Good Working Practices and Preventing Cross-Infection in Makeup

Bacteria on a hand

A basic guide to some of the common skin, scalp and eye conditions we may come across when working in the beauty industries, and how good working practices can help prevent cross-infection in makeup.

Makeup can get contaminated through poor handling procedures during manufacturing, defects in the product’s “preservative capacities” (how it inhibits spoilage organisms and prevents the growth of pathogens) and by being used – and this is where working hygienically comes in.

Good working practices and working hygienically can substantially reduce the risk of cross-infection, and help prevent the contamination of your makeup. Sadly, not everybody working in the makeup industries, from beauty counters and bridal to catwalk, film and TV, works to a high standard.

Dirty brushes, unwashed hands, double dipping and general lack of good working practices are rife. Infectious conditions like conjunctivitis and sties can be caused by poor makeup hygiene and contaminated makeup products. Providing an unsafe service puts your clients and your career at risk.

Identifying Common Infectious Conditions

Bacterial Infectious Diseases

  • Conjunctivitis: The inflammation of the conjunctiva – the outermost layer of the eye and the inner surface of the eyelids. The infection can cause a red and watery eye with sticky secretions. Most commonly caused by viral or bacterial infection, but can also be caused by an allergic reaction e.g. hay fever or cosmetics.
  • Impetigo: A highly-contagious bacterial infection of the skin, more commonly seen in school children and those who play contact sports. Causes dry, honey-coloured crusty spots with reddened patches. Is often found on the face, arms or legs. Caused by Staphylococcus aureus and sometimes by Streptococcus pyogenes.
  • Stye: Also known as a hordeolum. A stye is caused by the infection of a sebaceous gland at the base of the eyelash follicle, resulting in a painful red swelling that develops on the inside or outside of the eyelid. It is usually caused by staphylococci bacteria, though a blocked oil gland can also trigger a stye. Chronic blepharitis (inflammation of the eyelids) may increase the risk of styes.

Fungal Infectious Diseases

  • Ringworm: A fungal infection that can affect the skin, scalp or nails. Athlete’s Foot is ringworm that affects the feet. Ringworm creates circular areas of dull rough skin surrounded by raised red rings.

Parasitic Infectious Diseases

  • Head Lice: Infestation can be in egg form (known as nits) or as the adult lice. Nits attach to the hair shaft and appear as a creamy/white dot along the hair. Usually spread by head-to-head contact and a popular infestation in school children.
  • Scabies: A rash caused by an allergic reaction to the itch mite Sarcoptes scabiei. Often appears in skin folds, like the midriff, and on the inside of the thighs and can look like a series of dry spotty bites. Can be spread via close contact.

Viral Infectious Diseases

  • Herpes Simplex: Cold sores are small blister-like lesions which usually appear around the mouth. Caused by the herpes simplex viruses, cold sores are highly contagious and infection can be easily passed from person to person by close direct contact.

Common Non-infectious Conditions

Non-infectious conditions include dermatitis, psoriasis, vitiligo, acne and alopecia.

These conditions are not at all contagious; however, special care and discretion should be used when carrying out hair and makeup application to ensure the client’s comfort and dignity. And good working practices apply no matter what.

Preventing Cross-Infection in Makeup

There are a number of simple measures which can easily be taken to avoid the spread of infection, and to help prevent micro-organisms being passed from skin to brushes to makeup to skin.

Such measures should be regarded as good practice, irrespective of whether or not a person being made up is regarded as having an infectious condition.


Good Working Practices in Makeup Include:

Washing hands

  • Wash and dry your hands properly before you start a makeup, and again after you finish. Be seen to be washing your hands – it is good for clients to know you care about hygiene. Drying your hands is equally important – damp hands spread germs. Finish off with a quick dab of hand sanitiser in front of the client. Hand sanitiser is also great to have on set, especially as hand washing facilities may be scarce.

<- How to properly wash your hands!

  • Always ask a client if they have any allergies or known sensitivities before you start a makeup. Not 100% guaranteed they won’t react to something, but you can eliminate any triggers they do know about. Always do a test patch for substances that are known to cause issues with people, like latex or hair tint. Not a cross-infection prevention, but it is good to do this with clients.
  • Do not blow on your brushes or makeup. This blows spit and germs all over them! How’d you like the waiter to blow on your food as he plonks it down in front of you?!
  • Avoid sharing makeup. For one-off clients where you are using your makeup kit, use a clean implement (e.g. spatula or brush) to remove a tiny amount of product. For long-term clients (like on a TV show), use individual containers per person.
  • Don’t double dip. Double dipping means going from a product to a face then back in the product. It is easy to avoid, especially for cream and liquid products – just use disposable applicators or a spatula to remove a small amount of product, ideally to put on a palette. It amazes me how many makeup artists we see double dipping, like using the mascara wand in the tube on lots of people, or sticking fingers in a pot of Carmex, to the lips and back in the pot – and then offering it to all and sundry, who also have a go. Why not just get everyone to spit into a glass and take a sip? Gross! Use a cotton bud instead of your finger and don’t dip it in the pot after it’s been on your kissers. Ah, it’s not really that difficult is it!
  • Sharpen pencils after use. Once you’ve done a nice bit of liner, sharpen the pencil before putting the lid back on. This keeps the lid cleaner and also preps the pencil ready for use, so you don’t have to fiddle with sharpeners in the middle of a makeup.
  • Use makeup disinfectant sprays. There are several spray products available that are designed to kill most of the bacteria that may be lurking on your makeup. The sprays can be used on all makeup, including creams, powders, pencils and tools. Particularly great for pressed powder products like eye shadows and blushers. Read about our Makeup Kit Favourites: Cleaning and Hygiene for more information.
  • Use disposable sponges and clean/disposable powder puffs for each client. For crowd work, inexpensive bath sponges are great – tear it into small pieces and use a fresh bit on each background artist. It is noticed and appreciated – we’ve had many comments from background artists on our makeup hygiene.
  • Do not share towels. Use clean/freshly washed individual towels or disposable towels. Imagine someone has wiped their shitty face (or worse!) on the towel – would you then want to put that on your face? Nope… and neither do your clients!
  • Don’t keep makeup beyond its shelf life. If it smells or looks funny, don’t use it – throw it away.
  • Sterilise all brushes and tools after use. For example, use Barbicide for hairdressing tools, clipper spray on clippers, and isopropyl alcohol to disinfect makeup brushes and metal tools (scissors, tweezers etc.). If something hasn’t been used for a while, it is prudent to give it a quick disinfect and wipe before using.
  • Be extra careful when a client has a skin, eye or mouth infection. Only use disposable (single use) makeup applicators that are immediately disposed of after use. The makeup artist must wash their hands and use hand sanitiser after completing the makeup before moving on to another client, or touching their own face/skin/hair.
  • Sweep up hair cuttings and clean hair tools. Not only is hair on the floor super slippy, it is simply good practice to clean up after a hair cut. Clippers should be thoroughly dusted and cleaned of hair, then sterilised using a clipper spray product. Hair tools should also be sterilised.
  • Clean and sterilise anything dropped on the floor. I mean, this should be fairly obvious, but then nothing would surprise me! Don’t pick that brush up and carry on using it after picking out the hair you haven’t bothered to sweep up and wiping it on a towel you’ve just cleaned your manky feet with!

If your work does involve applying slap to faces, you should be working as above. Always. No excuses! If you don’t work with cosmetics and only ever use your makeup and brushes on yourself, then it’s still important to wash brushes regularly – and not to stick your dirty tramp fingers in your makeup!

Find Out More:

Society for Applied Microbiology. Article: Is hand washing enough to stop the spread of disease? (07 September 2023)
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