How Bacteria-Infested Are My Beauty Products?

If the beauty industry had its own horror film, it might go something like this: A pretty girl walks into her bathroom, scoops out some moisturizer with her fingers, and applies it to her face. When she walks away, a minefield of flesh-eating bacteria begins to fester in her moisturizer jar. The next day, when she applies her moisturizer again, her skin is literally eaten alive by the bacteria, all because she dipped her grubby hands into the jar.

The moral of the story? Don’t touch your cosmetics. It’s hygiene advice that seems timeless, sort of like “wash your hands after you use the restroom.” But so many things come in jars—and who can keep track of those mini spoons?

A researcher named Elizabeth Brooks wanted to know too. Her two-year study, presented in 2004, took cultures from tester bottles in department stores to see what was growing inside. Ready for it? (Sit down.) She found staph, strep, and E. coli bacteria growing inside most of them. When she tested the samples on Saturdays, the day department stores have the highest foot traffic, the contamination rate was 100 percent. Every. Single. Bottle was contaminated with some kind of bacteria.

In another study, published by the International Journal of Cosmetic Sciences, two Brazilian universities tested 40 mascara samples from women and found that 79 percent were contaminated with staph.

So, maybe stay away from testers. But public contamination is very different from private contamination. Who knows what people browsing through Sephora have touched pre-entering Sephora? Most likely lots of not-clean things.

In your own bathroom, you have a lot of control over what grows in your products, according to John F. Krowka, a senior microbiologist with the Personal Care Products Council, a trade organization that monitors the safety and health of personal care products. And as long as you’re following common sense hygiene rules, he says you should be fine: “Wash hands before applying cosmetics, close cases or jars after use, read cosmetic labels carefully and replace as directed, replace applicators frequently, or use disposable makeup applicators.”

Krowka added that most cosmetics use preservative ingredients as a safeguard against bacterial growth. Among the most common preservatives are parabens, which are effective in keeping bacteria, yeast, and fungus at bay. (Plus, they’re really not as dangerous as people tend to think—for an explainer, see here.) If you’re using a homemade or ultra-natural product without preservatives, you have less of a shelf life before the product could become a breeding ground for bacteria.

Big lesson to learn here: Check the product’s expiration date. Also good to do: sterilize brushes, sponges, and cloths after each use.

When in doubt, save the tiny spoon! Dr. Annie Chiu, a dermatologist with The Derm Institute, confers, since dipping your fingers in product and exposing it to the air ups the likelihood of contamination.

Alternatively: opt for products that come in tubes or an airless pump. You can also buy your own airless pump and transfer your favorite jar products. Sounds like a great weekend project.

—Arielle Pardes

Know your products better with this handy guide to sulfates.

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What’s Your Take On The Makeup Tax?

By all accounts, my morning routine takes very little time. A coat of mascara, a layer of La Roche-Posay tinted sunscreen, and a swipe of Josie Maran’s Argan Color Stick on my cheeks and I’m out the door. It's so simple—the bare minimum, really—that it absolutely baffles me that it still takes me three times as long to get ready in the morning as my boyfriend (who, I might add, also spends a lot less time staring into the closet to choose an outfit, since he wears a suit every day).

It turns out, there’s a name for this: the “makeup tax.” It’s the idea that women, in order to look “presentable” before walking out into the world, have to spend extra time, money, and effort. In a recent piece on the “makeup tax” in The Atlantic, Olga Khazan cites some startling statistics: The average woman will spend $15,000 on cosmetics in her lifetime and two weeks per year putting on makeup.

Now, that's not necessarily a problem. If you love beauty, you love it—and you're willing to spend endless time and money on it. Sometimes a Tom Ford lipstick is just the thing. (This is to say nothing of how it's marketed towards women almost exclusively and therefore an assumed part of a female routine.) However, it does become a problem if you're punished for not wanting to take the time. One study showed that women who wore makeup appeared more competent and likable (women who wore too much makeup, on the other hand, seemed less trustworthy). Another study suggested that women who wore makeup got more prestigious jobs than those who didn’t. Khazan likens going barefaced to someone who shows up to a work meeting with a stained shirt—it’s perceived as sloppy.

The solution here is obviously not for all women to stop wearing makeup. Nor do I think we should all work from home so that we can hide our bare faces in shame. Going without makeup, for anyone who's acquainted with a serious skincare routine, is certainly not sloppy. Regardless, it seems this is just another tightrope women have had to walk and continue to navigate in order to find certain kinds of professional success (speak loud, but not in a whiny tone of voice; spread out, but don’t take up too much space; tap into your masculinity, but don’t give up your femininity; and so on).

I don’t want to add specific rules about makeup to that ever-growing list of ingredients women need to succeed. So here’s another idea: Maybe the reason women get ahead when they're more made-up has more to do with confidence. I’m not sure that my tinted sunscreen, blush, and mascara make a huge difference in what I look like—but it feels huge. Not wearing makeup, for me, is sort of like forgetting to brush my teeth: it’s just weird. But if I carried myself with the same confidence barefaced as I did with makeup on, would anyone even notice the difference? I’m not sure. What I do know is that if I had an extra $15,000 and two weeks each year, I’d take a vacation somewhere tropical and warm. No makeup allowed.

But that's just me. And the great thing about my feelings is that they only apply to my life—so what about yours? Does your makeup tax you at all? Maybe it doesn't. Either way, I'm curious to know.

—Arielle Pardes

Photos via ITG.

Tax or no tax, how long does it take you to get ready in the morning?

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A Farewell To Microbeads?

This past Monday, December 7, the House of Representatives passed the "Microbead Free Waters Act," which prohibits the sale of products that include microbeads in their formula. Now the bill heads to the Senate where, if approved, it will effectively ban microbeads in the United States as soon as July 2017.

ITG tackled the topic of microbeads back in August—what might the ban mean for you, your products, and the environment? Read on below:

When microbeads were first invented, they were a cosmetic dream. The small, smooth beads were cheap to manufacture, and they offered the kind of soft exfoliation that’s hard to come by without spending a fortune. In terms of your skin, the perfectly spherical plastic balls are gentler than scrubs with ingredients like walnut shells in them, which can irritate the skin and cause tiny microabrasions. But in terms of the environment, they’re even worse than those plastic six-pack rings that everyone knows can strangle dolphins to death.

Microbeads became a national issue a few years ago, when Mother JonesThe New York Times, and others reported on their environmental damages. The problem with the beads is their material: They’re made of non-biodegradable plastic. And when they get washed down the drain after your weekly scrub, they end up dumped in local rivers and lakes. This is sort of like dumping a million plastic water bottles into the water—except it’s actually worse. Because unlike water bottles, microbeads are small enough that fish can swallow them. The plastic is toxic for the fish that are eventually eaten by other aquatic species and humans, who in turn are poisoned by the microbeads. Eventually, we all die from ingesting too much plastic. Wonderful.

Take a look in your bathroom right now, and you’ll probably find them: Microbeads are in everything—from face wash to body scrub to moisturizer to toothpaste (the kinds of products that people use on a daily basis). That means they get flushed down the sink in massive quantities where they end up polluting local water sources. So many microbeads are flushed down sinks in New York, according to state officials, that it has overwhelmed the state’s water-treatment plants. The plastic beads also make up a large part of the pollution in the Great Lakes, which means we’re slowly poisoning the world’s largest source of fresh water.

Washington, Oregon, Ohio, and Hawaii are considering legislation to phase out microbeads. CaliforniaMinnesotaConnecticut, Maine, Colorado, Indiana, MarylandIllinois, New Jersey, and Wisconsin have passed legislation that prohibits the sale and manufacturing of microbeads. Congress is currently working to mandate “microbead-free waters” nationwide, following in the footsteps of the Netherlands, where they plan to eliminate microbeads in Dutch cosmetics by 2016. [ed note: the Microbead Free Waters Act has passed the House of Representatives and now faces a vote in the Senate.]

There have been changes within the industry, too: Lush removed all microbeads from their products last summer and recently started a social media campaign encouraging others to #BantheBead. Bigger companies—including Procter & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, L’Oréal, and Unilever—followed suit in starting to phase out the beads from their products (Unilever’s Dove already removed microbeads from its soaps earlier this year).

Other cosmetic companies have tried to come up with synthetic biodegradable alternatives, but experts warn that, without adequate testing, we don’t know if these beads will disrupt the marine ecosystem in other ways. After all, everything is biodegradable eventually—but if the microbead alternatives can’t biodegrade within a reasonable amount of time, then what’s the point?

There are already so many natural exfoliants worth springing for in lieu of microbeads like Arcona’s Cranberry Gommage, which uses jojoba beads, or Lush’s lovely, limited-edition Life’s A Beach Body Scrub, which goes au naturel with sea salt and sand. There are also great nonabrasive exfoliants like Dermalogica's Gentle Cream Exfoliant and AmorePacific's Treatment Enzyme Peel, both of which use acids and natural fruit enzymes to slough off dead skin. You’ll still glow, I promise—and you’ll also save the planet along the way.

—Arielle Pardes

Photographed by Tom Newton.

Good for the earth and your skin, 32 all-natural skincare products to considerRead more from Water Week here.

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Nail Masks Are The New Sheet Masks

I’ve never met a mask I didn’t like. It’s become a weekly ritual to cover my hair with one (either a homemade concoction or Kiehl’s Olive Fruit Oil Repairative Hair Pak). And even more frequently, I rely on a mask for my face to draw out impurities. For some reason, I never considered masking my hands until very recently. I admit that this was flawed logic and have tried to rectify immediately.

Nail masks, like a lot of other nail treatments featured on ITG, aim to repair ragged cuticles, strengthen shabby nails, or lighten up yellowed nails (an unfortunate side effect of dark nail polish). The masks themselves are pre-soaked pouches that look kind of like finger puppets. You leave them on your digits for 15 or 30 minutes, and then behold: nails worthy of a hand model (or at least close enough).

I’m a DIY-manicure kind of girl, and I don’t always give my nails the kind of attention that I probably should, so buying a few masks already felt luxurious in that I-don't-really-need-these kind of way. I've seen products like nail BB cream—Orly's BB Crème has made a big splash in my circles—and other paint-on treatments that are nice and all, but nothing beats the reaction you get when you try something along the lines of Sally's Box Friendly Milk Nail Mask or Kocostar's Nail Therapy Multivitamin Nail Treatment (both promised to strengthen and soften with the hero ingredient glycerin). For argan oil fanatics, there's Moisture & Nourish Fingernail Mask, too. After 15 minutes of wiggling my fingers around like I was about to put on a puppet show, my nails did look nice—dry cuticles gone and shiny! Plus, there was the extra relaxation of knowing you can't use your hands (read: touch your phone) for 30 minutes or so. It's also a pretty good excuse not to do the dishes (or whatever other chores you've got going on). See? Nail masks: useful on multiple fronts.

—Arielle Pardes

Photographed by Tom Newton.

Don't dry out your cuticles with acetone. Here's an all-natural nail polish remover that works double as cuticle oil.

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No Bathroom Storage? Consider A Cosmetics Case

A month ago, I moved into my dream place. It’s a 1939 Spanish-style Art Deco building with original hardwood floors and glass doorknobs—a total find. The one problem? There’s absolutely zero bathroom storage.

At first, I didn’t think this would be an issue. There’s plenty of storage in general (not one, but two walk-in closets!), even though the bathroom is tiny, lacking a medicine cabinet, and with the world’s smallest under-the-sink cabinet. And since I’m renting, there’s not a whole lot I can do about it.

There’s barely enough room on the counter to hold a hand soap and a tube of toothpaste, so I initially piled all my cosmetics and skincare in a heap under the (tiny!) cabinet. There were serums stacked on face masks stacked on extra toilet paper stacked on my hair dryer; taking anything out to use was like a game of Jenga.

It was not working, so I decided to put everything in cosmetic cases—sort of an obvious answer in hindsight, but it still feels revolutionary to me for how good of a solution it is.

I remember the first cosmetic case I ever had: a satin Christian Dior case in scarlet red. My mother had given it to me sometime in middle school, and I remember feeling so sophisticated, despite the fact that I used it to store things like DuWop Lip Venom.

Since then, I’ve remained partial to the idea of having a dedicated space to store cosmetics. I’ve always loved the precision involved in packing a travel kit for toiletries—I put in everything I need, nothing extra—and reorganizing my disorderly bathroom sink into several ordained cases gave me the same kind of cathartic pleasure. I threw out anything I didn’t need and created specific spaces for all the things I did; nothing more, nothing less.

I have three cases under my sink: one for everyday makeup, one for skincare, one for “specialty” extras like faux-eyelashes or Troi Ollivierre Matte Luxe Lipstick in George, which I only wear on special occasions. I also have a pre-packed travel case (it’s like an incentive for a spontaneous trip!) with a miniature shampoo, conditioner, face wash, an extra razor, and so on. I keep a fifth case in my car with stuff like breath mints and duplicate cosmetics in case I need to touch up my makeup on the go.

A good cosmetic case should be made of durable material with few frills, save for a pocket to secure really small things (like tweezers). They don’t need to be expensive or fancy; two of my under-the-sink cases were cheap finds at Target. Simplicity here is key. For my travel case, I use this Longchamp Le Pliage Pouchette since the material is water-resistant, and I trust that neither the case nor the products inside will get damaged during travel.

I know exactly where everything belongs, and it makes it easy to purge products that I otherwise would have stockpiled in my medicine cabinet. The best part? Everything is where it should be, which means I can focus on enjoying my new house without fuss.

—Arielle Pardes

Photo by ITG. For more organization tips, check out how we keep ITG's beauty closet orderly (and how you can apply that to your makeup collection).

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