Can you get herpes from sharing makeup, chapstick or lipstick? Have you wondered as you share someone's lip balm or sampled makeup at a makeup counter? Well, the herpes virus that causes cold sores is a germ you can potentially 'catch' when you share personal items such as makeup. Yes, it's true!
Herpes From Sharing Makeup
- How common is Herpes skin infection?
- How is a herpes skin infection spread?
- How long can the herpes virus live on lip balm, lipstick and lip gloss?
- Do you need to have an active cold sore to spread herpes?
- What is the realistic risk of getting herpes from sharing makeup, lipstick, lip balm, or Chapstick?
How common is Herpes skin infection?
In this health article from Johns Hopkins Medicine, 50-80% of adults in the US are infected with the oral herpes virus. Whether they have an active cold sore or not, the virus resides in their facial tissues and can be shed and spread.
How is a herpes skin infection spread?
The herpes virus is most effectively spread from direct person to person contact with infected skin, such as by kissing. Saliva or oral secretions from an infected person can spread the virus too, even on shared beverages or "utensils". That term "utensils" typically refers to forks and implements used for eating, but any implement placed on the mouth where salivary droplets reside and virus is shed has the potential to transmit herpes.
You need to put this in perspective, however. The herpes virus is a fragile virus.
How long can the herpes virus live on lip balm, lipstick and lip gloss?
Expert microbiology sources site its ability to survive off the human body as "brief." The plot thickens though because expert sources also note that the herpes virus can survive off the body "slightly longer" when present in a warm and moist environment. It also survives better on surfaces such as plastic as opposed to metal. Other sources, such as this scientific review study, report the ability of herpes simplex to survive longer off the body We know that the herpes simplex virus can remain active for up to a day in distilled water and 4 hours in tap water.
All this is to say that passing the troublesome herpes virus around is NOT as difficult as we would like. It's hard to know your risk of getting herpes when you are sharing items that touch skin and lips - but it is possible!
Do you need to have an active cold sore to spread herpes?
What is really important to know is that according to this World Health Organization Herpes Fact Sheet, once infected, herpes virus is shed from skin, even in the absence of a visible cold sore. Most people who have a history of a herpes cold sore on their facial skin harbor the virus around the mouth or nose, making lip products the most likely makeup for transferring herpes. The virus can be present anywhere on the face however. Another reason not to share any other makeup as well.
What is the realistic risk of getting herpes from sharing makeup, lipstick, lip balm, or Chapstick?
It's probably low given the fragile nature of the virus, BUT, it's possible. There is no study to give us a statistic for this specific risk. Since preserving virus activity requires moisture, actively exchanging lipstick or cosmetic brushes would be the biggest risk; theoretically droplets of infected saliva or sweat could pass the virus to a non-infected person. We also know that active herpes simplex virus has been found on the hands of people with active infection. This is one of the main modes by which people spread herpes cold sores to other parts of their own skin. Basically, living in a microbial world is - em, well, interesting and brave.
Yes, living communally with microbiological knowledge is 'a brave new world' for those of us who consider ourselves germ phobes. There are countless potential infectious misadventures. Some we can do something about; others are impossible to control and we have to let go.
In my opinion, sharing makeup, lipstick and Chapstick with all, but your most intimate partner should be avoided - so the fewer chances taken the better, when it comes to limiting exposure to a viral infection such as the herpes virus. ` Dermatologist Dr. Cynthia Bailey
Dermatologist's recommendations for the best practices to prevent getting herpes and other skin infections from makeup
- Keep your cosmetics and cosmetic brushes to yourself, just like you probably don't share your toothbrush.
- Maintain good makeup and brush hygiene:
- Keep your brushes clean. Replace them when they start to wear out.
- Don't set down brushes or makeup applicators on soiled surfaces. I recommend using a clean facial tissue or wash cloth as a place mat to place your brushes when applying your makeup.
- Wash and dry your brushes regularly.
- Wash your hands before applying makeup, especially to your eyes.
- At makeup counters, or when having makeup applied by professionals, scrutinize things first to ensure care is taken to not cross contaminate people or product:
- Be certain that single use applicators are used to apply makeup to people's skin.
- Watch for 'double dipping' meaning placing an applicator that has touched skin back into a product.
- Watch that products to be applied are cleanly separated for your application BEFORE product is applied. That separated product needs to be discarded after use.
- If those measures are not taken - run!
Special care needs to be taken to ensure one does not contract viruses and contagious things when going about daily life. Washing, and cleaning brushes, and being particular about what you share are some of the best ways to avoid illness.
Related helpful advice: read Dr. Bailey's tips for healthy skin and makeup practices.
What are my favorite, convenient and economical lip care products and makeup tools that are easy to have on hand so you don't end up sharing with someone else?
Use your own makeup brushes.
Carry them conveniently when you travel using this eco-friendly Makeup Brush Kit. I love my makeup brushes. They are made from cruelty-free soft taklon fibers and bamboo and stored in a nifty hemp roll that ties.
Be sure that your makeup is clean and sanitary.
Makeup does not last forever. Replace it if you are unsure how old it is, or if someone dipped into your product. Learn about when you should throw out old makeup products.
My natural mineral makeup powders are beautiful, ideal for sensitive skin, gossamer fine and give you great coverage that looks natural. Like my brushes, my makeup is really well priced. Click here to see my mineral makeup collection.
Pro-tip: Always apply makeup over your sunscreen during the day
This is especially important for those days where you plan to be in the sun; sunscreen goes on first under makeup for the best skin sun protection. Learn more about keeping your skin protected by reading my article: Does Sunscreen Expire and why I recommend pure mineral makeup powder.
Stock an abundance of your own lip balm.
Be sure to have one everywhere you need it so that you are not tempted to share! Keep one in your purse or backpack, one in your gym bag, another in your car, another in your bathroom, desk, coat pocket - you get the idea. Don't share - ever!! My certified organic lip balm is economical, 100% natural and free from flavors and allergens that make you addicted to lip balm (because they cause allergic rashes that mimic chapped lips). See my Natural Lip Balm and stock up!
Fatahzadeh M1, Schwartz RA, Human herpes simplex virus infections: epidemiology, pathogenesis, symptomatology, diagnosis, and management, J Am Acad Dermatol. 2007 Nov;57(5):737-63;
James, William D., Berger, Timothy G et. al. Andrews Diseases of the Skin, Elsevier, 12th edition, pp 359-365
Mark D. Sobsey, and John Scott Meschke, Virus Survival in the Environment With Special Attention to Survival in Sewage Droplets and Other Environmental Media of Fecal or Respiratory Origin, University of North Carolina, School of Public Health, Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering CB# 7431, McGavran-Greenberg Hall, Room 4114a, Chapel Hill, NC. 27599-7431 USA,University of Washington, School of Public Health & Community Medicine, Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences, 4225 Roosevelt Way NE, Suite 100, Box 354695, Seattle, WA 98195-6099 USA Draft – August 21, 2003