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When It Is and Is NOT Okay to Share Makeup, Plus Bacteria-Destroying Tips

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“Oooh, I love that color, can I try it?”

“Shoot, I left my mascara in my other bag. Lemme see yours?”

“Ya have any lip balm? Can’t find mine.”

Ah, the conversations that happen in front the mirror, amongst friends, in public bathrooms everywhere. Everyone leaning over the sink, fixing and reapplying, looking at what everyone else is doing. Great lipstick? Hand it over. New wet-look liquid liner? C’mere, I’ll do your cat-eye. Full confession: I’m a chronic makeup-sharer, calmly applying the same lip gloss with the same wand that four of my friends have just used.

But not everyone shares makeup. Some people—makeup artists and professional beauty types—are vigilant about germs and the cleanliness of their makeup. Apparently, they don’t share products unless they absolutely have to. Nothing bad has ever happened to me, but still, it’s good to know if oversharing habits are actually harmful.

Enter Jo Levy, director of artistry for the Moscow-London brand Rouge Bunny Rouge. As a seasoned pro, Levy knows her way around a frantic makeup gig, including runway shows and busy shoots in which model after model gets prepped with the same makeup. According to Levy, sharing makeup doesn’t automatically have to mean a germ fest, and there are ways to do it while reducing exposure to bacteria. Read on to learn everything you need to know.  

To share makeup or not to share?

Levy says that as a general rule, she doesn’t recommend sharing all of your makeup. However, it’s okay to share certain products as long as they’re easy to sanitize. “If you know the person well enough, it makes it easier to ask if they’re sick or if they’re suffering from an infection that can be transferred through sharing certain types of makeup,” she says.  

There are some products that you simply shouldn’t share, whether you know the share-ee well or not. Cream- and liquid-based products are notorious for holding bacteria, so if a friend or family member had a cold sore or was sick recently and used that gloss you want to borrow, you may risk catching a cold or increasing your chance of getting a cold sore if you’re prone to them.

Levy was quick to point to mascara and lip gloss as especially risky items to share. However, “any type of face powder” including powder foundation or blush, are among the least likely to transmit harmful bacteria according to Levy.

The right way to share

Sometimes it’s hard to say no to a friend who wants to borrow your lipstick, no matter how germ-phobic you are. If you absolutely cannot get out of sharing a product without coming off as a mean, selfish person, you can still reduce any germs and bacteria present. Levy recommends spraying a coat of 70 percent isopropyl alcohol over the product, and then gently wiping off the first layer to sanitize it. (We also love BeautySoClean makeup sanitizers.) Then, if it’s a cream or liquid, you can scrape or rub a bit of the product off, ideally with a cotton swab, and place it on a tissue for a friend to use.

But what about lip balm? Often I find I need some when I don’t have it on me, and I’ll borrow a friend’s balm, using my finger as an applicator. Is this not okay? Not really. Levy recommends wiping the surface layer off with a tissue first. “Then you can apply a bit on the back of a clean hand before using your fingertip to apply the product on your own lips,” she explains. Oh. Genius! And not-germy!

Back away from makeup testers

Levy was emphatic about never testing a lip or eye product directly on your face at any beauty counter. “Instead,” she suggests, “see if you can get a sample or apply a bit of product on the back of your hand if you want to test or explore the color.” A makeup tester that Levy wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot pole? “Any lip gloss or lipstick,” she says. “Both are breeding grounds for bacteria. Especially when you think about how many people may have applied that same product directly onto their lips.” Eek!

Do makeup artists ever share?

Knowing how hectic it gets backstage at shows and shoots, I had a hunch that staying away from germs isn’t everyone’s first priority when you have just minutes to prep multiple models. Mercifully, I was wrong. “Every makeup artist I know, including myself, is religious about sanitizing their kit, thankfully!” says Levy. “Sometimes in a fast-paced environment, artists do tend to share products in a pinch. It helps that each artist has their own set of brushes, and that helps keep things a little more sanitary as long as they’re cleaned in between models.”