Infections & Allergies from Makeup: Avoiding the Crisis

Makeup artists do applications on many different faces. The expectation is usually for the artist to provide the products and tools, rather than the client. As the professional, you will naturally have a wider range of makeups and brushes in your kit than the average person!

This means, however, that your brushes, creams, and palettes will have to be used on more than one face, often in a short period of time. This presents the risk of transferring bacteria from one client to another through your makeup and tools. Infection can also result from pre-existing skin conditions or sensitivities that are aggravated by a makeup application.

It is the makeup artist’s responsibility to ensure that they take every possible step to reduce the risk of infection. This can by done by using clean tools and a sanitary work area, spot-testing new or high-risk products, and communicating with your client. Here are some tips for avoiding makeup infection and handling a crisis if it happens!

Steps for Sanitary Makeup Application

Clean Makeup Brushes to prevent allergies and infection from makeup brush bacteria

There are many things you can do while preparing for, and doing, a makeup application that will help to keep your work area sanitary and reduce the risk of infection!

Sanitize your hands

Always keep hand sanitizer at your workstation. Let the client see you using it. Seeing you clean your hands before touching their face makes them more comfortable!

Use clean brushes

Most professional makeup artists have more than one set of brushes. For each client that you work on, you must always use clean brushes that have not been used on anyone else since they were last sanitized.

Sanitize powder palettes

The top of powder palettes, like eye shadows and compact blushes, can be touched with a brush repeatedly once you have used them on your clients face. This is because the tops of the palettes can be sanitized with 99% alcohol, which should be done between every client.

Keep cream makeups clean

Unlike powder palettes, cream makeups cannot be sanitized with alcohol. Bacteria contaminate the cream product, rather than remaining on the surface. Use a palette knife to scrape some onto a clean palette, and apply it from there. If you ‘double dip’ from a client’s face into a cream makeup, it must either be thrown out or given to that person, because it can’t be used on someone else!

Use disposable tools

With the exception of your professional brushes, using disposable sponges and cotton-tipped applicators helps decrease the risk of infection. These are one-use items that are thrown out after that client.

Spot-Testing for Allergies

Using a product on a client that causes an allergic reaction is another form of infection from makeup that must be avoided! Professional makeup artists will speak to each client about known allergies or sensitivities before they start any makeup application. Before using anything out of the ordinary (ex. spirit gum or adhesives, anything that contains latex, etc.), it is especially important to ask your client if they have any allergies.

If the client has never used a product before, and therefore might not know whether they’re allergic, you must do a ‘spot test’ to ensure that you can safely use that makeup on them. For high-risk products like liquid latex, many makeup artists will spot-test anyways! Choose a place on the client that can be easily hidden and won’t cause them a lot of irritation if they do react to the product. The area behind the ear is a good option. Apply the product lightly to a small surface area at the beginning of your application, and wait about 20 minutes while you do other steps. Keep an eye on the area, just in case the client reacts quickly. If, after that time, the client has not reacted, you should be safe to use that product on them as long as it’s used correctly!

Look for Existing Skin Conditions

When you meet with your client, take a look at their skin. Do you see any telltale signs that they might already have a skin condition? If so, is this something that you should avoid applying makeup on? These are important questions to ask yourself at each application. Of course, you don’t have to openly scrutinize their face or make them feel uncomfortable! Simply take a look at the area you’re working with.

What to do if Allergy or Infection Occurs

Makeup Artist using clean makeup brushes to prevent makeup allergies

When speaking with clients about the possibility of infection from makeup, it’s important to be polite, respectful, and professional. Don’t ever ‘diagnose’ them or tell them how to treat anything! Remember, you’re good at what you do, but you’re not a doctor!

Long-term condition

If you’re concerned that a blemish or discoloration already existing on the skin might be more than just routine acne or redness from blowing their nose, speak to your client politely about it. Ask them if they have experienced any skin irritation lately, or whether they’re comfortable with you applying makeup on that area. Perhaps the client has known that they have rosacea on their cheeks for many years. They will know how to handle it and could be comfortable with you applying makeup there. Rosacea is not a contagious condition, so you are safe to continue if the client is willing. You will simply adjust your techniques to account for the increased red pigment in that area.

Contagious infection

There could be circumstances where you decide that it’s best not to move forward with a makeup application. For example, if your client is showing signs of conjunctivitis, or ‘pink eye’, don’t continue! Politely let them know that you’re concerned about some irritation around their eyes, and that you aren’t comfortable continuing for their own sake and yours. Conjunctivitis is very contagious. Applying their makeup could hurt their eyes further, transfer the infection to you, or transfer the bacteria to other clients on your tools. Suggest politely that seeing a doctor might be best, and let them know that you’re willing to reschedule.

Allergic reaction

If a client does react to something you’re using, during the spot test, or the application itself, stop immediately. Gently remove the product that is causing the reaction. Assess whether the reaction is mild enough to continue without that product, or whether the client should see a doctor and reschedule.

Infection from makeup

The biggest makeup crisis when it comes to infection is a client getting one from something you used. This can stop you from getting future work in the industry. If it happens, it’s best to accept responsibility, apologize, and be proactive about preventing the spread of infection in the future. Remaining calm and professional will avoid making the situation worse and lets the displeased client see that your intentions were good.

Learn More

The best thing a makeup artist can do when it comes to skin infections from makeup is take pre-emptive action! Always make sure to sanitize and clean all of your tools and products between clients. Carry extra clean tools if necessary. Practicing good sanitary habits every time you work will reduce your risk of having to deal with a bacteria-filled makeup crisis!

To learn more about sanitary makeup practices and preventing the spread of bacteria, check out QC’s online makeup courses!

Author Mireille Pitre

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