In this blog, our Science Communications Manager, Jonathan Kay, looks at how make-up products could cause infections post-transplant and the steps you can take to help reduce the risk.
Picking up an infection is an understandable and realistic concern for all stem cell transplant patients because it can take some time for their donor’s stem cells to fully develop into a new immune system. This means they’re at risk from microbes like bacteria, fungi and viruses that can cause painful and sometimes life-threatening infections.
If you have received a stem cell transplant, you have probably been given lots of advice on how to reduce the risk of infections. This includes aspects of your diet, how to prepare food, travelling on public transport and updating your childhood vaccinations. Many patients go to great lengths to make sure they stay safe but there could be other aspects of your daily routine that you should start considering as well.
Using cosmetic products, grooming products and other toiletries might appear to be relatively risk free but a new study in the Journal of Applied Microbiology has revealed the surprising extent of microbe contaminations found on make-up products.
What did the study show?
Nearly 500 pieces of makeup were donated by the general public through social media and grouped into five categories: lipstick, eyeliner, mascara, lip gloss and make-up sponges. Small samples of each were rinsed in liquid, which was then placed in dishes containing nutrients that would allow bacteria and other microbes to grow. After a few days, the number of microbes in each dish was counted. At least 70% of all products showed signs of contamination, with over 90% of sponges harbouring bacteria.
Worryingly, the levels of bacteria found on make-up sponges were roughly 1000 times higher than the other products tested, which may be reflected in the behaviour of the users taking part in the study. A questionnaire revealed that 90% of them had never cleaned their sponge, despite two thirds of them admitting they had dropped them on the floor at some point.
What does it mean for me?
While the widespread presence of microbes on cosmetic products might seem alarming at first, it’s important to remember these products aren’t made in sterile conditions. This means low levels of microbes are expected to be found on them, and it shouldn’t normally have an impact on the user.
Your skin is a very good natural barrier to microbes, but extra care should be taken around your eyes and if you have a rash or open wound on your skin. This is especially true for people with a compromised immune system.
The high levels of microbes on make-up sponges does suggest they pose a greater risk of infection, which might be due to their users not cleaning them properly or replacing them frequently. This increased risk means recovering transplant patients should be extra careful when using these products and you may decide to use an alternative product instead.
What can I do to reduce the risk of infection?
There’s no need to avoid using these products completely as they are perfectly safe if used correctly. Remember that infections are a natural part of your recovery that can’t always be avoided, but these few simple steps will help reduce the risk of infection from cosmetic products and toiletries:
• Make sure brushes and sponges are cleaned regularly with hot soapy water and replaced often. When they’re washed, they should be dried properly as microbes reproduce quickly in warm, damp conditions.
• Avoid sharing make-up with other people or visiting beauty salons where you can’t guarantee how they’re looked after.
• Only buy products that meet approved safety standards (such as The European Cosmetics Regulation). Cheap imports may not have been tested to similar safety standards.
• Only use products that are still in date. Preservatives added to stop contamination will only stay active for a set time. Unfortunately, products made in the USA aren’t required to have a used-by-date.
Anything else I need to consider?
This research focused on make-up products, but the advice can be applied to similar situations around the house too. Toiletries, such as toothpaste, face creams and moisturisers should only be used if they are still in date. It also highlights the need to regularly wash and change towels, cloths and tea towels, especially if they fall onto unclean surfaces. The amount of time they spend damp after use should also be limited by drying them properly.
If you have any concerns or queries about picking up an infection, please talk to your Clinical Nurse Specialist or a member of your medical team.
For more information and advice about reducing the risk of infection after a stem cell transplant, visit our website at anthonynolan.org/patients-and-families/recovery-body/dealing-infections