Here's why you should think twice about applying those tester products at the store.

By Michelle Darrisaw
November 03, 2017
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Every woman at some point in her life has ventured into Sephora or stopped by the cosmetics counter at a department store to spruce up her face with makeup testers. No harm, no foul, right? After all, you were only attempting to try a few beauty products before buying them. But, in the same way that you would never share your makeup with a friend or your sister, you should have second thoughts about sharing lipstick or mascara with thousands of strangers as well.

With all the beauty horror stories appearing online involving public testers, including the recent lawsuit against Sephora, it would appear that the makeup samples at the counter should come with a warning attached: apply with caution! If you're wondering whether in-store testers are really worth the risk, the answer, according to two dermatologists, is no. That also applies to disposable applicators as well.

"You can get infectious diseases from using testers in makeup stores," Dr. Debra Jaliman, a NYC-based dermatologist, wrote in an email to TODAY Style. "I don't ever recommend it."

Dr. Whitney Bowe, another NYC-based dermatologist, added that dirty brushes, mascara wands, lipstick, or liquid makeup often contains a diverse array of bacteria, such as strep, E. coli, and staph, that could lead to nasty skin infections like impetigo. Not to mention, certain viruses can also cause cold sores and, even worse, pink eye.

"You never know which makeup products can become contaminated with germs (or) bacteria as we all harbor bacteria on our skin," Bowe wrote in an email to Today Style. "Never share anything that comes into direct contact with another person's skin or mucus membranes."

Bowe added that even disposable applicators can carry harmful bacteria, particularly if someone has coughed or sneezed over it.

If you're still unsure about taking Jaliman and Bowe's expertise at face value, researchers at Rowan University can also attest to the nasty bacteria found on public makeup testers. In 2005, they tracked testers over a two-year period, and the results were pretty shocking. They, too, found staph, strep, and E.coli bacteria on the test samples. The study conducted by the university also concluded which days the samples were the most and least contaminated. As you might imagine, Saturday was the worst offender, with less exposure to contamination occurring throughout the week.

Now that you know some of the dangers associated with using makeup testers, here are four simple safety precautions you can take, should you dare to perfect your pout, cheeks, and lids with test samples:

1. Don't double dip.

To protect yourself and others, resist the urge to apply that second swipe of lipstick and don't dip the mascara wand back in the tube after coating your lashes. Sure, employees will do everything they can to sanitize each tube or pencil, but you can do your part by not committing the cardinal sin when it comes to swabbing testers.

2. Visit stores that follow these best practices.

If you must try before you buy, only do so at the beauty shops and department stores that utilize one-use applicators like bamboo test sticks and disposable sponges or brushes. You should also be careful to avoid stores where customers can access the testers directly. It's best to have the staff hand out testers, since they've been keeping a watchful eye on how the products have been used and by whom. Lastly, be wary of makeup testers in open, damaged, or expired containers. Trust us, you'll want to avoid that open display of cracked blush.

3. Don't apply makeup directly to the skin.

Applying makeup on open or raw skin puts you at greater risk for exposure to bacteria and viruses. Instead, swab the makeup with alcohol, and then apply the makeup to the applicator or test strip before testing on your skin.

4. Test on the back of your hand.

The back of your hand and neck are not as sensitive as certain areas on your face, like your eyes and lips. For an extra layer of safety, test makeup on your hand and clean it immediately after with alcohol.

While beauty stores go through extreme measures to keep us safe when testing their products, employees can't be everywhere at all times. When in doubt, leave the testers in their rightful place on the counter and hope that the store has a generous refund or exchange policy on the new lipstick you've just purchased.