From black soot around the eyes to lead paint over the forehead, using cosmetics to enhance a person's outer appearance has been part of daily beauty routines for thousands of years. With so many different makeup products available, knowing how to correctly apply and store them can be confusing. New research out this week has found that this confusion could be harmful to our health with high levels of potentially harmful bacteria and fungi found in nine out of every 10 makeup products tested.

Putting on makeup is a complicated business and users are self-taught or learn from online videos. With the rise in online celebrity makeup tutorials, thousands of new cosmetic products have flooded the marketplace. One of these products is known as a beauty sponge - a synthetic sponge used to blend liquid products like foundation and concealer on to the skin. Although more than 6.5 million of these sponges have been sold worldwide few of them come with instructions for use, storage or maintenance.

While many of us check the expiry date of our food, few of us value the expiry date of our makeup; one study shows that 97.9 per cent of participants reported using makeup after its expiration date. The lifespan of makeup is dictated by the length of time the preservatives formulated in the product are stable for - typically printed on the back of the product as a specific date or a number in front of the letter M, which tells you how long the product is stable for after being opened, such as 12M to show 12 months.


To look into the consequences of this, researchers studied the nature and extent of microbial contamination on 467 cosmetic products from five makeup categories to see what happened to them after they were opened and used multiple times.

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The research published in the Journal of Applied Microbiology found that 90 per cent of the products tested contained bacteria capable of causing illnesses such as skin infections and even potentially blood poisoning if used near the eyes, mouth or cut or grazed skin.

One of the main reasons for the bacteria build-up in cosmetics was found to be makeup users having poor hygiene practices. Applying makeup to the skin involves hand and face contact where bacteria from the skin can transfer on to the cosmetic applicator. This risk is increased if the user doesn't wash their hands before applying makeup. The other reason was makeup being used past its expiry date as the chemicals in the product designed to prevent the growth of bacteria were now inactive.

Thousands of new cosmetic products have flooded the marketplace to help enhance outer beauty.
Thousands of new cosmetic products have flooded the marketplace to help enhance outer beauty.

Of the 467 products tested, 77 per cent of eyeliners, 72 per cent of beauty blenders, 69 per cent of mascaras, 56 per cent of lipsticks and 55 per cent of lip glosses all contained staphylococcus bacteria and many of them also contained E. coli and Citrobacter freundii bacteria.

The highest levels of potentially harmful microbes were found in the beauty sponges, which is unsurprising as a damp, unwashed sponge is the perfect breeding ground for microbes to thrive in. In the study, 93 per cent of users reported having never cleaned their sponge even though 64 per cent of them had dropped them on the floor at some point.

While these high levels of potentially dangerous bacteria in makeup could increase the risk of skin and blood infections, especially in people who are immunocompromised, the study was clear to state that their presence does not necessarily mean that people will get sick and further research into this is needed.

For now, the suggestion is to use data to reduce the risk of infection by washing and drying both the makeup product applicators and your hands before applying cosmetics for your daily regime.