How clean is your makeup?

May 4, 2010 6:58:39 AM PDT
You put it on your face almost every day, and most women agree the right makeup can make all those little flaws and blemishes practically disappear. But as you spread that makeup onto your skin, you could also be spreading bacteria. "If makeup has bacteria in it -- especially the wrong kind of bacteria -- that can lead to problems," Baylor dermatologist Dr. Ramsey Markus said.

Dr. Markus says your makeup could actually be causing the exact problems you're trying to hide.

"Could cause infections of the hair follicles, and that can look a little bit like acne sometimes," Dr. Markus said.

We wanted to know just how common a problem contaminated makeup is, so we collected 19 containers from people all over Houston, including hair stylist Gina Ortiz and salon owner Cara Crafton. Both were nervous about what could be crawling around in their makeup.

"It's sitting at the bottom of my purse and then I take it home, and use it at home, and it's in the bathroom, and then it goes back in my purse," Ortiz said. "It's all over the place."

"I'm hoping that this doesn't come back with lots of interesting friends!" Crafton said.

Dr. Markus swabbed our samples, everything from cream, to liquid, to powder, and sent them to the lab for testing.

Two weeks later, we got our results. What we found is enough to make your skin crawl.

"So this is staph, and this is strep," Dr. Markus said about some of the bacteria he identified.

Six of our samples contained bacteria the doctor called unacceptable.

"Staph aureus and strep are the two most common causes of skin infection," Dr. Markus said. "Staph epidermidis is not a common cause of skin infection, but I wouldn't want them in my makeup anyway."

What's worse is that some of the bacteria could be dangerous. Two samples including this liquid makeup contained streptococcus -- the bacteria that causes strep throat. But that's not all it can do.

"It can cause a variety of skin infections," Dr. Markus said. "Impetigo, for example, can be caused by strep, and that's a golden, honey-colored crusty type of skin infection."

Dr. Markus said it's also possible to get a skin infection called cellulitis, where the skin gets red and inflamed.

"Often people are hospitalized, if it is serious enough, and it can lead to death, if it gets into the bloodstream. It causes serious systemic infection," Dr. Markus said.

Our most alarming sample was a powder foundation. It contained a bacteria called staph aureus -- the same kind of staph found in MHRSA, a drug-resistant bacteria that can be fatal.

"Especially if you had a poor immune system, Dr, Markus said. "Absolutely."

It turns out, the person whose makeup contained that bacteria has a weakened immune system.

"My first reaction was, 'Ewww. Disgusting,'" said Denise Davis, an ABC 13 assignment editor.

Davis is a breast cancer survivor.

"That's what they've said. Your immune system is always going to be affected," Davis said. "But this was only a couple of months old."

Even more frightening: When she was undergoing chemo, Davis was using makeup.

"Had I put that on my skin years ago when I was in the middle of all that chemotherapy, that could have killed me," she said.

As hard as it was to toss her almost brand-new makeup, Davis followed the doctor's advice to get rid of it.

"It is very expensive. It's a nice compact but when I found that out, it made me go, 'My gosh, what's all over my skin?'" she said.

As for our hairdressers, we had some good news. Their samples were OK.

"Oh yeah! You had us all freaked out," Crafton said.

So what can you do to keep your makeup germ-free?

Dr. Markus says to throw it out after about three months.

In two of our worst cases, our doctor believes the culprit is a reusable sponge. Most of us use them over and over without ever thinking about it.

"You could take 10 sponges and wash those and have a new sponge every day," Dr. Markus said.

After you wash them, he says put them in the microwave for one minute. That should kill any germs that might try to crawl under your skin.

The doctors at Baylor College of Medicine say the findings in this report are so interesting, they are writing it up in a medical journal to inform other health professionals about our discovery.

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