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Hygienic Working Practices in Makeup

Preventing cross-infection in makeup is not difficult. Just follow some simple makeup hygiene rules, and have an understanding of the skin, scalp and eye conditions we may come across when working in the beauty industries. Here’s our guide to how good working practices can help keep you and your clients safe from infection.

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 works to a high standard. Things like dirty brushes, unwashed hands, double dipping and general lack of good working practices are rife.

Subsequently, poor makeup hygiene and contaminated makeup products can cause infectious conditions like conjunctivitis and sties. In conclusion, providing an unsafe service puts your clients and your career at risk.

Identifying Common Infectious Conditions

Bacterial Infectious Conditions

  • Conjunctivitis

Also known as “pink eye”, this is 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. It is most commonly caused by viral or bacterial infection, but can also be caused by an allergic reaction; for example, hay fever or cosmetic ingredients.

  • Impetigo

A highly-contagious bacterial infection of the skin, more commonly seen in school children and those who play contact sports. It 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.

Bacterial infections
(L to R) Infectious conditions caused by bacteria - conjunctivitis, impetigo and a stye on the eyelid.

Fungal Infectious Conditions

  • Ringworm

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

Parasitic Infectious Conditions

  • 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, which is why it creates an infestation at a school so easily as children play and have close contact. However, it is easily treated and the lice can be killed quickly with products from the chemist.

  • 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.

makeup hygiene in makeup
(L to R) Fungal infection of ringworm; parasitic head lice infestation; and scabies caused by a parasitic mite.

Viral Infectious Conditions

  • 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 dermatitispsoriasisvitiligoacne 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.

Good Working Practices

The following measures can easily be taken to avoid the spread of infection. They also 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. Rather, it is how you should work every day on everyone, no matter what.

Before a Makeup Begins

  • Check makeup is still OK to use

Don’t use makeup beyond it’s shelf life. Basically, if it smells or looks funny, don’t use it – throw it away. Understand how long a product can be used once it’s been opened. At the same time, know how to store products correctly.

  • Wash and dry your hands properly

Both before you start a makeup and again after you finish. Be seen to be washing your hands because it’s good for clients to know you care about hygiene. Drying your hands is equally as important, as damp hands spread germs. Wet wipes are great to have on set, especially as hand washing facilities may be scarce.

  • Always ask your client if they have any allergies

At the same time, ask about known sensitivities before you start a makeup. Of course, it’s not a 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 practice to do this with clients.

During a Makeup

  • 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 and don’t double dip. The makeup artist must also wash their hands and use hand sanitiser after completing the makeup before moving on to another client, or touching their own face/skin/hair.

  • Avoid sharing makeup

For one-off clients where you are using your makeup kit, use a clean implement (for example, a spatula or brush) to remove a tiny amount of product. For a long-term client (like on a TV series for example), use individual containers or “just for them” makeup items.

  • Don’t double dip

Double dipping means going from a product to a face/skin, then back in the product. However, it is so easy to avoid, especially for cream and liquid products. For instance, just use disposable applicators or a spatula to remove a small amount of product for using, 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. 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!

Disposable tools with eco-friendly handles. Useful for crowd work, using on someone with an infectious skin condition and for products like mascara and lipgloss.
  • 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?!

  • Use disposable sponges and clean powder puffs for each client

For crowd work, inexpensive bath sponges are great. Just 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 good standard of hygiene. No one wants a used sponge on their face!

  • Do not share towels

Use clean individual towels. Imagine someone has wiped their face/hands on the towel – would you then want to put that on your face? Nope… and neither do your clients!

After You Have Finished

  • Sharpen pencils after use

Dip the pencil tip in IPA and then sharpen before putting the lid back on. Not only will this keep the lid clean, it also preps the pencil ready for use. Likewise, it means you don’t have to fiddle with sharpeners in the middle of a makeup either.

  • Clean and disinfect makeup products

Give all the makeup items you have used a good wipe clean, followed by disinfecting. Luckily, there are several specialist 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 eyeshadows and blushers.

  • Clean and sterilise all brushes and tools after use

Clean all your tools before you put them away, or use them again. To sterilise a tool, use the appropriate product. For example, use Barbicide on hairdressing tools, clipper spray on clippers, and isopropyl alcohol (IPA) to disinfect makeup brushes and metal tools (like scissors, tweezers etc.). Even if something hasn’t been used, it is prudent to give it a quick clean before putting it away.

  • Sweep up hair cuttings and remove rubbish

Not only is hair on the floor very slippery, it is simply good practice to clean up after a hair cut. Remove all rubbish from your section and put out clean disposables, for example replace the couch roll over your section.

Find Out More


Society for Applied Microbiology. Article: Is hand washing enough to stop the spread of disease? (07 September 2010)
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