Superbugs found in UK cosmetics

Thursday, 16 January, 2020

Superbugs found in UK cosmetics

Make-up products used every day by millions of people in the UK are contaminated with potentially deadly superbugs, such as E. coli and Staphylococci, because most are not being cleaned and are used far beyond their expiry dates.

That’s according to new research published in the Journal of Applied Microbiology by Dr Amreen Bashir and Professor Peter Lambert, both of Aston University.

Bacteria that can cause illnesses ranging from skin infections to blood poisoning if used near eyes, mouth or cuts or grazes were found in nine out of 10 of products tested by the researchers, including eyeliner, mascara and lip gloss. This risk is amplified in immunocompromised people, who are more likely to contract infections from opportunistic bacteria.

Beauty blenders — sponges used to apply skin foundation products — were found to have the highest levels of potentially harmful bacteria, with the vast majority (93%) not having ever been cleaned, despite more than two-thirds (64%) being dropped on the floor at some point during use. The researchers found these products are particularly susceptible to contamination as they are often left damp after use, which creates an ideal breeding ground for harmful bacteria.

The findings reveal that consumers are unwittingly putting themselves at risk, according to the researchers, and that manufacturers and regulatory bodies should do more to protect their customers by making expiry dates and cleaning requirements more prominent on packaging. EU guidance holds make-up brands to strict hygiene standards of manufacture and states that E. coli in particular should not be found in any concentration in new cosmetic products; however, there is currently limited consumer protection around the risks of contaminating products while in use.

Post-Brexit, UK consumers could be at even greater risk as they will no longer be protected by EU regulations and could find themselves purchasing more beauty products from the US — for example — where there are no regulatory requirements to put expiry dates on make-up packaging at all.

“Consumers’ poor hygiene practices when it comes to using make-up, especially beauty blenders, is very worrying when you consider that we found bacteria such as E. coli — which is linked with faecal contamination — breeding on the products we tested,” Dr Bashir said.

“More needs to be done to help educate consumers and the make-up industry as a whole about the need to wash beauty blenders regularly and dry them thoroughly, as well as the risks of using make-up beyond its expiry date.”

Image credit: © Lukic

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