Recently, I woke up with pink eye. At first I blamed my kids (they must have brought something home from school), but my doctor said the culprit was a department store makeover I’d had. Truth be told, I was a little grossed out when the makeup artist used tester products, but by the time I said something he’d already swiped my eyes with an infected wand.
This isn’t an isolated incident. Studies show that makeup counter testers can be contaminated with an array of bacteria, something I didn’t know before my makeover. But it doesn’t mean you shouldn't test products. You just need some expert tips!

  • Be careful with mascara and eyeliner. "The eyes are the 'danger' areas for the spread of infection," explains Elizabeth Tanzi, M.D., co-director of the Washington Institute of Dermatologic Laser Surgery. "An infection called conjunctivitis (a.k.a pink eye) can be passed on by sharing eye products,” she explains. Symptoms of pink eye include itchy, red, and watery eyes along with a greenish/white discharge and crusting on eyelids. Avoid this by asking for a disposable mascara wand and eyeliner applicator.
  • Powder properly. "Though the risk of an infection is lower with eyeshadow than eyeliner or mascara, there is still a risk,” says Tanzi. Again, individual, disposable applicators are the key to staying healthy and trying before buying.
  • Blush better. "Gently wipe the top of the blush with a tissue to remove the top layer and then use your fingers to apply,” says makeup artist Raychel Wade, owner of Cheek to Chic, who says you can also do this with eyeshadow. Or you can ask a salesperson for brush cleaner or alcohol and wipe them off yourself. Even better? Bring your own makeup brushes.
  • Make an exception for cream blush. "The risk is minimal in testing a powder formula blush,” says Tanzi. “But cream blush can be risky unless the department store uses a different applicator for each person.” It doesn’t have to be a disposable blush brush as long as it has been cleansed between clients.
  • Use your imagination when it comes to lip color. Lips are another danger area, warns Tanzi. You may love treating yourself to a new lipstick, but the risk of trying on the store’s tester is high. "The cold sore virus (which is the herpes virus) can be passed on through a lipstick,” says Tanzi. When it comes to lip color, swipe it on the back of your hand to test the color rather than applying to lips.
  • Sharpen up. Sharpening lip pencils helps shave away any germs. First, have a salesperson swipe the sharpener with alcohol or cleanser, then have the pencil sharpened.
  • Makeup shop mid-week. Studies show that makeup counter testers contain more germs on the weekend than they do mid-week.
Have you had an makeup counter mishaps?