Anyone who’s dealt with this year’s particularly brutal cold and flu season likely wants nothing more to do with the stuff. So naturally, there’s a frantic disinfecting of surfaces and washing of bed sheets that follows any bout of illness—big or small. One place that you might not think to scrub down? Your makeup bag.
But it turns out, you should. Those red-tinted balms and waterproof mascaras that made you feel half-human could now be harboring sickly germs that could bring on round number two of illness.
“Cold and flu germs can live on products and surfaces for up to several hours, but other factors such as room temperature, amount of germs, and humidity play a role in the survival,” advises Morgan Statt, health and safety investigator for ConsumerSafety.org. In her opinion, you’re better off safe than sorry, though the question of whether or not to ditch a product depends on where and when it made contact with your skin.
Additionally, Statt and cosmetic chemist Ginger King add that water-based products contain preservatives that are meant to temper mold and bacteria growth. Statt cautions, however, that these protective ingredients only last a year or two, so they’ll be rendered useless in products that have been sitting in your makeup bag for the better part of a decade.
Keep scrolling for specific guidelines for each product in your makeup bag.
Lipsticks, she says, are public (er, personal) health enemy number one. “If you’ve been sick, you should strongly consider disposing of any lip products,” says Statt. “Our lip linings are connected to our respiratory tract, so applying any products after getting over a cold could bring about the infection all over again.” She suggests paying special attention to products applied with a wand, because plunging an icky applicator back into a product could contaminate the whole tube.
King agrees. “There’s usually three to seven incubation days before you get full-blown sick, so by the time you know you’re ill, the germs may already be there,” she offers as an argument for ditching that contaminated lipstick, ASAP. If you’re using a traditional tube and can’t part with the color, she and Statt both agree that you can chop off the tip and keep using it.
As for products applied directly to your face, such as foundation, highlighters, or even brushes and beauty blenders, Statt suggests switching to disposable applicators as soon as you start to feel sick. But regardless, you don’t have to worry too much about contamination here either way. “Just be mindful of any cuts or other sores on your face (if you have any), since the addition of makeup could spur irritation or infection,” she says. And for goodness sake, wash your brushes, too.
Eye products have also got to go. King suggests you dispose of them along with your lipsticks. “Eyeliners and mascaras are often at risk as people sneeze and then rub their eyes,” she says. Statt further cautions that there are other non cold-and-flu related health scenarios, which can render your products risky. “If you’ve had pink eye or a similar infection, it’s probably best to also toss out any eye makeup like liners, mascaras, and eye shadows,” she says. “If these products were applied while you had the infection, there’s a chance they’ve since been contaminated.”
Still hopeful you’ll avoid the flu altogether this season? Stock up on these eight preventative essentials to keep at your desk, get tips for staying well even when your S.O. is sick, and find out how and when you may be able to get the new universal flu vaccine.