The 5 Scariest Mistakes You’re Making at the Beauty Counter

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We’ve all done it countless times before: run inside a cosmetics store post-work to throw on a bold lip, a smoky eye or some shimmer for the night ahead. But did we give the tester a quick whiff or read the label first? We asked board-certified dermatologist Ellen Burov, MD FAAD to reveal the dirty truth behind beauty counters and to teach us how to sample products safely.

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Mistake 1: Not checking the expiration date
“Always check the date of the testers used, as they are oftentimes close to expiration,” says Dr. Burov. An overgrowth of bacteria in old products can lead to infections and can also give off a bad smell, which she says is a clear indication that a product is past due. So go ahead and discretely sniff, then sample.

Mistake 2: Not washing your hands
Infections can also be caused by external contamination, as in a dirty hand or brush, as some pathogens (think: staph, flat warts) can survive outside of the body and be transmitted through skin-care products and makeup. Remember to disinfect before visiting a beauty counter, not only for your own sake, but also for those who sample right after you.

Mistake 3: Not testing and tossing
“Only disposable brushes and applicators should be used at beauty counters,” says Dr. Burov, adding that there is often concern about developing conjunctivitis (pink eye) and contracting herpes from sharing samples. Although Dr. Burov says it’s extremely unlikely to contract cold sores through lip products, it’s better to be safe than sorry (and sore-y).

Mistake 4: Trying too many samples
Be mindful when testing beauty products, as not all formulas agree with every skin type—some can be irritating and allergic in nature. Limit the number of products you try to three, and apply each sample to a different area. “For patients with a history of sensitivity to cosmetics, I advise them to try products behind their ear or on their wrist,” says Dr. Burov.

Mistake 5: Sharing samples
“If you are trying any product, it’s always safer to go with individual samples and not testers used by multiple customers,” says Dr. Burov. Ask for a personal sample or, better yet, check ahead of time to make sure the cosmetics retailer you choose supplies individual testers. And if not, simply use the beauty counter as a form of inspiration.

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