Testing, Testing - or should I?

A recent story in the Wall Street Journal explored the growing trend of women visiting makeup stores like Sephora and Ulta for the sole purpose of testing out the self-service makeup stations. Many of these women regularly mooch free lipstick, blush, and even mascara, all without paying a cent. Is this a good idea? From a hygienic standpoint, I’d say proceed with caution. Remember that germs are everywhere. There’s no avoiding them. A 2004 study conducted by professor Elizabeth Brooks at Rowan University found that fifty percent of all makeup testers at beauty counters and drugstores were covered with bacteria. The study even highlighted which days were the worst in terms of bacterial contamination--makeup tested on Sundays showed 100 percent contamination. Poor hygiene can lead to infections like conjunctivitis, herpes, strep, even e-coli. (Yes, fecal e-coli. Yuck.)

Still, cleanliness isn’t the top priority for makeup stores--generating sales is, and many shops encourage the practice by providing hundreds of testers and freebies. If you’re going to sample the goods, here are a few best practices to keep in mind the next time you decide to give your look an overhaul for free:

Consider planning your trip to the makeup counter on days when fewer people are there. (Weekends are probably the worst time to go.)

Wash your face as soon as you can afterwards.

Do not try on eye makeup or mascara. Ever. Even if there’s a clean cotton swab or mascara wand. It’s too risky. Eye infections are miserable.

Make sure you clean off the testers with alcohol first, you may want to purchase a box of individually wrapped alcohol pads and/or consider bringing your personal makeup brushes.

Only try public lipstick if you can scrape off existing product or dip the tube in alcohol. If you can’t do that, try the lipstick on your arm; you’ll still be able to see if you like the color, and you’re not putting yourself at as great a risk for herpes or some other infection.

Some stores provide sealed, single-use samples. These are hands-down the most hygienic ways to score free product.

Do you try out free makeup? What’s your freebie routine?