Safety & Hygiene in Makeup: Preventing Bacterial and Viral Infections

Safety & Hygiene in Makeup

With the recent coronavirus outbreak, I feel the need to spread the message on the importance of maintaining cleanliness and hygiene in cosmetics and makeup applications. As someone who uses makeup products and tools frequently, I notice that safety and hygiene are often not a top priority for many users.

Fashion models I worked with told of many makeup artists who continue using the same dirty makeup sponge they had dropped on the floor. There are also makeup artists using the same makeup sponge on every person they applied makeup on. I once entered an online contest and won a free makeover at one of the largest publishing company in Singapore. I sent my sister to get the makeover and share her experience with me. As an established publishing company, I had full confident that they would hire a professional & experience makeup artist. Once the session was over, my sister had nothing but complains. She was horrified at the dirty eyeshadow palettes and felt so disgusted when the makeup artist kept dipping the brush into the lip palette while applying lip colour on her – without sanitising the brushes. Some people like to lick their lips (I mean not my sister though). Imagine the transfer of saliva from the brush into the lip palette and later onto another person’s lips. How gross is that?

At some cosmetic counters, where there are no beauty advisors available to serve customers, I saw people trying on lip products straight from a lipstick onto their lips. The product testers might have been placed on the shelf for a long time. There will definitely be dust and many people would have already used it. I cannot imagine the bacteria and germs partying on the surface of those products.

Bacterial and Viral Infections through Makeup

Bacteria & Virus

Bacteria causes Bacterial Infection and Virus causes Viral Infection. According to Science Direct website “Disinfection reduces the pathogen load but does not eliminate it; a properly disinfected surface may still harbor a low level of potentially pathogenic bacteria, fungi, and viruses, but the pathogen level is usually so low as to not cause problems for otherwise healthy inhabitants.”

Many viruses spread through airborne transmission. These viruses take flight, hang in the air and lands on people or surfaces. You can get infected simply by breathing the air. Some of the most common airborne viruses are Common Cold, Influenza, Chickenpox, Mumps, Measles, Tuberculosis, SARS and Coronavirus. Touching an infected surface or having close contact with an infected person can easily spread the virus.

Here are some examples how bacteria and viruses can spread through makeup products.

  • Sneezing and coughing onto uncovered products, brushes and tools. The next person to use this product will be at risk.
  • Touching the products with finger. You might not know you are a virus carrier.
  • Double dipping onto liquid, cream or powder products with makeup brush or applicator that comes with the product. When you apply the product on your skin, the brush or applicator picks up all the virus and bacteria on your skin. When you dip the applicator and brush back into the same product, you are transferring the bacteria or virus into that product.
  • Sharing cosmetics and makeup brushes. You never know what lies on the surface of the other person’s skin.
  • Using expired or contaminated products and tools that have not been cleansed and disinfect.

Here is an interesting article by Caroline Kee and John Gara of Buzzfeed on “Here’s How Much Bacteria Is Actually On Your Makeup Products“. The experiment they did for this article shows how much bacteria was there on their makeup products and if cleaning it actually made a difference.

Makeup Best Practices

Using Spatula for Lip Gloss

Using a metal spatula or butter knife to pick up cream and liquid products is always advisable to prevent contamination and prolong the lifespan of the product. Especially when you are ill, do not apply lip balm and lip products directly onto your lips. Use a spatula or butter knife to pick up the products and apply using cotton bud or lip brush. If you are using lip brush, remember to disinfect the brush immediately after use.

Washing hands with soap frequently is always the best. Check out this experiment which shows how bacteria spread with different level of hand cleanliness.

Makeup Artist Do’s & Don’t

Makeup Artist at Work

For people who hire makeup artist, always pay close attention to how your makeup is being done. Standards of cleanliness and hygiene differ depending on makeup artists. If you notice dirty brushes and messy makeup palettes, please reject for your makeup to be done immediately. Do not risk getting infections.

For makeup artists, there is no excuse for not practicing good hygiene habits. Your makeup products and tools should be treated as your babies. They should always be in good condition. Bacteria and virus from one person should not transfer to another person via makeup products, tools and brushes. Here are some basic guidelines to follow:

  1. Wash your hands with soap and water (best method) or use hand sanitiser (at least) before starting makeup.
  2. Do not breathe onto a customer’s face when you are standing so close to the person while doing makeup. It is not pleasant to smell someone else’s breathe. Control your breathing when you are in close proximity to a customer. The same goes with chatting. If you like chatting while working and you are heavy breather, then please wear a surgical mask when you do makeup.
  3. If there is a virus outbreak in a country, wear a surgical mask when you are on makeup assignments. This is to protect yourself as well as the person you are doing makeup for.
  4. Do not double dip into liquid and cream products. Take what you need using a spatula or makeup artist mixing palette. Same goes for loose powder. Take what you need in a separate bowl or cup.
  5. For products that comes with its own applicators like mascara, use a disposable mascara wand.
  6. If you are working on film set and have to be in charge of several actors, use a ziplock bag to contain materials and brushes meant for individual actors. Label the package with their name. This is to avoid cross contamination when you are rushing to do touch ups in between takes.
  7. Where there is time constraint, use disposable applicators such as disposable makeup sponge and lip wand to apply makeup.
  8. Disinfect and clean your brushes, makeup products, tools, makeup bags and brush cases after every use.
Using Makeup Testers

Lipstick - Tester

It is always tempting to touch and try product testers at cosmetic counters. Especially if you are looking for something new and you are not sure if the shades are right for your skin tone. If you see a product looking clean and nice, do not believe that it is free from bacteria and viruses. Here is what you can do if you really need to test a product.

  1. Get an alcohol spray and spritz it all over the makeup (powder products such as pressed powder, eyeshadow and blusher). This will help to kill most of the bacteria. Wipe off the entire layer of product. Sanitise your hand. Use a disposable applicator to apply the product on your skin.
  2. If a product looks too messed up, ask for a new tester.
  3. Unless the products are dispensed from a pump or tube, avoid applying it on your face.
  4. It is safer to do a colour swatch on the back of your hand or wrist. Clean & sanitise your skin immediately once you are done.
  5. Pencil products (eyeliner, eyebrow pencil) can be tricky. Even if you sharpen the pencil to remove the top layer, the sharpener provided at cosmetic counters may already be infested with bacteria and viruses. You can still sharpen and then disinfect using alcohol, but I would advise against testing it on your eyes. The same goes with liquid liner and eyeliner pen.
  6. If you cannot find alcohol spray at cosmetic stores ask for it.
  7. If a beauty advisor offers to help you, say YES.
  8. Remember to remove the makeup completely and sanitise your skin before leaving the store.
How to Disinfect and Clean Makeup Products and Tools

Makeup Table Set Up

  1. Powder (Pressed Powder, Blusher, Eyeshadow). Get an alcohol spray and spritz it all over the makeup. This will help to kill most of the bacteria. Wipe off the entire layer of product.
  2. Tools (Tweezers, sharpeners, spatulas, mixing palettes, eye lash curlers). Clean the tools with alcohol wipes.
  3. Pencils (Eyeliner, Eyebrow). Clean used pencils with alcohol and sharpen with a clean sharpener to remove the top layer. Clean again with alcohol.
  4. Makeup Brushes. Get a small bowl. Use makeup brush cleanser to remove any stains by swirling the brushes into the solution until the stains are completely gone. You may need to repeat this process for a few times. Use brush shampoo for a thorough cleaning.
Types of Alcohol for Disinfecting

Rubbing Alcohol

Isopropyl alcohol (C3H8O), often called IPA or isopropanol, is mostly used for disinfecting skin and makeup products. The higher the alcohol content the faster it evaporates. Higher alcohol content is also more harsh on the skin.

According to Sydney Solvents Isopropyl Alcohol 70% is the grade recommended for rubbing alcohol when applying it to the skin as it is not as harsh to the skin, but it is still effective. The water content mixed with the alcohol fights against growing viruses and fungus. The reason for choosing 70% or 100% alcohol is that the higher the moisture content means that it will stay on the bugs for longer, allowing it to work over time and kill the bugs. You can therefore use Rubbing Alcohol to disinfect makeup products (powder types), brushes and tools.

For more information on types of alcohol, do refer to the webpages below:

Recommended Brush Cleanser

Brush Cleanser
[L-R] Make Up For Ever Instant Brush Cleanser; Kryolan / Cosmoprof Brush Cleaner; MAC Cosmetics Brush Cleanser
My favourite brush cleanser is MAKE UP FOR EVER Instant Brush Cleanser and Brush Cleaner from Cosmoprof.  These two products are really effective in removing makeup residues on brushes. For brush shampoo and to further condition the brushes, I use Mac Cosmetics Brush Cleanser.


If you have questions or more tips to share on this topic, please leave your comments below. We would love to hear your thoughts.





6 replies on “Safety & Hygiene in Makeup: Preventing Bacterial and Viral Infections”

Hi Jiayin, sorry for the late reply. Yes, you can use rubbing alcohol to spray over powdered products. For pencils and lipsticks, you can pour rubbing alcohol in a small container and dip the pencil / lipstick into it to disinfect.

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