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Sephora, Ulta pause in-store beauty testers — will they ever come back?

Store makeup testers can carry harmful bacteria, according to dermatologists.
Close-Up Of Hand On Shelf With Cosmetics
Beauty retailers usually allow customers to try makeup and skin care products before buying products, but have stopped the practice amid the coronavirus pandemic.Getty Images
/ Source: TODAY

The days of testing a new lipstick shade at a beauty supply store or trying out a new shade of blush at the department store makeup counter are gone — at least for now.

Sephora, Ulta and other beauty retailers are getting rid of in-store makeup testers as an extra precaution while they begin to reopen during the coronavirus pandemic.

"Makeup testers have a risk of cross-contamination between people. This can be anything from bacteria to viruses. While this has always been a risk, in the COVID-19 era people are much more cognizant of this," Dr. Jacob Steiger, a cosmetic surgeon in Boca Raton, Florida, told TODAY Style.

Even before COVID-19 spread, there were concerns about bacteria being transmitted through in-store makeup tester products.

In 2017, a Sephora customer sued the company after she claimed she got an HSV-1 infection, which can cause oral herpes, after she sampled a lipstick.

That same year, NBC News collected samples of makeup testers at three stores and sent them to a lab for testing. Some samples came back with harmful bacteria, including E. coli and Klebsiella pneumoniae, two types of bacteria normally found in the intestinal tract that are expelled with feces.

Other samples tested positive for Staphylococcus aureus, which can cause infections, boils and lesions, especially if a person has an open cut or contaminates their eyes or lips.

Heather Marianna, owner of Beauty Kitchen Boutique in Boulder City, Nevada, told TODAY Style she's offering customers samples to take home amid the coronavirus pandemic so they can still discover new products.

Steiger said that practice is one way to ensure there's no cross-contamination.

"When our patients test skin care products in our cosmetic plastic surgery office, we utilize clean, sterile techniques to transfer product from the source container to sample containers," Steiger said. "We only use one sample container per patient or client. This way we are certain that cross-contamination is minimized and non-existent."

Dr. Zain Husain, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of New Jersey Dermatology and Aesthetics, told TODAY that he believes in-store testers will eventually return, but with new sanitation protocols.

"Ideally, testers as we currently know them would be replaced by small, individualized single-use disposable tester samples for consumer use. If this is not feasible, all testers should be supervised by staff behind counters," he said.

If a staffer is in control of the testers, each product could be properly sanitized after a customer tries it.

"The staff would practice safe hand hygiene, wear gloves and provide the customer with the desired cosmetic via disposable applicator for them to use directly on their skin or apply to an individual use paper diagram," he said.