Cosmetics Testers Are Gross. Here’s How to Try on Makeup Without Them

A woman gets her makeup professionally done.
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Unless you’re intent on contracting pink eye or the flu, you wouldn’t share your lipstick or mascara with a stranger.

But that’s a risk you might be taking if you’re using in-store makeup testers to find your perfect color match.

A Marketplace investigation of in-store cosmetics testers in the Toronto area revealed 40% of samples contained a bacteria that causes staph infections, and 28% contained mold.

According to Marketplace, a Canadian consumer-watchdog show, “The testers were on display in Shoppers Drug Mart, Sephora, The Body Shop and MAC Cosmetics. Each location had alcohol available to clean lipsticks and tissues to wipe down powders, but many former employees told our producers they only clean makeup when a customer asks them for help.”

The squick factor is high, but this is not the first time in-store makeup testers have come under fire for harboring germs.

Back in 2005, the results of a two-year study of makeup-counter testers revealed bacterial contamination in every sample.

Clearly, this is a widespread and ongoing problem.

Trying new makeup is fun. Getting an infection from eye shadow someone coughed on isn’t.

There has to be a better way.

How to Avoid Public Makeup Testers and the Germs That Love Them

Stores that offer makeup testers to customers typically have cleaning supplies on hand and train staff on how to use them.

But the best way to avoid picking up a bug from improperly cleaned testers is to avoid using them at all.

Try these alternatives instead.

1. Ask for take-home samples.

Retailers like Ulta and Sephora offer complimentary product samples just for the asking.

2. Shop at stores with solid return policies.

Drugstores like CVS and Walgreens allow customers to return opened beauty products with a receipt. That way, you can try out a makeup and simply return it if it doesn’t work for you.

3. Order samples online.

Ulta, Sephora and many other popular makeup brands include samples free with purchase. Amazon is also getting in on the sample action with its new Prime Samples program.

4. Try a subscription makeup box.

What’s not to love about a box full of makeup samples arriving at your door each month? Sure, there’s a monthly fee, but it’s a great way to try a variety of products without a huge up-front investment.

Lisa McGreevy is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She thinks makeup subscription boxes are the greatest invention since lace-front wigs.