The Boogeyman In Your Makeup Bag

I remember when I was first getting into makeup, I’d go to makeup counters and play around with the tester products until one dreaded day. The day I got a wicked stye on my eye that left me unable to see for two whole days! The thing about germs is that they are invisible to the eye and perceiving them as a threat doesn’t always come easy. So let me open your eyes to the boogeyman lurking in your makeup bag right now and let me warn you guys…. Ew!

Contrary to popular belief, cosmetics are not only chemical compounds but may also have biological elements in them. They generally contain a myriad of preservatives to limit the growth of any harmful microbes. However, there is only so much these preservatives can do.[mfn] Usually, makeup products are labelled with an expiration date though this is not mandatory in different countries. It is typically a small jar icon with a number on it. The number reflects how many months the item can be used for after opening before the preservatives lose their potency.

The Journal of Applied Microbiology published a research paper that explored this issue in depth. Researchers examined 467 makeup products like lipsticks, beauty sponges, eyeliners and mascaras. They found alarmingly high levels of bacteria and fungi in each. Products with higher water content had a higher likelihood of contamination.[mfn] That’s right guys, our beloved beauty blenders are the boogeyman’s playground.

Alongside their product examination, they also had questionnaires to find out user habits and unsurprisingly the issue is majorly a user error. In the questionnaire, 93% of respondents admitted they had never washed their blender, and 64.4% said they had dropped it on the floor and continued to use it afterwards.[mfn]


The various types of microbes found were staphylococcus aureus (Staph), Escherichia coli (E-Coli) and Citrobacter freundii (C-Freundii). These can be harmful to children, the elderly and those with an immunocompromised system especially as they showed high levels of antibiotic resistance.[mfn] E-Coli and C-Freundii are notorious for being found in fecal matter and potentially enter the system via eyes, nose and mouth where makeup is applied. This is where that aforementioned ew comes in! Other microbes that can potentially be spread via cosmetic products include coronaviruses, herpes simplex virus and even the human influenza A. These microbes can cause illnesses such as severe acne, skin infections and blood poisoning.[mfn]

So how exactly do these microbes spread? Well the culprit seems to be our faces, hands and mouth. For example, when you’re applying your bronzer, you dip into the product and swipe it onto your face where it picks up oils and bacteria then you dip it back into the compact. The bacteria is now in the product and on your brush. If left alone, these microbes will grow and fester especially in humid and warm environments that are catalysts. Likewise, a sneeze or a cough can transmit these particles onto your cosmetics. The next time you use these items and products, the microbes can enter your system through your skin, eyes, nose or mouth.[mfn]

Here are some rules of thumb to make sure your cosmetics stay as sanitary as possible. I learned this first one the hard way at that makeup counter, do NOT share your cosmetics with anyone. All you’re doing is sharing and spreading germs.

Do not dilute your cosmetics, like mascara, if they are drying out. You run the risk of adding a contaminant to it and diluting the preservatives in them.[mfn]

Wash those damn brushes sis. There is no reason for them to be more caked up than a bakery. Make sure they are completely dry before storing them. Not only will it limit bacterial and fungal growth but your tools actually work better.

Thanks to COVID this one is already routine so wash your hands and face before dipping into product and if it starts to smell just throw it out. I’m not even explaining that last bit. Lastly, for compacts and creams make sure to spray them down with 70% alcohol and allow them to air dry before storing them.


Whew, I’ve got to tell you guys reading all of this can make you spiral especially if you are a germaphobe but the bright side is the solution is well within control. Just practice better sanitation techniques, throw away any makeup that smells funky and let us banish the boogeyman from all our makeup kits. 


  1. Prabhuddha L. Gupta et al., “Eminence of Microbial Products in Cosmetic Industry,” Natural Products and Bioprospecting 9, no.4 (June 18, 2019): 267–78,
  2. Michelle Starr, “Used Cosmetic Products Found to Be Crawling with Infectious Bacterial Contaminants,” ScienceAlert, December 3, 2019, <a href=””></a>.
  3. Ibid
  4. “Microorganisms in Cosmetics: Can Your Make-up Make You Ill?,” Food & Feed Analysis, December 15, 2015, <ahref=””></a>.
  5. “Bacteria, Viruses & Your Makeup,” BeautySoClean, 2020, <ahref=””></a>.
  6. (“Bacteria, Viruses & Your Makeup” 2020)
  7. Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, “Microbiological Safety and Cosmetics,” FDA, September 9, 2020,