Most of us never think about the bacteria hiding in our makeup bags. We’re more concerned with the germs we pick up from the bus and public restrooms than our own cosmetics. But the truth is that our makeup bags are actually full of contaminants that can damage our skin, as bacteria are transferred from our brushes to our makeup to our bags and back again.
Despite this, a recent survey we conducted revealed that most women don’t clean out their makeup bags or replace old products often enough.
Below are some of the most surprising stats we uncovered:
- 22% of women never clean their makeup bags
- 16% of women replace their makeup less than once per year
- 8.4% reported getting new makeup every few years
- 8.3% responded that they never replace their makeup
According to our survey, nearly one-quarter of women never clean their makeup bags. What other household items can you think of that you never clean? This is especially gross considering how frequently most of us use our makeup bags (daily!) and that makeup and brushes come in contact with skin bacteria so frequently.
We get it, makeup is expensive. Why toss a perfectly good eye shadow palette that still has most of the colors remaining? The reason is that makeup isn’t easy to clean, and every time you touch a brush (or finger) to your face and back to your makeup, you’re contaminating it with skin bacteria. This bacteria builds up over time. This is especially dangerous when it comes to eye makeup, and to keep those luscious lashes safe, experts recommend using mascara for no longer than three months.
Better late than never, right? In this case, yes! As bad as it is to keep eye makeup and foundation for longer than a year, never replacing it is even worse as the bacteria continue to breed inside the makeup containers over time. In fact, most cosmetics manufacturers include an expiration date right on the packaging. Look on the back for the symbol of an open container; there should be a number and the letter M (such as 9M). This number actually indicates the number of months before the product expires, a detail many people probably never noticed!
How Dirty Can Makeup Really Be?
If you think that this all sounds like much ado about nothing, here are some germ facts to back it up. We learn in school that bacteria thrive in warm, dark, moist environments. Most people keep their makeup bags and bottles on their bathroom countertops where they most likely don’t see a lot of sunlight. The insides of makeup bags and bottles are already dark, and a steamy shower every day creates the perfect bacteria-breeding environment.
Second only to the gut, the skin contains the highest amount of microorganisms in the body. Of all the microorganisms found on the skin, bacterial species are by far the most prevalent and pathogenic types are responsible for some of the most common skin disorders. When you apply makeup, you contaminate your products with all these natural bacteria found on your face.
Not only does your makeup become contaminated from the bacteria on your face, but from your fingertips too. You may be surprised to learn that the human fingertip has been found to contain as many as 300 CFUs — or colony-forming units — of bacteria per square centimeter. This is almost as bad as public elevator buttons, which average 313 CFUs!
The third component of this little bacteria trifecta is makeup brushes. Though cleaning them regularly with hot water and soap can help keep bacteria at bay, it’s nearly impossible to completely eliminate all the bacteria embedded in those bristles. This study revealed the number of bacteria in brushes that had been recently washed and shows that bacteria counts definitely increase over time. How many little spots would be in your petri dish?
This is all to say that the bacteria on your skin and fingertips are regularly transferred to your makeup and brushes and back again. All of these items are then stored in your dark makeup bag where the bacteria can thrive. This is even grosser if you’re in the habit of sharing makeup with friends. Your face is used to its own bacteria, but each person carries different types of bacteria. Your skin may not react well when introduced to your friend’s bacteria!
Types of Bacteria on Your Face
Of course, not all skin bacteria are harmful. In fact, the majority of bacteria are actually mutualistic (good for humans and the bacteria) or commensalistic (good for the bacteria and neutral for humans). However, there are a few key pathogenic bacteria that can definitely get in the way of that healthy, glowing complexion most of us want. In fact, one study showed that 11 out of 25 makeup products tested positive for E. coli, Staphylococcus aureus (which can cause skin infections) and Pseudomonas aeruginosa (which can trigger bloodstream infections)!
The effects of these harmful bacteria can be exacerbated if they’re exposed to an open wound (i.e., popped pimple) because that allows them to quickly enter your body and cause issues like a staph infection. This is even more dangerous if they infect the area of your face between your nose and the corners of your mouth, known as the dramatically-named “triangle of death.”
Below are some of the most common pathogenic bacteria found on your face and what types of skin issues they can cause.
Propionibacterium Acnes, AKA Acne
Acne — the dreaded condition of teenagers around the world! Acne is one of the most common skin issues, estimated to affect around 45 million people in the U.S. alone. Though it is often triggered by hormonal changes during puberty and pregnancy, acne can affect anyone at any age. Acne is caused by the naturally-occurring bacterium P. acnes when it proliferates on oily skin. The bacteria actually get trapped in the layers of sebum, or oil, which then form the telltale bumps.
Seborrhoeic Dermatitis, AKA Flaky Skin
Affecting around 10% of the world’s population, seborrhoeic dermatitis causes flaking and irritation on oily areas of the skin, usually the face, scalp, and chest. Though the exact mechanism is still unknown, it is thought to be caused by the fungi Malassezia. As the fungi process sebum, they release fatty acids that irritate the outer layer of skin. This condition can get worse if you’re stressed as well!
Atopic Dermatitis (AD), AKA Eczema
Eczema is a chronic condition affecting around 15% of children and 2% of adults in the U.S. Its main symptom is a red, itchy rash that can appear anywhere on the body, including the face. It’s common for people with eczema to experience periodic flare-ups, and the prevalence is often determined by family history. Atopic dermatitis is thought to be linked to the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus (yes, the same bacterium that causes staph infections), as more than 90% of people with AD were colonized with this versus less than 5% of those without eczema.
Tips for Cleaning Your Makeup Bag
Step 1: Makeup Remover Wipes
The first step for cleaning your makeup bag is to dump everything out. There will likely be quite a bit of old lipstick or spilled powder smeared all over the inside of the bag. To clean all this out, just use a couple of makeup-removing wipes. Make sure to be as thorough as you can and get in the corners.
Step 2: Soap and Water
Next up is some good ol’ fashioned soap and hot water. If you have a plastic-lined makeup bag you can squeeze the soap right in there and rinse it around with hot water. Otherwise, soak a clean washcloth with plenty of soap and hot water and go to town. Make sure it’s thoroughly rinsed of soap when you’re done.
Step 3: Rubbing Alcohol
To make sure it’s really clean, pour some isopropyl alcohol into a spray bottle and spritz it into the makeup bag. Then, simply leave the bag open to dry before putting everything back. Voila, that’s all it takes!
For such an easy chore, it’s surprising that nearly one-quarter of women never clean out their makeup bags! However, unhygienic practices with our makeup expose our skin to harmful bacteria. Regularly cleaning makeup bags and brushes, along with replacing makeup products, can help protect our skin.
For more women’s wellness tips and tricks, be sure to ask Rory.
This hygiene study was conducted for Rory using Google Consumer Surveys. The sample consisted of 1,000 respondents, with an average margin of error of 4.3 percent. This survey was conducted in August 2019.