A new study reveals the gross (and kind of scary) reason you should toss your used makeup blenders—and a lot of other things in your makeup bag—right now.

By Maggie Seaver
December 04, 2019

You already know that your makeup products and tools naturally harbor germs—as do a lot of other things around your home. But if you’ve been consciously ignoring this yucky truth and avoiding throwing out dirty and expired beauty products, it’s time to bite the bullet. Because a study from Aston University’s School of Life and Health Sciences in the UK proves that using certain products isn’t just kind of gross—it can actually be a serious health hazard. 

According to the research published in the Journal of Applied Microbiology, more than nine in 10 in-use beauty products, including mascara and lip gloss, play host to “deadly superbugs,” including E.coli and Staphylococci. What’s scarier, if used near the eyes, mouth, or open cuts, these harmful bacteria “can cause illnesses ranging from skin infections to blood poisoning.” These beauty products mainly become so susceptible to infectious bacteria due to use long after their expiration date or not being cleaned often or sufficiently enough. Amreen Bashir, PhD, one of the study authors, says, “Consumers’ poor hygiene practices when it comes to using makeup, especially [makeup] blenders, is very worrying when you consider that we found bacteria such as E.coli...breeding on the products we tested.”

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The most worrisome tool in your beauty arsenal is that damp, dirty makeup sponge/foundation blender. Researchers found makeup blenders to have the “highest levels of potentially harmful bacteria—with the vast majority (93 percent) not having ever been cleaned, despite more than two-thirds (64 percent) being dropped on the floor at some point during use.”

But even if you don’t drop your beauty sponges on the floor, they’re still especially prone to contamination because they’re typically left damp after use, “which creates an ideal breeding ground for harmful bacteria,” the university's press release explains. 

While this study was conducted in Europe, it’s safe to assume these bacteria pose a threat to beauty products in the U.S. and elsewhere (particularly since the EU has very strict hygiene standards for beauty brands, while 'there are no regulatory requirements to put expiry dates on makeup packaging at all' in the U.S.”). 

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No, this doesn’t exactly make for pleasant reading, but the good news is that, for the most part, makeup-borne E.coli and other bacterial contamination is avoidable, as long you’re diligent about cleaning your current products and tossing/replacing expired ones.

“More needs to be done to help educate consumers and the makeup industry as a whole about the need to wash beauty blenders regularly and dry them thoroughly, as well as the risks of using makeup beyond its expiry date,” Bashir adds. And we couldn’t agree more. Like washing your hands and routinely wiping down dirty surfaces in your kitchen, make a habit of ditching makeup, creams, brushes, and blenders before they’ve past their prime.

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