Yikes! Testing makeup at counters can give you herpes and pink eye

Getty ImagesGetty ImagesYou've read it and heard it a million times-do not share your makeup with a friend. But it's your best friend, and you can't go out without lipstick or mascara, so how bad can it be to give yourself one quick swipe? According to a new article in the LA Times, pretty darn bad. And you can just forget about testing makeup at a department store or your local Sephora. That's like sharing makeup with thousands of people you know nothing about.

"If a woman has a cut on her lip and borrows lipstick from someone who has a cold sore, she'll get a cold sore," Beverly Hills dermatologist Dr. Zein Obagi tells the LA Times. "You can pass herpes [the cold sore virus], conjunctivitis [pink eye] and all sorts of things through sharing makeup." The FDA stresses the importance of keeping makeup-particularly eye products-to yourself. They caution that, "the risk of contamination may be even greater with 'testers' at retail stores, where a number of people are using the same sample product."

Whether you're tempted to get a mini makeover by one of the makeup counter cosmeticians, or dying to try a new shade of lip gloss or eyeshadow, you might want to think twice. While displays are set up for you to test products, the makeup items are loaded with bacteria and germs. Dr. Elizabeth Brooks, a biological sciences professor at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, conducted a two-year study on the makeup testers and applicators in department stores, drugstores and specialty shops in New Jersey five years ago and discovered some disappointing and scary results. Staph, strep, and E. coli bacteria were all present. "Wherever you see E. coli, you should just think 'E. coli equals feces,'" said Brooks. "That means someone went to the bathroom, didn't wash their hands and then stuck their fingers in that moisturizer." Grossed out yet? According to Brooks, when they tested products on Saturdays-the busiest day at makeup counters-100 percent of the makeup was contaminated.

If you're looking for a safe way to try products, some methods are safer than others. Ask the salesperson for a clean tester, or single-use sample-many stores keep these stocked behind the counter. Wiping off a lipstick, or even disinfecting it in alcohol is not enough to definitely kill all viruses (herpes, for one), so disposable applicators are a must. If you don't see them on display, just ask, because the wand that comes with a mascara or gloss is a breeding ground for ickiness. Lotions that you can squeeze out, as opposed to sticking your fingers in, are tougher to be contaminated.

Brooks says although this information is scary, you shouldn't be discouraged to try items as long as you're smart about it. "Even doing all of this research, I'm not afraid or afraid to send my daughters to the mall," she said. "I just tell them not to put anything near their eyes, nose or mouth and you'll be OK. I want women to be happy that they're women and enjoy makeup, but just be careful." Consider yourselves warned. [LA Times]