You are here

6 Health Threats Hiding in Your Makeup Bag

Before you slather on your favorite shade of red lipstick or apply the same mascara you've been loving for the last three months, you may want to think twice. Hidden threats are hiding in your makeup bag that could be hazardous to your health. Besides contamination from germs and daily dirt and grime, we also have to worry about potential allergens and scary chemicals that have been linked to cancer, respiratory illness, and even birth defects.

Read on for six health threats that could be hiding in your go-to cosmetics.


Dirty Brushes

“Brushes need to be cleaned at least monthly," says dermatologist Joel Schlessinger, MD, founder of "If they aren't, they become dirty and full of bacteria from constantly touching our skin.”

He recommends utilizing a disposable brush system such as Klix, so you don’t have to worry about regular cleaning. But if you've invested in professional makeup brushes, cleaning them once a week is the best way to keep them soft and make them last longer.

Here's how to clean your brushes: Wet the hairs under the faucet with tepid to warm water. Use a mild shampoo (baby shampoo works great) or liquid hand soap and gently press it through the hairs with your fingers, adding a little water as you go. Rinse and repeat until the water runs clear. Make sure the hairs are pointing down the entire time.

After your brushes are clean, rub them a little on a clean paper towel and lay them to dry on their side. Never leave them to dry with the brush hairs up or in a brush holder. The water can run down in to the ferrule and loosen the glue holding the brush together over time.

Fragrance Allergies

“Be careful if you smell a strong fragrance in your product and then break out from it,” Dr. Schlessinger warns. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI), nearly 22 percent of those patch tested for allergies react to chemicals in cosmetics. Fragrance and preservatives in cosmetics caused the most allergic reactions. If you experience any type of allergic reaction, stop using the product right away.

Harmful Ingredients

What’s even scarier than sickness-causing germs? Sickness-causing chemicals with names you can’t even pronounce. Even more scary? There's a good chance you're unknowingly putting them on your face every day. Time to start checking those labels!

Parabens, or preservatives used to increase the life of products, are found in many cosmetics, including powder, foundation, blush, and eye pencils.

“These are ‘endocrine disruptors,’ meaning that they can wreak havoc with the hormonal system and are even being potentially linked to breast cancer tumors,” says Dr. Aaron Tabor, Healthy Directions Physician and Researcher. “They may be listed as methyl, butyl, ethyl, or propyl so these are all words to watch out for.”

Other dangerous ingredients? Lead is a known contaminant in hundreds of cosmetic products such as foundation, lipsticks, and nail polish. “Lead is a potent neurotoxin that can cause severe memory and behavior problems as well as hormonal disruption leading to menstrual problems," Dr. Tabor says.

Women’s Holistic Health Coach Nicole Jardim warns against some other potential hazards such as phthalates (found mostly in perfume and fragrances), sodium lauryl sulfate (found in shampoos and face washes), toluene (a solvent used in nail polishes and hair dyes), talc (an anti-caking agent found in face powder, blush, eye shadow, and deodorant that's a known carcinogen), and propylene glycol (commonly found in shampoo, conditioner, acne treatments, moisturizer, mascara, and deodorant).

Finally, be wary of products labeled as ‘organic.’ “Just because it's organic does not necessarily mean that it's safe. Always check the ingredients first,” says Seattle-based physician Dr. Angie Song.

Expired Products

Checking the expiration dates or looking for tell-tale signs something has spoiled is just as important for beauty products as it is for the milk in your fridge.

“Any products that are older than 18 months old should be thrown away and replaced,” Dr. Song says.

Florida physician Dr. Faranna Haffizulla says if there’s any doubt, you should toss it. “Liquids, powders, foams, sprays, and the multitude of textures and colors [found in beauty products] are a veritable breathing ground for infectious elements like bacteria and fungi.”

Of course, if a product has changed in color or texture or smells funny, replace it immediately.

Sharing Products

It may seem harmless to share makeup with a friend—until you read this. Sharing makeup is essentially swapping germs, especially when it comes to anything that gets applied on lips or eyes. And the effects can be much worse than your run-of-the-mill cold sore.

“If you are diabetic or have a compromised immune system, infections are more severe and can lead to severe consequences,” Dr. Haffizulla says. “Most common infections involve the eye in the form of blepharitis (inflammation of the eyelid), conjunctivitis (pink eye), and sty formation. The skin can also react with pustular infections."


Makeup products—and even the bag they are carried in—are a veritable breeding ground for germs. “Every time you dip your finger into a jar of cream or foundation, you’re introducing bacteria into it, thereby contaminating it,” says Dr. Debra Jaliman, of New York’s Mount Sinai Medical Center.

Look for products that come in tubes instead, and use a Q-tip to extract the product, instead of your finger. Also, many women dab a coverup stick right onto a pimple, transferring the acne bacteria right onto the stick where it grows and thrives.

“The best thing to do is clean products whenever possible like wiping tweezers and eyelash curlers down with alcohol,” Dr. Jaliman says. Atlanta-based physician Dr. Maiysha Clairborne recommends swiping lipstick with a baby wipe after each use to get rid of surface germs and prevent them from building up.

Your choice of makeup bag could even affect the amount of germs it’s carrying, Dr. Clairborne says. “Makeup bags come a dime a dozen; however, what you fail to realize is that dark and moist places are breeding grounds for bacteria. If the bag is dark and the makeup is moist, well, you do the math.”

Use a clear makeup bag that allows light in. “Take your makeup bag out of your purse and leave it on your desk so that it gains a small 
amount of light each day,” Clairborne says.