I have recently discovered that I’m disgusting. Don’t judge: You might be too. In fact, British scientists recently discovered that all of us — and all of our beauty products — are filthy, scuzzy creatures.
In a wet dream of a study for germphobes, U.K. scientists at Aston University tested the dirtiness of commonly used beauty products. Using donations collected via social media, they looked at the bacteria levels of 467 makeup products, including lipstick, eyeliner, mascara, lip gloss, and beauty blenders. (Note that it’s unclear if this is a universal term to describe include brushes and generic sponges, or Beauty Blenders). Unfortunately, it found them to be straight-up vile.
Between 79 to 90 percent of the items tested were found to have significant “bacteria loads.” Enterobacteriaceae are a wide-ranging bacteria family, like the Kardashians of microbes, and they were present in every single germy item. Among them were e. coli, salmonella, and some other, lesser-known bacteria called klebsiella, shigella, and yersinia pestis. Yikes.
Some more gross-out facts: “Beauty blenders” contained the highest level of bacteria. Ninety-three percent of all “beauty blenders” also had not been cleaned. Sixty-four percent of them had been dropped on the floor and still used.
I was afraid that we would discover something like this. Although I’m not a full-level germaphobe like Larry David, a fair number of things gross me out. But it turns out that I’ve spent so much time worrying about poopy phones and subway jean parasites that I completely overlooked the layer of bacteria I’ve been blending into my pores every single day. My germy beauty brushes have probably been laughing as they watched me double-cleanse my face every night. I’ve been so preoccupied with “clean” beauty that I forgot about clean beauty.
There is a bit of good news. It is highly unlikely that you will contract some sort of bacterial infection via your face. Let’s take e.coli, for instance. Dr. Joshua Zeichner, director of cosmetic and clinical Research in dermatology at the Mount Sinai Hospital, explains that it is actually part of the natural gut biome. If it lives normally inside our bodies, it’s fine. People become sick when it overgrows and spreads to the blood or to the skin. You can contract e.coli via the skin only if it’s through an “open area” — like an open cut or wound. Even then, it’s very rare. “In 15 years, I have never personally seen a case,” says Dr. Zeichner. That said, if you have a condition with an impaired skin barrier like eczema or rosacea, you’re more at risk for bacterial and viral skin infections.
Ultimately, you’re probably fine, but it’s still best to err on the side of not being gross. Even if you aren’t scared of having salmonella skin, Dr. Shereene Idriss says that microbe-ridden makeup can, over time, lead to acne and superficial bacterial infections. “You wouldn’t use the same washcloth to wash your face for weeks on end without cleaning it, so why would you ever continue to use a dirty sponge?” she says.
Wash your makeup tools every time you use them, is Dr. Zeichner’s stance. I don’t remember to do that every single time. But I will start trying, because it’s good to try to be a better person.