Learn why it’s so important to keep your beauty products safe and hygienic

Most of us wouldn’t dream of eating expired or spoiled food, but we may not give a second thought to the age or care of our makeup. That’s a mistake, says Lauren Snow, a Denver-area licensed esthetician and beauty industry consultant. Old or contaminated makeup can become a breeding ground for bacteria, viruses and fungi that can worsen acne and other skin problems and even lead to serious infections and illnesses. Here are some of her tips for safe storage and handling of cosmetics and other beauty products.

NO SHARING: Sharing makeup is a big no-no. “It’s not worth the risk,” says Snow. “Everyone has different chemistry and what’s OK living on someone else’s eyelashes might make you an inflamed mess.” Viruses, including cold sores caused by the herpes virus, can be transferred by using someone else’s lip balm or lipstick. And stay far away from makeup counter samples — even if you use disposable applicators, you have no idea what has been on the hands (or eyes or lips) of the many other people who’ve touched the samples.

STAY SANITARY: Be especially vigilant when it comes to makeup or creams in jars rather than pumps. “Every time you take the lid off a jar and set it down somewhere, you’re potentially contaminating it. And don’t just dip your fingers into moisturizer or foundation — any germs on your hands will contaminate the whole jar,” explains Snow. “Scoop some out into a separate container, or buy tiny disposable spatulas.”

CLEAN, CLEAN, CLEAN: One of the biggest mistakes Snow sees people make is not cleaning their makeup brushes. There’s no need for special cleaners, she says — mild baby shampoo or isopropyl alcohol work just fine. Put a little in your hand, then gently swirl the brush around in it. Rinse, then dry flat. And don’t forget makeup bags. “These can get really gross,” points out Snow. “Wash them regularly inside and out, and replace them often.” Clean tools like eyelash curlers and tweezers with hot soap and water, then disinfect with isopropyl or rubbing alcohol “And never pop a pimple or pick ingrown hairs with your tweezers because that can introduce bacteria into your hair follicles,” she says.

6-MONTH RULE: Every six months, go through your makeup collection and purge old products. “Powders like eyeshadow will last a little longer,” says Snow. “But anything that’s liquid or cream needs to go.” This is especially important for eye products like mascara and liquid eyeliner, because they can harbor bacteria that can cause sties, eye infections and even pinkeye.

SMART STORAGE: Store all beauty products in a cool, dry, dark place, as heat and high humidity promote the growth of bacteria and fungi. If you store your makeup in the bathroom, keep it as far away from the shower and toilet as you can.