Makeup stores often leave out tester samples to allow customers to try products before buying them. Some 'makeup gurus' have even done challenges involving putting on a full face of makeup using only tester samples. But exactly how safe are they to use?

CBC launched an investigation earlier this year and revealed just how unsanitary tester samples at makeup stores really are. 60 eyeshadow, mascara, lip gloss, cream blush and lipstick samples from stores like Shoppers Drug Mart, Sephora, The Body Shop and Mac were swabbed and analyzed at a microbiology lab.

The results were startling40 per cent of the samples were found to have Staphylococcus aureus bacteria on them, and 28 per cent were found to be growing mould.

Though staph bacteria is a regular part of the human microflora, the strains which one person is accustomed to may be completely different from those another person is. The likelihood of transferring foreign staph strains to sensitive areas of the body like the eyes, lips and skin is increased when people use makeup testers, and such could lead to infections like pink eye, pimples, mould and allergic reactions.

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"If I had a lipstick and I put it on every day, I'd probably be good . . . but if I started sharing it, they're introducing new strains which my body's not adjusted to," says Keith Warriner, the microbiologist at the University of Guelph who carried out the tests.

CBC's investigation also revealed that some makeup stores do not regularly sanitize the tester samples and only do so when a customer asks to try it on.

"I didn't clean a tester once," said one employee at a Toronto cosmetics store. "There was one time I cleaned makeup brushes after we had a gala but that was at the end of the day. It's not in between customers, for example."

Makeup stores do leave out alcohol and wipes so that customers can clean the tester samples before putting them on, but the alcohol may still not be enough to kill all of the bacteria. Warriner conducted a test which showed alcohol only killed 92 per cent of bacteria, rather than 99.9 per cent which most sanitizers are expected to do.

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"It only reduces the risk, it definitely doesn't eliminate," he says.

Health Canada told CBC that customers should try to avoid sharing cosmetics and using testers because "repeated use by multiple consumers would always result in a higher likelihood of microbial growth and contamination in makeup testers."

If you really need to use a tester product, you should apply it on non-broken skin on your hand or arm, rather than anywhere where mucous membranes could be accessed (eyes, lips, etc.)

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