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Tuesday, February 16, 2016 in , , , ,

Confessions From the Makeup Counter - how dirty are most makeup testers?

How dirty and contaminated with bacteria are most makeup testers in stores?

Imagine one day you're wandering the aisles of your local natural health food store.  You've got your coconut water, Brussels sprouts, trail mix and a chocolate bar flavored with 3 different exotic fruits and sea salt .  In your journey of sight, sound, and snacks you happen to meander into the bodycare section and notice that, hooray, your local store has begun stocking makeup!  And as is the way with impulse purchases you remember that the tube of your favorite lip color in your purse is indeed getting low.  Your hand starts to move toward the line of testers which are conveniently left open for you to try.  You're thinking maybe you'll give that more intense red a try this time.... and PAUSE.

How much bacteria is present on makeup testers at retail stores?  Which kinds of makeup are most contaminated?  How dirty are makeup testers?

This scene could be played out with in your local beauty superstore (sans Brussels sprouts) or perhaps your cosmetic stomping ground is at the department store.  No matter which venue you shop the reality is that the testers in all these locations have been touched by dozens or potentially even hundreds of people.  Human hands are major sources of contamination and the skin of all the strangers that came before you may have been a harbor for microbes that could be problematic for your health.  Staph bacteria and even E. Coli could be tagging along for the ride.  These are pathogens that can create a serious skin or eye infection depending on each person's unique vulnerabilities, so it's worth it to consider how well the location you're at is sanitizing their testers, if they sanitize at all.  Many simply do nothing and in doing so they let the germy good times roll.  

We talk a lot about toxin buildup on this blog, but the makeup tester type of contamination is a whole other can of worms.  Most makeup has some level of preservatives in it, especially if it has any moisture content at all, but any preservative system (even the synthetic ones) can get overwhelmed in the right situation.  Having a preservative doesn't mean the product can kill anything.  It's made to hold up to normal, everyday use.  In most cases that would mean one person possibly touching it once a day, not the onslaught of dozens of users that a big store might bring on in a single day. 

In a 1994 study in the Journal of Industrial Microbiology a total of 3027 shared-use cosmetic product samples were collected from 171 retail establishments throughout the United States.  Their analysis showed significant contamination in 50% of the samples taken, with average densities of "2288, 1685 and 1088 CFU [per gram] for face and lip products, respectively."  The legal limit in the USA set by the FDA is 1000 Colony Forming Units per gram with a lower limit of 500 CFU per gram for eye area products.  Numbers alone are not enough to judge, though, and a product could be deemed contaminated beyond acceptable use if a dangerous pathogen may be present - in other words a microbe that could harm that particular area of the body.  The eyes are particularly sensitive areas, and eye infections are a very possible result of contaminated tester usage.  Pinkeye is not a cute color on anyone, and certainly not what you want to be sporting after a few mindless moments at the makeup counter.  The extensive testing quoted above shows the eye products were some of the most contaminated products.  

More than 60% of the microbes found on makeup testers were typical specimens of microflora from human skin, meaning the contamination was the direct result of being touched repeatedly.  The remainder were environmental microbes from the items sitting out for long periods of time.  The air can carry yeast, mold, and sneezes from the toddler who came along on the shopping trip.

Testers in beauty superstores are left open to the air.  60% of microbial populations on products came from human hands.  The remainder was mold, fungus, and other airborne microbes from being open to the air all the time.
The sad fact is that most mass market locations have no substantial sanitation practices.  Employees are busy stocking shelves, taking inventory, or occasionally helping with product selection.  Sanitation takes a big back seat, and in many cases it would be nearly impossible to keep up.  Of the 5 people browsing the makeup section at the superstore at any given time the service staff can only help one while the other shoppers may be dipping and smearing their way through the tester stock the entire time. 

How much bacteria is on makeup testers in stores?  How many germs are on makeup testers?

The contamination goes up the more people shop at that location, even if employees are scraping the tops of products and following good hygiene protocol such as at department stores where there are more staff devoted to dealing with the products.  They just can't fight the flood of customers coming through, and while they're tending to someone's makeover a thoughtless shopper is rubbing their fingers on the blush.  They may not see or have time to deal with it before the next person comes by and does the same.  In an article by Prevention magazine testing showed that on weekends, when stores have the heaviest traffic, up to 100% of the testers showed contamination.

Eyeshadows showed the highest average content of bacteria of any makeup testers in surveys, and are likely to pass on eye infections.

Your eyesight alone is not enough to be able to judge if an item is clean.  You see pretty colors that might look great on your next night out, but it takes a microscope to see microbial contamination.  An eyeshadow that looks like a crater may look visually unappetizing, but one that only looks a little smudged can be just as problematic from a bacterial standpoint.   

When we opened Blissoma Botanical Beauty last fall and began stocking makeup I was happier than ever to have our Staff Esthetician Lauren on board to advise us about proper care of our testers.  She's fantastic with skin consultations, but she's also a former makeup counter employee and had a backstage view of the good and bad sanitation practices used in other environments.  With her we devised appropriate protocols for disinfection of testers and brushes after use to protect our clients.  Single use swabs are available throughout our space, and every client is assisted with testing products.  Since we are generally serving one client at a time we can supervise the and often apply products for the client, meaning no sneaky fingers in our testers.  That keeps everyone safe.

We use organic alcohol liberally in cleansing brushes and surfaces as needed, and are in a position to discard a tester if we feel it has become questionable.  Products in jars are sampled with a Q-tip, not with fingers, and any items meant for testing are stored closed to prevent infiltration by environmental contaminants such as airborne spores and germs from coughs and sneezes.  These measures make a low traffic, high service environment like ours that is staffed with trained professionals the best and safest place to test makeup. 

Lauren's attention to quality care for her clients is a big reason she fits in at Blissoma.  She wrote a bit for us about her experiences with sanitation and provided some tips on what you can do to keep yourself safe the next time you go shopping.

Lauren's Makeup Counter Memories 

Believe it or not there people who seek out a meticulous level of understanding of sanitation in the beauty industry.  These people want to ascertain everything from how long fingernail length should be to which direction you should wipe a cotton swab after extracting a blemish. (It’s down, by the way.)  These people are called estheticians and they spend months, some even years, studying skincare techniques, makeup application and the sanitation protocols for both.  Estheticians are also handy to have around when looking for more information on what procedures should be in place for a spa or retail boutique that sells makeup and skincare. 

I am currently a licensed esthetician but before I decided to pursue this career I got my start working at a makeup counter.  After working at the department store for about a year I decided that I wanted to learn more. I had gotten a glimpse of the makeup world through retail but I knew that if I wanted to take this seriously I would have to become certified. I set out for my esthetics license and passed my boards in 2011. It was in school I learned proper safety and sanitation procedures.  

Unfortunately I’ve also experienced several working environments where protocols start to lag.  With the busy pace of business staff can feel rushed, learn new habits, and pay less attention to the sanitation procedures they originally learned. In some cases employees may never have learned them in the first place. 

Cosmetics locations besides spas and salons may not hire people with an esthetics or cosmetology license to sell for them.That is not necessarily a bad thing if they still follow the same codes as licensed workers, but then as a consumer you are just leaving it up to good faith that they somehow have learned those codes from their place of employment.

At places like natural grocers that have makeup sections with testers and even at department store makeup counters there tends to be more foot traffic and more ways that germs and infections can spread through shared testers. Many of the retail workers I worked with at the department store cleaned the makeup brushes on a daily basis and tried as much as they could to discourage people sticking their fingers on and in products. Instead they would encouraged the use of disposable tools. On the other hand some makeup counters did not. The result is harmful to customers and to sales of products, as infections damages trust and causes customers to avoid trying the very products cosmetics companies are trying to demonstrate to them.  

Accidents and mistakes do happen but I am confident in my role here at Blissoma. Because we are independent we can spend more time with customers when they come in because there is no sales goal we have to hit hanging over our heads. We also have time to properly clean tools after consults, which makes a big difference in preventing the spread of microbes between makeup products and people.  

Brushes at a mass market beauty location that are obviously unclean.  Makeup brushes harbor bacteria when they are not sanitized properly.

The proper and frequent cleaning of brushes is a topic that all makeup artists should know well, and can be a problem area in some professional environments. I remember many times running out of brush cleaner at the department store and either going to other makeup counters and begging to use theirs or having to spray off a brush with water mixed with liquid soap and hope it got the job done. Makeup brush cleaner was treated like gold there. No one ever wanted to share it because it was rare to get more since each individual company was to supply their counter with their own. If the counter manager forgot to order more or the company decided that you get an allotted amount per a certain time period and then you run out before receiving more…well, it was up to us to figure it out. 

I really like that at the Blissoma store I have complete access to our makeup brush cleansers and can refill them whenever I need to. We use organic alcohol to disinfect brushes as a quick cleaning, and then wash brushes on a regular schedule or after any particularly heavy use.  

The type of makeup being sold can also have a big impact on whether or not testers may be contaminated. Mineral makeup composed simply of milled earth-mined pigments makes it harder for bacteria to flourish. There is no moisture or oil in a powder based mineral makeup, and that is the food on which microbes live. Pressed eyeshadows, blushes, and powders are much more likely to harbor pathogens because there is some type of binder always used to make the colors adhere into the pressed shape.  

Now, in no way am I trying to put down anyone who works at a makeup counter at a department store. This was one particular place at one mall in the state of Missouri. It was my experience and it was part of the reason that led me to wanting to learn more and become certified in what I do. There are many passionate makeup artists and skincare sales people out there that don't have a license and are still able to use common sense when it comes to sanitary practices and get the job done. I remain glad for my training, though, as it allows me to be confident that I am taking the best possible care of my clients. The bottom line will never come before being able to take some time out to properly sanitize my space before starting on my next makeup or skincare consult and that is good for me and for you! 
Tips to remember when testing makeup:
  1. Make sure whoever you are working with washes their hands or uses a hand sanitizer before touching you. If they don’t, you can always say you have just gotten over a cold and would like them to sanitize their hands before starting so you can avoid catching another while your immune system is sensitive.
  2. Look for accessible disposable tools like mascara wands, lip wands, q-tips, sponges and cotton balls - anything that can be thrown away after one use. Make sure they do not double dip with said disposable tool You cannot stop the general public from doing this but the person that is there to assist you should not re-use something made to be thrown away after one use. 
  3. Make sure they spray their non disposable tools with some type of brush cleanser before using on you. Typically I would trust there is something in there that will properly sanitize a brush after each use but if you feel inclined it is not odd to ask what they use to do this. Brushes should never look gunky, though sometimes, especially if it is during a busy day, you may see powder residue on some brushes but that should be easily wiped away by a spray on brush cleanser before use. Most places do wash their brushes with a gentle soap and water but this is typically done at the closing of the day because they don't dry fast enough to use again and need to dry over night. 
  4. Products packaged in bottles with pump dispensers or in squeeze tubes will be the least likely to be contaminated.  They do not sit open to the air and fingers are kept out.  You can feel much more confident about testing products in this type of packaging because the packaging itself protects the product.  Be far more careful about products in jars, pressed powders and eyeshadows, and, of course, lipsticks and glosses.
  5. In general always go with your gut feeling. If something looks used up, crusty or not well taken care of you can always pass on trying it. Never feel like you are being too picky. Many women have a hard time with this and don't want to ruffle anyone's feathers especially in a light hearted situation where you may find the person you are working with quite pleasant and don't want to offend them. In such a situation I would pull from my story above about the women who would not let me put the eye makeup on her. As soon as she told me she had a bad experience with an eye infection due to being in the exact same situation I immediately understood and did not push any further.
  6. If able, shop at a smaller business that staffs trained and optimally licensed beauty professionals.  The more personal their approach and the more training they have the more likely they are to follow proper sanitation procedures.  You can also observe the employees working before having any makeup applied.  If you observe them sterilizing tools, pencils, and other products before reuse you may feel more confident.
  7. If you do not have a cosmetics retailer near you that you feel you can trust then you can elect not to use store testers in your shopping process at all.  Simply inquire about the return policy for that store and purchase unopened product.  Save your receipt and return it in a timely fashion if you are dissatisfied. 
Good sanitation procedures never go out of style, these are some tips you can always use. If you feel inclined to question just do so. If there is nothing to hide people will be happy to explain what they use to make sure you are safe and feel comfortable. 

Note: All images for this post were taken at my local natural grocer and the beauty superstore in the shopping center nearby.  These are the real conditions of the makeup testers on display every day, and despite availability of employees in the aisles there was no routine maintenance or sanitation occurring in either location at the time of the visit despite shoppers actively interacting with testers.  

Tuesday, January 12, 2016 in , , , , ,

Another Silly Boy Blue (or The Death of David Bowie) - a tribute to living without fear

Another Silly Boy Blue (or the Death of David Bowie) a tribute to living fearlessly

There has been a ripple in collective consciousness with the passing of David Bowie this week, and this morning I felt the urge to take to my keyboard to try and capture some of what is pulsing through so many people.  I only write poetry occasionally but when I do I'm caught up in an insistent need to funnel a feeling into words.  Today was no different.  The opening phrases dance around in my head insistently, hinting at more to come.  I have learned not to ignore it because those words don't come back - it's a specific function of time, receptivity, and stimulus and it's then or never.  
As a college art student there were many discussions had about the role of the artist and art in society.  We pondered its purpose and effects.  Often it provokes, challenges, creates connection, and causes us to emote.  Sometimes it broaches a whole new idea.  Bowie did all those things, and his life itself was clearly a work of art.  My response is to create something in return.

For my own profession in natural and holistic beauty I do a lot of talking about living authentically and loving oneself radically and completely.  This is no small task.  The world is always full of messages that we should doubt ourselves.  I can't help feeling, though, that David Bowie had mastery in these practices.  The fact that he was able to live such a brazenly shameless life defying social norms and coloring outside the lines is a testament to his self assurance.  He knew what it means to be really free.   

Freedom is not to be confused with selfishness or myopia.  I've seen some Bowie quotes where he describes that his creative process is strongest when he is selfish and does what he wants rather than second guessing what the audience might want.  Some artists do have issues with being myopic or only self referential, but you can look inward and be tuned into others at the same time.  In fact the most pure life and creative direction I've ever gotten has come from that insistent voice inside myself.  The second guessing is just nagging doubt or a lack of steadiness.  When you have a creative vision, or are even just living your life as a regular person that doubt can interfere like radio static with you being tuned into your purpose.  

The magic and freedom and that people are ascribing to David Bowie is really something that belongs to us all.  We just forget it for a lot of reasons.  Some secrets of life aren't complicated.  Remember to be you, have confidence, show the world what you've got...  All basic, but they get murky amid the chaos of life sometimes.  Other people's insecurities can do a fantastic job of casting shadow on the rest of us, which is a real shame.  Bowie did a fantastic job of reminding us of our true formless, rainbow, space-cadet, unique nature by simply being himself.  His freedom empowered us all.

I wish I could say that I don't experience doubt, or that I don't ever dim my light for the sake of trying to get along or not make waves, but unfortunately that would be untrue.  I absolutely let doubt get the better of me and occasionally still minimize myself.  That has got to stop.  It's important for my work and more importantly for the fact that I have this one chance to be free.  I want to live it with the brightness knob turned up all the way.  So from now on anytime I start to worry too much about what other people will think or feel myself tamping down on my spirit of provocative play inside I'm going to remember Bowie and if I'm authentically feeling something I'm going to go for it.  My inner guides will steer my ship, not other people's hangups.  That's a promise.

This poem is not historical, obviously.  Half the work is purely imaginative.  But I'd like to think that with all the characters that Bowie created he might not mind another riff on his theme.  In fact I hit closer to the mark than I even knew when the idea happened upon me, as I saw this article on how David Bowie nearly committed himself to becoming a Buddhist monk only just this afternoon.  Previously I had never heard of that happening in his life, so it's extra interesting to me that the following is the way I felt and portrayed his character. 

Another Silly Boy Blue
by Julie Longyear

She had spent several lifetimes already
Living alone at high altitude
Amid the stark quiet
And unyielding surfaces
That marked geologic time
Instead of the soft, bruising years of flesh.
It was alright really.

She spoke mostly to herself,
Enjoying the way she could echo
Into the recesses of her rocky home
Or tell inside jokes to the wind
And know the eagles nearby would giggle
From their perch on a nearby peak.
Visitors were rare,
As might be expected.
Living at 16,000 feet is not exactly

Like laying out a Welcome mat.
Every day she watched the sky paint itself,
Playing shamelessly with every color.
The hotshot heavens and the spunky feathers
of rollicking flocks of airborne friends
Pressed themselves like paint
Into her insides, which she had emptied out
With generations of meditation.
And at the end of that life she found
That she was brim-full of fantastic visions
And the quiet had taught her
A hundred songs that no one else knew
She longed to hear them sung by
A thousand voices that never knew
They could sing together so well,
A spontaneous choir spread across time and space.
Besides, living in caves had become trite
And people had become busy
With so many cacophonous distractions down below
That they weren't listening to the wind
Or looking at the sky like they used to
When their ancestors foretold more than just
The Weather from the clouds and stars.
So as she drew her last breath she bade

Goodbye to the crystal-built rocks,
The shiver-crisp air,
And solitude.

It was time to go back to Earth.

Not long was spent inbetween
Moving directly like current in wire
Spirit infused its sparkled-song-electron-attraction,
Meeting flesh in the warm dark of wombly dreams
And when he awoke the Inter-Body Express
Had erased most of what had come before.
(it's part of the price of the ticket)
And he found he wore
An unremarkable name
That cloaked him to walk amongst those
Who had never had eagles for friends.
He had forgotten words
And the doings of previous days,
But he found that he was so full
Of colors doing sunset dances behind his eyes
That he longed to show them
On his skin.
And the songs that had sprung up
From the barren rocks and air
Like tenacious flowers still clung
Around him like his pores
Oozed unrelenting perfume.
But people no longer sat around fires
To tell stories and sing.
Instead they gathered around boxes
To broadcast sound and light.
And the stars they knew
Were no longer in the sky.
Even in his time-travel amnesia the guru knew
There were many things to do.

He painted his face and wrote poems,
Which really all gurus riddle and rhyme
Because it's against the rules to just
Hand out the answers.
And his songs spun themselves, shimmering
From his lips, throat, and chest
Entwined with secrets of being
And smacking of the strangeness
That living alone in open spaces 
Tends to impart.
And when those more earthbound
Would see him
They felt suddenly, uncommonly free,
Intoxicated by the peculiar lightning bolt brother
That electrified their cells with epicine energy
And caused them to erupt into
Sudden colored-cloud, secret-joke joy.
He lured them to lessons
Where dancing their own way
Was the master class
And the only way to fail was to
Follow someone else.
And he shined up his plain name
With a plucky new one
And then took a few more names besides
Because just one wasn't enough
To fit the whole of himself into
Alongside every he and she that had come before.

It's not easy to teach
How the light of the stars isn't steady
And is made of ever-burning cataclysmic pulses
And that even subatomic particles
Prance with one another
To music we are too distracted to hear.
But for those that were listening
He sang and woke sleeping cells in their bones
That still remembered being space rocks.
It wasn't equations
It was strange experience
Infused from soul to soul
And carried as if by solar wind,
Circuits overloaded with sudden brightness
And a deep, discerning sense of self.

Prophets don't preach 
Like they used to and you know
That anyone too loud about themselves
Has something to hide.
And so when he knew
That his song and dance was ending
He orchestrated it with quiet determination.
One last lesson
On how to live
And how to die.
This time instead of leaving for one life
His soul sent transmissions
Outward like a noble supernova
Planting spark-bright seeds
and shining his prism-split colors
Wherever they landed,

Like breath for hungry lungs,
Leading us to live fearlessly
And authentically
As ourselves.

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