How to Safely Test Beauty Samples, Because Germs Are Never a Good Look

POPSUGAR Photography | Diggy Llyod
POPSUGAR Photography | Diggy Llyod

A California woman is suing Sephora, claiming that the megaretailer's infected lipstick samples gave her herpes. The news made makeup-lovers everywhere shudder — as one friend in my group text dubbed the accusation, "Yikestown." After all, no one wants to walk in to any beauty store looking for a nude lip and leave with an incurable disease. As the opposite of a germaphobe (I will never be that girl who carries around Purell, sorry), the lawsuit reminded me just how important it is to test responsibly.

That's why I reached out to Dr. Nava Greenfield of Schweiger Dermatology Group in NYC in hopes of getting the definitive answer on how to safely try out makeup.

When I informed Dr. Greenfield of the lawsuit, she seemed shocked. "I have never seen herpes transferred in that way, and I think that would be unusual because cold sores really need skin-to-skin contact," Dr. Greenfield said via email. "But [it's] not impossible, either. Infectious agents can absolutely be transferred in cosmetic products."

According to Dr. Greenfield, the risk of infection rises when a product is tested on mucosal membranes, a part of the body that includes your mouth and eyelids. "Mucosal membranes are more likely to be surfaces for infectious transfer from products and more likely to result in infection, but other skin surfaces can as well," she said.

"Infectious agents can absolutely be transferred in cosmetic products."

Dr. Greenfield also referred to cosmetics as "fomites," or materials that are likely to carry infection. This is why we wash clothing and utensils and sanitize beauty products.

So . . . how do can we find our right shade and stay germ-free? Dr. Greenfield admits that she personally "doesn't sample" products due to the risk: "I only use new ones." However, if you do want to test, that's pretty much why swatching exists.

Channel your inner influencer, bust out your forearm, and swipe away, but be clean about it. As Dr. Greenfield advised, "I would recommend wiping down any product with alcohol before touching it to your skin, and only use completely new products on mucosal surfaces or close to your eyes."

And feel #blessed that we live in 2017, where digital makeup testing abounds. Sephora offers the free Swatch Me feature as part of its Beauty Insider app. This tool allows users to try out just about every product the store sells on both their arms and face. Cocoa Swatches is another app and Instagram account that curates photos of makeup testing on darker and underrepresented skin tones.

POPSUGAR Photography | Mark Popovich