Undercover Video Finds What Is Really Lurking Inside Major Retailer’s Makeup Testers

Photo Credits: Scharfsinn/ Shutterstock | Image Used for Illustrative Purpose Only

Splashed on the news sites last year was the story about a woman who claimed to have contracted the herpes virus from a Sephora makeup tester. When the story went viral, consumers everywhere seemed to unanimously agree that the practice of using makeup testers in the store was pretty gross to begin with. The take away from that story is that most of us don’t trust that the testers are sanitized the way they should be and many don’t feel the risk is worth the reward. Now, a new investigative report conducted by Canadian Broadcast Channel’s Marketplace confirms what we already know, those testers are a treasure trove of bacteria and disease.

In the video, producers for the show visit retail stores in Toronto like Sephora, MAC Cosmetics, The Body Shop and a Canadian retail drugstore called Shopper’s Drug Mart. After obtaining samples from testers in each store, they had them analyzed by University of Guelph microbiologist Keith Warriner, who says trying on used makeup is a big risk on sensitive areas like the eyes, lips and skin.

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What Warriner found in the samples was strong data that will make anyone think twice before swiping on a tester of the latest lip gloss or buffing on a new shade of blush at the makeup counter. The Sephora testers showed traces of eight different types of Staphylococcus aureus bacteria, five types of mold and yeast. At Mac they found three types of Staphylococcus aureus bacteria, four types of mould and yeast as well.

The other retail stores had similar results despite the presence of alcohol and tissues available to wipe the tester samples. "I was really surprised by how much contamination was out there ... it's more worrying than I thought," said Warriner. "If they do sanitize these, it's not so effective, is it?"

Louisville, KY dermatologist Tami Buss Cassis, MD says avoiding dirty makeup testers is more than just about avoiding germs, it’s also key to avoiding a serious infection. “If you come into contact with staphylococcus bacteria or fungus you are at risk for developing an infection,” she says. “If severe enough it can require a trip to the doctor for an antibacterial or antifungal, but more specifically you could develop an abscess on your skin which could require drainage, oral and topical antibiotics.”

If watching the investigative video is not enough of a precaution to keep you away from dirty testers for good, Dr. Cassis advises being extremely cautious if you absolutely must try on the lipstick, eyeshadow or blush before committing to the purchase.  “If you must test, make sure the tester is sealed, use an individual one-time use applicator and put on the back of your hand,” she advises. “The best option is to purchase a new tube and just know what the return policy at the store is. At the very least, think of what the cost of a trip to the doctor and medications will cost you the next time you step up to the trial counter.” 

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