How Long The Coronavirus Can Live On Makeup, And How To Clean It

Lipsticks, mascaras and other cosmetics can potentially carry COVID-19, and are a gateway to your respiratory tract and eyes.

As we continue to adjust to the new normal caused by the coronavirus, questions of safety concerning the day-to-day items we use are growing by the second.

Mobile phones, shoes and glasses aside, this also extends to makeup, as frequently-used cosmetic products (eyeliners, mascaras and lipsticks) interact directly with the eyes, nose and mouth areas, where the virus can easily enter. And some products, like lipsticks and blotting powders, are used in public settings.

To help you wear makeup safely going forward, we tapped a handful of experts to break down everything from important expiration dates to how to disinfect your makeup stash like a pro.

Are cosmetics susceptible to carrying COVID-19?

This question is shrouded in uncertainty, as board-certified dermatologist Dr. Adam Mamelak explained that there currently are no published studies that examine how long the virus can live on or in cosmetic products at this time.

Lipsticks and balms give bacteria and viruses a direct path to your respiratory tract.
Lipsticks and balms give bacteria and viruses a direct path to your respiratory tract.

However, given that an April 2020 study published in The New England Journal of Medicine suggested that the virus can live on plastic surfaces for up to 72 hours, he suggested that this can spell trouble for many cosmetic products inside your makeup bag.

“Plastic makeup tubes, bottles and compacts can be a concern for transmission of the virus,” Mamelak told HuffPost. “Because the virus could live on these plastic and metal cases for up to three days, handling and applying makeup, and then touching your face, could be a very real way to contract the virus.”

If you’re concerned about the makeup itself, most makeup contains preservatives to extend the shelf life of products and inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria or mold, according to the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database.

“Lip products are particularly risky, because lipsticks and lip liners are a natural gateway to your respiratory tract.”

However, cosmetic chemist Vanessa Thomas explained that while preservatives do work to keep bacterial infections to a minimum, they may not be your best line of defense against COVID-19.

“Preservatives in cosmetics are typically the line of defense when it comes to contamination of beauty products,” Thomas told HuffPost. “However, preservatives mainly prevent bacterial contamination and may not protect against the virus.”

Be extra cautious with lip products.

Given that cosmetics are arguably one of the germiest items we use, there’s no doubt they are subject to contamination.

This especially rings true for lip products we use, as general practitioner Dr. Aragona Giuseppe, medical adviser at Prescription Doctor, said that lip liner and lipstick products are applied directly to the mouth. This makes it important to clean them thoroughly and store them carefully (more on that later).

“Cosmetics which are not suitably cleaned, concealed or looked after pose a huge risk of infecting the user, as they are used directly on the face, and are more likely to cause infection,” Giuseppe explained. “Lip products are particularly risky, because lipsticks and lip liners are a natural gateway to your respiratory tract.”

When it comes to lip care items such as lip balms, Giuseppe acknowledged that it’s difficult to define exactly how long the virus could live on products like these.

However, much like lip makeup counterparts, he added that the risk of contamination of balms is also high, as the formula is kept in a small humid space, allowing viral particles to potentially live longer than usual.

Replace your eye makeup products often.

Much like lipstick, balms and lip liner, mascara, eyeshadow and eyeliner products are also at risk, as they interact directly with the eye area, according to board-certified ophthalmologist Dr. Yuna Rapoport.

“I am anticipating seeing more infections that are seated with COVID-19, since we know that the virus can infect the ocular surface through the conjunctival mucous membrane and through tears,” Rapoport told HuffPost.

If you're bringing cosmetics along with you in your purse, it's recommended you disinfect them daily and replace them every six weeks.
If you're bringing cosmetics along with you in your purse, it's recommended you disinfect them daily and replace them every six weeks.

This makes it very important to approach eye makeup products of all kinds with caution, and leave them at your home if possible. Doing so helps to decrease your risk of infection, she added.

If possible, leave eye makeup products at home, because many times when you use them outside the home, you don’t even recognize when you touch them,” she said. “For example, if you are touching up makeup in your car (or in a public bathroom), you may touch a surface that is contaminated, forget to clean your hands, accidentally touch the makeup and then touch your face again.”

Aside from washing your hands thoroughly before you apply eye makeup, Rapoport also advised adopting other safety methods. This includes keeping a watchful eye on the expiration dates of the products you use.

“Ideally, mascara and eyeliner should be replaced every three months, and eyeshadow can be replaced every six months,” she added. “However, if you are bringing cosmetics out with you, I would recommend replacing them in half the time ― six weeks instead of three months.”

Toss your products if you contracted the virus.

Guiseppe acknowledged that many cosmetics have antimicrobial preservative compounds that help to prevent growth of harmful bacteria. However, as we mentioned before, these same preservatives aren’t often enough to ward off viruses like COVID-19.

With this in mind, he said that tossing any products that were potentially exposed to COVID-19 is your best course of action, as he said it’s risky to keep using them.

“If you have been sick or suffered with symptoms of COVID-19, then you must throw away all cosmetics that have been used,” he cautioned. “This is because respiratory droplets may have passed from your hands or face and are now sitting on your products, which means that they are in danger of continuing to spread the virus should you use again.”

And while wiping down cosmetics with antibacterial wipes may seem like the right thing to do, Guiseppe suggested that it’s hard to do this with many makeup products, as you can’t exactly clean inside a mascara or lip gloss.

This also is applicable to the applicator attached to these products, as they are applied directly onto your face and skin and put back into the product, he added.

Disinfect your products daily.

If you have fully recovered from COVID-19 and want to practice better hygiene habits going forward, Giuseppe advised taking the time to disinfect your products daily in order to decrease your risk for contamination.

“You should be doing this once a day, or after each use, and ensuring you are cleaning products with an anti-bacterial solution (wipes, a spray or any other product),” he said. “You can clean actual lipstick or Chapstick with a tissue and an alcohol solution; just saturate a tissue in the solution and rub away at the top and sides of the lipstick. This should get rid of the outer surface which has been exposed.”

Additionally, he also recommended ensuring that you are cleaning the outer packaging of products and keeping all cosmetics in an airtight drawer (as opposed to sitting on a dressing table). This prevents exposing them to potentially harmful bacteria, he added.

Wash your brushes and makeup sponges carefully.

Although the American Academy of Dermatology currently advises cleaning makeup brushes every seven to 10 days, board-certified dermatologist Dr. Joshua Zeichner advised washing your brushes immediately after use in order to prevent possible infection.

“Microorganisms like to live in moist environments, which pretty makeup brushes provide,” Zeichner told HuffPost. “Plus, given the close proximity of makeup brushes through your nose and lips, I recommend extra caution and vigilant washing of your brushes.”

To wash your brushes carefully, board-certified dermatologist Dr. Susan Massick said you won’t have to buy expensive brush cleaners, as soap and water can easily get the job done.

“Wash makeup brushes with warm soapy water and dry them completely (the soap itself can help kill the viruses) once weekly, or after any time you use them,” Massick told HuffPost. “You can also look into purchasing disposable applicators, which are great for applying eyeshadows, blush and powder products.”

Daily washings also extend to makeup sponges, as board-certified dermatologist Dr. Sharleen St. Surin-Lord explained these items can also be a host to harmful pathogens.

“If you use a tear-shaped, reusable Beauty Blender, you should wash it daily, as it absorbs bacteria, dirt and makeup,” Surin-Lord told HuffPost. If you use a disposable wedge, this obviates the need for daily washing, as you can simply dispose of the wedge after one use.”

Be cautious of how and where you wear makeup.

As wearing protective face masks in public places is the new normal, board-certified dermatologist Susan Massick said you’ll want to be cautious about wearing makeup going forward.

“If you want to wear a mask, minimize the use of foundation and lipstick because that will easily rub off onto your mask,” Massick told HuffPost. “If you want to continue to use eye makeup (eyeliner, eye shadow, mascara), apply your products at home so you don’t have to bring them with you.”

And yes, setting sprays may be helpful in elongating the life of your makeup and avoiding frequent touch-ups. However, Massick explained that these applying sprays and wearing masks simultaneously can spell out trouble for your skin.

“Try to keep in mind that if you’re wearing a mask for extended periods of time that the sprays on top of makeup may make you more prone to breakouts, acne and irritated skin,” she said. “And even with setting sprays, the makeup will end up on the masks.”


A HuffPost Guide To Coronavirus

Experts are still learning about the novel coronavirus. The information in this story is what was known or available as of press time, but it’s possible guidance around COVID-19 could change as scientists discover more about the virus. Please check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the most updated recommendations.