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Steering clear of beauty product bacteria

Take a clean sweep
If your makeup artist is using previously sampled specimens, ask to use a tissue to wipe off the top layer of makeup. Request new or single-use applicators, such as disposable cotton balls or cotton swabs.

Go on the best day
One makeup counter study found that higher amounts of bacteria were found during high-traffic weekend days. Go on a non-peak day in the middle of the week, or ask the sales representative when the samples will be refreshed.

Look before you leap
Take a look around. Does the makeup look like it's seen better days? Are the sales representatives using fresh applicators? If something looks less than sanitary, it probably is.

Whether you're looking for a fresh look this holiday season, or shopping for the perfect shade for someone special, department store makeup counters offer a plethora of cosmetic products to try. While it's always ideal to try before you buy, publicly shared samples can serve as a breeding ground for germs, harboring nasty bacteria that can cause serious infections.

Steer clear of contamination
So what's the best way to find the look you're after without compromising the health of your eyes? "The most important thing is that you don't share your cosmetics," explains Dr. April Omoto, a VSP doctor with Omoto and Omoto Vision Care in Sacramento, CA.

Virtually hundreds of people may touch the makeup samples, leaving behind germs from cold sores, pink eye, a cold or flu, or even bacteria from using the bathroom without washing up afterwards. "When you use the cosmetics samples from the store, you're sharing that bacteria and other germs with many other people."

Keep it clean
So what are some ways to put your best face forward while staying infection free? Most doctors and makeup experts recommend replacing your cosmetics every four to six months to avoid excess contamination with skin bacteria. And if you've had an eye infection, it's vital that you throw out your eye makeup and any applicators used to avoid recontamination.

"Some patients will have nice, expensive makeup brushes that they don't want to throw out, but then end up re-infecting their eyes," says Dr. Omoto. "That's why it's so important to replace your makeup and applicators after an eye infection."

Once you've found the products you want, use new applicators, and keep your makeup fresh by storing it in a clean, dry area at room temperature. Keep eyeliner pencils sharp to prevent the wood casing from scratching your lids, and always apply liner outside the lash line to avoid direct contact with the eye.

Department store 'do's'
How do you pick the right shade without dipping into a pool of public germs? Dr. Omoto recommends finding a vendor who offers individual samples rather than using the pallets set out for the general public.

"If individual samples aren't an option, try applying sample shades on an area away from your eyes and mouth, such as the back of your hand."

Do a bit of research to find a drug store or makeup counter with some sanitation savvy.
A company with a liberal exchange policy will let you return your product if you aren't completely satisfied, giving you the chance to experiment with fresh, germ-free samples.