Bacteria, makeup and booze.
February 27, 2017 2:58 PM   Subscribe

A few hours after applying makeup, my lower eyelid started itching and swelled up slightly, taking approximately two days to go back to normal. I'm suspecting a stye and wondering how to sanitize my make up effectively- will 95% non denatured ethyl alcohol/ethanol work? It is difficult to come by pure isopropyl alcohol where I am now.

Last Wednesday I went by my make up routine as usual- using no new products I could be allergic to; by mid afternoon, I realized my left lower eyelid was itching and looked in the mirror to find it slight swelled. It itched very sporadically the following day and by Friday night my eyelid was back to normal. Because of how shortlived it was, I'm not persuaded this was necessarily a stye {they usually last longer on me}, but, knowing myself, I want to err on the side of caution and sanitize my make up or I know I'll be unable to bring myself to use it again. I'm prepared to throw away my mascara, but I'd like to salvage my powder eyeshadows, cream concealer in a pot, eyeliner brush, pencils and sponge tip applicator of my liquid concealer {I know the liquid inside can't be safe anymore, but I like that particular applicator and would use it with a brand new product}. I'm assuming eyebrow stuff is safe here; needless to say, brushes would all get throughly washed with mild detergent as well.

Most make up blogs suggest using 'rubbing alcohol' which should be isopropyl alcohol, but I have no easy access to it where I live- I have 95% ethyl alcohol/ethanol {the pure/non denatured one} readily available though. I read contrasting opinions all over the internet- some stating that alcohol in general does not kill bacteria all that well, some saying isopropyl only does, some saying that denatured isopropyl is bad for the skin and not to use it on anything you'd put near your face/eyes, some stating even ethanol is effective against bacteria but needs to be at 70% {not more or less} in order for it to work.

In short: who would win the fight, 95% ethyl alcohol or staphylococcus aureus? Is there ANY way I can avoid spending about 100 dollars worth of make up replacing the perfectly good one I already have while still being safe? Thank you.

{{Links to articles and research is appreciated too, if you happen to have any}}
posted by opalshards to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Sounds to me like you had an allergic reaction to one of your products. I've had this happen to me before. Exact same experience - itching, swelling (no stye), then the symptoms would gradually go away. I threw away all my makeup and started over because I too thought it was because of old makeup. My episode went on for the longest time - I couldn't figure out what I was allergic to! I went to the dermatologist, my reg doctor and eye doctor. Dermatologist prescribed prescription strength hydrocortisone cream for me to use (she suggested allergy). That seemed to work, but I didn't know which product I was allergic to, so it kept recurring. I finally discovered it was my face cleanser. I had been using the same brand of face cleanser for years, but for some reason I developed an allergy (or they changed the formula). In any case, once I discontinued use, the problem went away. Unfortunately, it was a process of elimination for me.
posted by ATX Peanut at 3:08 PM on February 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure if this helps since when something like this happens to me it's definitely a stye but it's always, always due to mascara in my case. It's gotten to the point where I only wear mascara on really fancy occasions and since those happen pretty sparsely I pretty much open a new tube of mascara for each use so as to avoid contracting a stye. I've found requesting mascara samples when buying makeup (sites often allow you to request up to three samples) cuts down on the cost of this practice. And it has been very effective.
posted by vegartanipla at 3:38 PM on February 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

Your brushes/applicators are a very likely source of the irritation. I found that I have to clean my brushes every 2 months to keep away the irritated eyes (you can google cleaning instructions). I also have rubbing alcohol in a spray bottle that I use to spritz the surface of my eye shadows from time to time. Also I replace my mascara every 3- 6 months. Though I start noticing some irritation around 4 months so a tube rarely lasts past that.
posted by saradarlin at 4:13 PM on February 27, 2017

If your eyes are that sensitive, you can buy disposable mascara wands for each use so you don't have to keep buying endless tubes of mascara.
posted by Jubey at 4:42 PM on February 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

You are supposed to clean brushes once every week. You're also supposed to replace all eye makeup once every 3 months. Which is hella expensive. But it's because bacteria grow in eye makeup and can lead to this issue...I'd replace everything you used that morning rather than try to sterilize. That's the eye makeup recommendation.
posted by Kalmya at 7:26 PM on February 27, 2017 [6 favorites]

Ethyl alcohol would win (it's what hand sanitizer is made of!), but it would be very hard to sanitize a surface like a powder compact or a sponge by washing it with liquid, because of porosity, no? I am not familiar with all the research on this but I do know that skin is notoriously difficult to fully disinfect despite all the things we attempt. Heat might be an option if you really needed to do this? I did search PubMed for you but not a lot found on actual outcomes with this issue, although I found this article with the statement: "... the safety record for personal care products has been excellent in recent years and infections resulting from contaminated products remain rare events with most of the reported cases occurring in more susceptible persons, particularly hospitalized individuals." (no citation specifically for this statement)

If you really thought that your makeup was contaminated and had caused an infection, I'd say no amount of money would be worth trying to save it for. Your eyes are important! Your description of what happened doesn't sound like a bacterial infection, but it's impossible to say from my vantage point through the internet.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 7:38 PM on February 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

Distilled water does not sanitize anything, so please don't take that advice.
posted by donnagirl at 9:15 PM on February 27, 2017 [2 favorites]

How are you with removing your eye makeup at night? If you've been missing some nights, that could cause it (no judgment, I have my periods when I'm bad about that).

Have you been replacing your mascara after 3 months? I recently had a stye that I'm pretty sure was caused by using a mascara that was too old. I've never heard that you need to replace all eye makeup every 3 months, but you definitely do have to replace mascara that often.
posted by imalaowai at 10:11 PM on February 27, 2017

Not a direct answer and maybe you've tried this, but: local pharmacies might have isopropyl alcohol behind the counter if you ask.
posted by trig at 10:17 PM on February 27, 2017

that's exactly how my eyes react when it disagrees with an ingredient in the eye makeup.
posted by Neekee at 8:33 AM on February 28, 2017

Ethyl alcohol is fine for this.
posted by quince at 9:01 AM on February 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you everyone for your replies!

I appreciate all of your inputs of course. I thought back to that afternoon and I remembered that I semi fell asleep before my left eye started giving me issues- and, me being a side sleeper, I remember I laid on that side, head on my pillow, with my make up still on. When I woke up, I remember my eye itching and watering and me finding bits of mascara when I went to rub it- so I'm now wondering whether it could have been a mechanical irritation of sorts? Does that sound plausible to any of you?

Interestingly, mascara has been mentioned as the main culprit a lot here: mine was about 2 month and 3 weeks old, it didn't smell off or change consistency, though of course it's already been thrown away. I'm not usually prone to eye irritation, but I doubt I'll be repurchasing this particular one anyway {there are better ones for its price out there}.

Hopefully it's not an allergic reaction {let's all knock on wood}: it's happened only once thus far and I'm crossing my fingers it's going to stay a one time occurence. If it does not, however, I'll definitely have to consider that option.

I'm good with removing make up and never skip nights- although sometimes I'm unable to remove every trace of mascara/eyeliner; I'll have to be more accurate with that. I also clean my brushes frequently, considering I put make up on a couple of times a week at most.

Thank you for the reassurance about ethyl alcohol too! Considering I'm not at all sure about this being a bacterial issue, I'm even more hesitant about throwing make up away {mascara being the exception}.
posted by opalshards at 12:10 PM on February 28, 2017

Best answer: Yes, mechanical irritation seems like a reasonable explanation.

As with food, one is not always able to smell when a cosmetic is contaminated, and there won't necessarily be a change in consistency. (But of course if it does smell bad, you shouldn't use it). I have worked for and with companies that manufacture and distribute personal care products including eye cosmetics; if they become contaminated they generally cannot be decontaminated and need to be discarded (even if it is a large batch already in packaging).

Mixing high-proof alcohol into a powder eyeshadow or cream concealer may take care of any microbial burden, but it will also have negative effects on those products, even if you allow the alcohol to evaporate away.

Soaking in ethyl alcohol should be fine for the sponge type applicator and eyeliner brush, though.

Here are the CDC guidelines on disinfection from 2008. Here is also a good explanation of why 70% IPA is used rather than 99% (basically the 70% is less harsh so cells don't react immediately so it is able to penetrate deeper and is thus more effective at ruining them).

And of course if you have 95% alcohol you can make 70% alcohol by adding sterile water. Boiled and cooled water works. Purchased, unopened distilled water is also typically sterile (though it has no sterilizing properties itself).

* The only exception I can think of is gamma irradiation. The FDA has regulations on the irradiation of food and packaging. Here's a paper specifically on the irradiation of cosmetic products (including mascara) wherein they test different doses and look at how it may affect skin irritation tests (spoiler: conclusion was no effect).

As the paper says, "Irradiation is never a substitute for poor compliance to Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) guidelines."
posted by mountmccabe at 1:41 PM on February 28, 2017

I suspect the fact that it's hard to regularly get your mascara off entirely is a red flag, too.

I realize this is completely anecdotal, but as the commenter who is the replacer-of-all-mascara above I'm willing to admit I use years-old, sometimes verging on decade-old eyeshadows with no problems whatsoever. Mascara, though, seems to become problematic in a matter of weeks to months. And yes, I've been told before that using different wands each time fixes it too, but that seems like entirely too much work and waste for my own relative cost/effort of just buying approximately two tubes/year while supplementing with occasional free samples and only wearing it on fancy occasions.
posted by vegartanipla at 6:32 PM on February 28, 2017

Response by poster: Thank you for your help, everyone. I ended up disinfecting and cleaning and washing everything that could be disinfected and cleaned and washed today. Kind of therapeutic.
posted by opalshards at 5:44 PM on March 2, 2017

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