About three weeks ago, which feels like three years in these days of shelter-in-place orders and #socialdistancing, I was on my way to an in-person work appointment (remember those?) and engaging in my normal morning beauty routine, in which I would apply my makeup in the back of an Uber. But on this particular morning, having only recently returned from a short trip to Paris where coronavirus lockdown procedures were already being put into place—and having begun fielding emails about the potential for similar action in New York—I paused as I went to swipe a finger across the top of my trusty Cle de Peau concealer stick. Like with so many other once-mundane activities, I wondered: Is this appropriate behavior during a global pandemic?
Not really, according to Meghan O’Brien, M.D., a dermatologist at Tribeca Park Dermatology and Kiehl’s global consulting dermatologist. “At this time, it is not certain how long COVID-19 stays on a given surface and it may persist for a few hours up to several days,” O’Brien tells me, citing CDC data based on studies that consider the way the virus can live on materials such as cardboard, metal, and plastic. While lipsticks and eyeshadows have not yet made it into these studies, the same general logic would seem to hold true for cosmetics, suggests O’Brien.
I’m certainly not applying cream blush and undereye concealer with the frequency I once was, which is to say: My husband, our toddler, and our geriatric dog are now very familiar with my makeup-free face. But when the Zoom calls flood your calendar, a beauty director must be prepared—and necessary precautions must be taken.
“Honestly, people don’t realize how much bacteria is in their brushes, let alone on their hands,” explains makeup artist Daniel Martin, who notes that the uptick in general hygiene guidance as we try our best to flatten the virus’s curve is making us all rethink how we take care of ourselves and the people around us. In addition to washing and sanitizing his hands before touching any products or his face (Martin prefers Whole Foods 365 Hand Sanitizing Wipes formulated with alcohol and antimicrobial benzalkonium chloride while on-set with clients including Meghan Markle, Elisabeth Moss, and Greta Gerwig), he also makes small spray bottles of 99% isopropyl alcohol, which he purchases from the theatrical makeup floor at Manhattan Wardrobe Supply, to effectively disinfect his pots and palettes. “Spray all of your palettes with the alcohol and let it dissipate; don’t rub it with a tissue or your fingers because you’ll contaminate it again!”
The advice is crucial for those of us who prefer a fingertip application, although Martin’s protocols for brush cleansing are worth considering as well. “I wash my brushes with Dawn every week,” he reveals, explaining that that the popular liquid dishwashing detergent contains bacteria- and virus-killing chloroxylenol. He “dry washes” them too, using Make Up For Ever’s Instant Brush Cleaner, which is formulated with isododecane to remove oil-based products; the chemical, which is commonly found in liquid lipsticks, also dries extremely quickly.
As a final step, Martin suggests spritzing brush bristles with a bottle of hand sanitizer. “I spray it on my sponges too,” he adds of the Honest Company’s Hand Sanitizer Spray. And don’t sleep on your pencils, advises makeup artist Violette, who sharpens her lip crayons and eye kohls before every use to remove the external layer that may have been exposed to unwanted bacteria.
While Violette is trying to maintain a balanced response to her own coronavirus beauty prep, she admits that the big thing that concerns her is mascara. “No one cleans their own wand, and then you put it back into the tube!” (Given the current climate, O’Brien recommends switching to disposable applicators temporarily, if possible.) “I don’t want to be overly fearful, but it’s really important to stay educated on these things,” adds Violette, emphasizing that makeup comes into such close contact with our skin, our mouths, our noses, and our eyes. “We should all be thinking about how we can be safer together.”