Saturday, February 23, 2008

Cosmetic Counters.....The Unseen Danger!

I touched on this subject a tad in my last article about why we won't be making pressed powders, but I decided to elaborate due to how many women I see testing out the cosmetic displays at their local department store.

You venture into a department store on your day off or you are using some “me” time away from hubby and kids, and you are in an exploring mood. Suddenly, you see the pretty girl beckoning to you from behind the cosmetic counter. You are tantalized by the many different displays of colors. The glitz and shine of the professional looking packaging is almost impossible to walk past. The sales rep all dressed up to the “nine's”, wearing her smock, makeup applied with flawless perfection, fiddling with the abundance of makeup brushes, working her wiles to entice you to try her samples. Women who enjoy makeup and skin crèmes have all fallen prey to the sirens' song of "please, come try some of our products". They give the heir of expertise and are so perky, excited to show you something new in their line. You move toward the counter in anticipation of finding that perfect cosmetic.

Well ladies, in the future, you will keep on walkin' after you read this article.

Some of you think it is alright to try these samples and it is the best way to know before you buy since you don’t want to spend hard earned money on something that may or may not work for your face or skin. I couldn’t agree more! Sampling is absolutely the best way to try something; however you should try a fresh sample that is sold for individual use, not on display for you and the entire female population to try the same sample. Plus some reactions to products may not occur with one sampling, but may require testing over several days to a week to see if your skin will like it.

Think about it: women that walk by these samples test many of them by using their fingers and then apply it to their lips, wrists, jawbone, maybe even their eyes. Double dipping I might add! Or worse yet, I have witnessed women applying the lipstick directly to their mouth and then returning it to the display. The sales staff don't employ safety measures against this. They encourage you to try, which is why they are on display. Even though I have seen stores' post signs that state to ask for assistance, many women are in a hurry, or don't want to be bothered by a sales person so they take their turn at dipping into the goodies with what is available to them, which is usually their fingers.

Ask a few questions to yourself about the person who was there just before you.

Were their hands clean?
they just finish a meal or come from the restroom?
Were they sick with a virus at the present time?
Were they sporting a cold sore on their mouth?

How many times has the product been sneezed on or coughed over?

Definitely gives you pause when you think about the possibilities of different types of contamination.

Think about women with children. You gotta love 'em, but face it ladies, this is not a pretty picture. We all know how the children love to touch these open palettes of pretty colors. And though most of us adore our children, we are fully aware they are a walking petri dish of germs. Lord knows this is how I got most of my illnesses, they brought home every virus known to mankind. If they got sick, I got sick!

For many of us we don’t even allow this to occur to us. We are lulled into a false sense of security when the pretty sales rep behind the counter is inviting you to try this stuff, especially when we are alone at the counter. We almost feel as though the samples were laid out just for our own personal use. We never think about the person who passed by before us. Did you know that viruses can live on surfaces for up to 4 days and bacteria can live on surfaces indefinitely?

Some of you might say, “Well these products have preservatives in them”. Yes they do! But did you stop to think that preservatives are designed to fight and kill bacteria for individual use, not a parade of people?

When we use our own individual products and close the lid, the preservatives have time to kill and prevent growth of bacteria over the course of 12 to 24 hours, which is the next time you may need your product. This is how manufacturers have created their products and are acceptable for keeping cosmetics free of bacterial growth according to the FDA. However, the preservatives cannot possibly keep up with the touching of fingers and the reopening and closing of jars repeatedly throughout the course of a business day. Bacteria reproduce and multiply every 20 minutes so in the course of a day you could be looking at millions of microbes growing on a product sample. And since the FDA has no regulations to date to control this type of business practice, we are on our own.

Challenge testing has proven how bacteria grow so we know what level of preservative is required to keep products fresh. However in this environment of sampling, the bacteria cannot be stopped and the preservatives cannot do their job. Now the accumulation and growth of bacteria is out of control and you are applying it to your skin. I shiver just thinking about it!

Once opened, our own unused personal use products that require moisture are recommended to be tossed after a few months due to the breakdown of preservatives within the product. For example: mascaras, liquid foundations, eye liner and skin crèmes that come in a jar.

And to address the powders and lip glosses that are exposed in open palettes, well I shudder to think…..they begin to degrade since they are being exposed to air and the debris that is in the air, including probing fingers all day long, 24/7. Preservatives have lost the battle in these pots of color.

The Makeover: Now this is another story all to itself. The sales rep comes to you bearing her prettiest smile, with her brush in hand and she sprays some kind of sanitizer on it, she may wipe the bristles a bit with a paper towel and then begins to dip and blend powder onto your face. She has assured you the brush is clean due to this sanitizer. Well that is fine and dandy, and sanitizers are great for killing germs and bacteria, and might be great for personal hygiene of your own brushes, but do you really want someone else’s skin coming in contact with yours, or their skin oils (sebum) being smeared onto your face? Maybe this person has a skin ailment and they tried on makeup and now their prescription crème is being transferred to your face. Sanitizers are for killing bacteria, not for cleaning debris from the brush.

If you must try on something from the counter, make sure fresh q-tips or other disposable applicators are offered for lipcolor trial, or a disposable mascara wand is used and then discarded after trying it. Best sample practice, don't ever try a lipcolor, lip-liner or a mascara that has been on display. Ask for a fresh sample to be opened if you must try a certain color. Watch out for double dipping. If you see this or are allowed to do this with the rep pesent then you know others have gone before you doing the same thing. Using other peoples’ mascara or even your old mascara after many months is a leading cause of eye infections. Never add water to your mascara to make it last longer. This is an infection waiting to happen. Liquid foundations should be poured onto a clean makeup sheet and a fresh and new makeup sponge should be provided. If the rep uses her fingers by touching the mouth of the bottle and then to your face over and over, this is contamination of the product to be sure.

Also to be absolutely safe, only test products on your wrist or hand and then proceed to wash them off afterwards to reduce the transfer of bacterial contamination. Always avoid eyes since this is a perfect way to contract conjunctivitis (pink eye) unless the product is fresh out of the box. If you ever suffer from an infection, be sure to discard the eye products you may have been using in order to prevent getting the infection once again.

Individual sampling is the only way to try on a product safely. Trying a sample that someone else has touched should be totally unacceptable despite being offered to try it with Q-tips or other sampling tool. This way you will avoid contamination to yourself and not wonder if this product was just sneezed on. I literally ran out of a Sephora due to improper hygiene over sample usage throughout the store.

So ladies, next time you think about going the cheap and easy route, stop and think about what you are really applying to your face. You will see that individual sampling is the purest form of application and really the only way to be safe hygienically.

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  1. I am not pro hygiene - actually quite opposite to it. The filthier the home (no bleaches etc used) and the more pets there are - the healthier the children (do'nt get me wrong, I still wash my hands before eating etc, but not with antibacterial soap).
    My generation is pretty allergy free (born during the soviet era) - the children born during the era of plenty (the last 15 years) are suffering. I blame contaminated food (hormones, preservatives etc) and chemical substances in the environment (toys, paints, building materials, chemicals for cleaning). Viruses and bacteria are not even remotely as dangerous as that (pardon my language but for the lack of a better word) crap. If there's something in the tester then I probably already have it too - and am immune to it.

  2. I absolutely agree with you about anti-bacterial soaps and how through being so cognizant to our environment we have become a bit paranoid. And yes the ingredients and pollutants in our environment are slowly poisoning our systems.

    However when exposed to viruses and bacteria, being immune is not necessarily the case. If it were, why do we continue to use vaccines, or have antibiotics? Scientific studies argue this point. Furthermore, These would be unnecessary if this were the case.

    I have seen infections, including my own, occur after being exposed to someone that may have sneezed onto a surface or into the air and then walking into the aerosol of particulates only to become ill or in my case contracted viral pneumonia. No other explanation. Pink eye is very contagious and can be passed from person to person from sharing cosmetics. Cold sores are also contagious and are related to a form of the Herpes virus and is passed through contact.

    I also am from the older generation, yet many of my allergies, along with my husbands have been contracted in the last 10 years. Allergies are not a result of birth or of a certain generation, they are caused by continued bombardment of certain antigens the body can no longer fight off. Your body then reacts to the antigen giving the chronic affect otherwise known as allergies. (Allergens)

    With that noted, it simply is not worth the risk as not all people have the ability to fight off contagions. If you can, then you're indeed a very fortunate person.

    Thank you for sharing your comment.