms which are a group of bacteria found in public restrooms, toilets, and rotten food. Coliform bacteria include E. coli, which is directly from human waste. Other bacteria including Staph and Strep are also common contaminants of makeup and brushes which can aggravate acne– or worse, cause abscesses and boils that can lead to scarring.

Although these types of germs are common, there are steps women can take to reduce their risk of irritation and infection from their makeup.

  1. Don’t share makeup. Pink eye and the cold sore virus can spread easily through eye makeup and lipsticks or gloss. Always keep these products to yourself.
  2. Makeup bags are inexpensive so replace them frequently. When storing the makeup inside, zip it up and keep it in a drawer. The makeup and brushes are much less likely to get contaminated when closed and not left open on the bathroom counter.
  3. Replace makeup regularly. Although makeup can be expensive, it’s worth replacing certain products on a regular basis to reduce the risk of infection. Mascara is best replaced every three months. For all other products, twelve to eighteen months is best. Products in tubes or pumps stay “cleaner” than those in pots since there is less chance of transferring any bacteria from the fingers into the product with each application. Even though “natural” or “organic” products are a hot trend, they include fewer preservatives; therefore, the shelf life is going to be even shorter than a regular product. Pay attention to the expiration dates and if the smell, color or consistency of the product has changed over time, perhaps it is time to replace it.
  4. Clean your brushes. Bacteria, dirt, dead skin and debris can all buildup on makeup brushes. It’s best to clean them regularly with gentle cleanser (baby shampoo works well) at least every three months. Most women would never dream of putting on foundation with dirty hands, so why put it on with a brush that has never been cleaned?