Do hand sanitizers take up more space in your purse than your makeup bag? Does your hand washing rival that of a surgeon’s pre-op? Is a paper towel not only for drying but also for opening the bathroom door? If so, you may be a germ vigilante, in which case, this story may be full of “duh’s” for you.
For the rest of us (myself included), by the time you’re done reading this story, you may end up with that queasy feeling you got after your first microbiology class, when you discovered that every surface was crawling with microscopic critters, including your skin. Nonetheless, you don’t want to be unknowingly sabotaging your skin and your skin care products with some less-than-hygienic practices, so read on for some easy ways to keep your skin care germ-free.
- Wash your hands before you start your regimen
For some (you germ-phobes), this may sound like a no-brainer. But I never really thought about washing my hands before starting my skin care routine until recently. I mean, think about it: What did your hands touch right before you dipped them into a tub of expensive moisturizer? A keyboard? A doorknob? Your phone? After all, some tests have revealed that our cellphones are a hotbed of bacteria, even more so than a toilet (I know, so gross), and germs can survive on doorknobs and on kitchen surfaces for up to two days, some for even months.
So don’t sabotage your skin care and your skin before that first dollop of essence. Make sure you wash your hands with soap each time you’re about to begin your regimen (and this includes before a double cleanse or a masking session!).
- Eschew the towel
This is not just an exhortation to pat your face dry, something Korean women (including Glow Recipe co-founder Christine Chang) are huge proponents of. Sure, by drying your face with a towel versus patting your face dry, you lose out on the opportunity to kick-start your skin’s hydration levels. (Your skin care products will sink in better on damp, as opposed to bone-dry, skin). But even worse, the act of rubbing your face with a towel may not only irritate and pull on sensitive and delicate facial skin, it can cause breakouts!
You see, towels can become breeding grounds for bacteria, especially if you use the same towel for hands or the body or don’t wash it frequently enough. One study found that towels — which are found in bathrooms and retain moisture for long periods of time — are the most bacteria-infested item in a home. Even washing in hot water doesn’t always kill all bacteria (some thrive in high temps). So why risk it? (And ditto for washcloths.)
- Spatulas, not fingers
One way to avoid contaminating your beauty products is by using a dedicated spatula, rather than your fingers, to scoop out moisturizer. Spatulas not only help keep an open jar free of whatever bacteria may be lingering on your fingertips, they also scoop out the recommended amount of product so that you’re not wasting too much. Just do a quick wash after every use, and save those free spatulas that come with a jar of moisturizer for other uses like decanting.
- To decant or not to decant
Spatulas are great for decanting creams and gels into travel- or sample-sized containers, whether you’re trying to squeeze your entire regimen into a TSA-approved quart-sized baggie or for sharing skin care with your mom or a friend. For liquids and lotions, plastic pipettes (which are basically disposable droppers that you can buy on Amazon for like $2 for 100) work especially well. And of course, always wash your hands, the tools, and the decanting containers before starting — you may even wanna go lab geek and don some surgical gloves to get into that mad scientist state of mind. (For a jaw-dropping aside on decanting, check out Snow White and the Asian Pear’s adventures in lab-worthy decanting.)
The most vigilant among us will even go so far as to decant jar-packaged product into travel-sized containers, while keeping the original jar in the refrigerator to help preserve the shelf life, potency and purity. The reason behind this practice is that a number of active ingredients become unstable and degrade when exposed to light and air. A jar or tub, in particular, may be susceptible to deterioration — each time we open and close the jar, light and air get in — which is why there are those who prefer airless pumps or tubes to open jars or tubs.
While there’s debate as to whether that step is really necessary (others argue that jars of product are formulated with preservatives that should sustain the potency of ingredients with normal use), there are a few skin care products you should never decant. These include products with vitamin C, which is highly unstable and needs to remain in airtight, opaque packaging in order to minimize its deterioration, as well as any retinoid. Prescription retinoids, in particular, come in aluminum tubes for a reason, so keep those in their original packaging.
- Double cleanse … your cushion puff
It’s not just our fingers, creams and gels that we need to worry about in the hygiene game; we also need to make sure our tools are clean and not re-depositing bacteria onto our faces. One of the toughest to clean, I find, is the specialized ruby cell puff that comes with cushion compacts. What makes the cushion compact the most genius multi-tasking beauty product ever is also what makes it hard to clean: The formula is a combo of foundation and sunscreen — each in and of itself one of the harder skin care products to remove at the end of the day — and the ruby cell puff is designed to hold more water than your average latex puff. Though some ruby cell puffs have antibacterial properties, the longer you wait before cleaning your puff, the harder it will be to clean.
With that said, here is my favorite (and fun!) way to clean a cushion compact puff (this also works with a beauty blender):
- Blot your cushion puff on a paper towel to remove as much oil as possible.
- Add two pumps of cleansing oil onto the puff and insert the puff into a clean sandwich baggie.
- Add a little bit of water into the baggie, seal, and start rubbing the puff.
- After about 30 seconds to a minute, remove the puff and rinse with water.
- Now add some foam cleanser to your puff, and again rub inside the baggie.
- Remove and rinse with lukewarm water. It should feel squeaky-clean!
What’s your favorite skin care hygiene practice? I’d love to know!
Adapted from my story published in Glow Recipe.