Infection Protection

It’s Personal

It’s hard to say no when a BFF wants you to try her eyeliner or wants to borrow your lip gloss or share your drink.  We think we’ll look like freaks or germaphobes to our friends if we don’t borrow and share. The thing is, we can’t always tell just by looking at someone if they’re infected with…whatever.  We don’t have to be oozing pus to be infected with something.  It’s easy to think that if somebody looks healthy, they must be healthy. 

How do personal items transmit germs?

If you want to avoid a cold or something much more serious, one good way is to keep personal items personal and stay away from other people’s germy hands, blood or body fluids (including saliva and so on). 

Germs hitch rides on and in all sorts of substances on and in our bodies, from fingertips to spit to blood. Let’s say friend Suzie has a cold. Being polite, she covers her cough with her hand, then a few minutes later, uses a finger to scoop up some of your lip gloss. She just put her cold germs into your pot of lip gloss. Next time you use it, chances are you’ll be putting her cold germs on your mouth. 

Now let’s say that Suzie has a serious germ in her blood. She uses your fingernail file and gets a teeny speck of blood on the file from a little cut around her nail. You use the file after her and scrape your skin a little too hard, allowing the germs in her speck of blood to make their way through your broken skin and into your bloodstream. You now have Suzie’s serious disease. 

Diseases don’t always go from person to person that easily, but some can and do.  Why take the chance? Check out the following video from the Today Show for more information on the types of germs transmitted by makeup, as well as other items like bags and children's cups:

Toothbrushes, cups/drinks, straws, silverware, lipstick/balm/gloss 
Lips, mouths and throats are home to all sorts of germs, some that are harmless, some just annoying and some very serious. Lips may seem safe, but they can have germy spit on them, and they can crack and bleed. In addition, oral herpes can be found around the lip area. Germs can get onto anything that goes into or on someone's mouth and be transferred to your mouth. 

Manicure tools and nail polish
The areas around the finger- and toenails are famous for having all sorts of little breaks in the skin, including ones so small you can't even see them. Blood or other body fluids containing germs can get onto nail clippers, nail scissors, files and other manicure tools, and then be transmitted to you through little breaks in your skin.

Eye makeup can be the worst offender in this group. Eyes can have a variety of germs in and around them. People have become infected with diseases like pink eye from sharing makeup. Staphylococcus aureus, a germ that can cause nasty skin infections and much worse, has also been found in eye makeup. Protect yourself from yourself—wash your hands before applying makeup to stop the germs on your hands from getting into your makeup and on your eyes, in your mouth, or on your face. If you share mascara, eyeliner, etc, those germs can be transmitted from one person to another. Also, if you try on any kind of makeup that other people have stuck their fingers in, you can become infected with the germs that moved from their fingers to the makeup. Yikes!

Oh, what to do?

What do you do when someone says, “Can I borrow/have/use your…?” Everybody wants to try some of their friend's triple chocolate cheesecake, or that sparkle eye shadow sample at the makeup counter, or some lip balm for totally chapped lips. Whatever the case, we offer these strategies for avoiding the Big Share:

  • Best overall tip: Blame your mom or dad. If somebody wants to borrow makeup, eat half your pie, wear your earrings, or whatever, blame your mom. Most moms we know are happy to let their daughters “blame” things like this on them if it helps their girls (and others, too) stay healthy. Examples of this might be:
    • “My mom is a germ freak.  She’d probably ground me if I did__________,”
    • "My mom is a germ freak and she turned me into one!  I can’t even let my sister/cousin/mom borrow/eat/wear whatever.  Gives me the creeps.”
    • “Oh did you see that thing on TV about people getting weird germs from sharing makeup?? It’s freaky!”
  • Lip gloss/balm:
    • Keep two with you at all times—one just for you and one to let others use if they insist on borrowing.  It’s hard to say no to friends without looking like a nerd, but maybe when you hand over the spare, you can say, “You know how many germs are in spit?  I never borrow this stuff,” or, “You can use this if you want, but a lot of other people have used it, too.”  They may still borrow it, but they’ll remember what you said and might do less borrowing. 
    • To reduce the need for lip balm, drink plenty of water.  That will help keep your lips and skin from drying out.
  • Nail clippers, files and other manicure items:
    • Avoid loaning out your nail clippers and files by not carrying them with you.  Keep them at home.  But, if you have to carry some and your friends know you have them and want to borrow them, loan them your clippers or files and remember to clean them off later with disinfectant.  This won’t work on files that aren’t metal—might as well throw them away.
    • Got a hangnail and no clippers? Put a bandaid on it or just live with it until you can clip it off later.  Better than using someone else’s stuff.  A lot of people are walking around with bloodborne infections and they don’t know it, so they’re not going to stop you from using their personal items that might have microscopic specks of blood or body fluid on them.
    • If you have a habit of picking at your nails or the skin around them, try to stop. When the skin around your nails is broken or bleeding, germs can get into your body or spread to others.
      • Clip hangnails at home.
      • Keep your hands busy doing something else.
      • Moisturize frequently and stay hydrated (dry skin tends to peel up more).
      • Use a product that reduces excess cuticle.
  • Makeup:
    • When girls hang out together at somebody’s house, makeup usually gets passed around.  This is hard to avoid, but if one of your friends wants you to try some makeup on, try saying, “Can’t do it.  Most of that stuff makes me break out.” Girls can usually relate to that and won’t push it.  If she keeps at it, just say no using the same reason. 
    • Change the focus of the conversation. Tell her how that eyeshadow makes her eyes look so pretty, or that lip gloss looks good on her, or whatever. 
    • Avoid having to share your makeup by not bringing any.
    • Use the “blame your mom” approach.
    • If all else fails, just put some on the back of your hand (unless you have cracked/dry/wounded skin) to try the color on your skin, then wash it off with soap and water.
  • Earrings and other piercing jewelry:
    • Sharing these items is a very bad idea. There is a high likelihood that these have come into contact with blood or body fluids, which can carry serious diseases that you could be stuck with for the rest of your life, so never borrow someone’s piercing jewelry. 
    • If someone insists on borrowing yours, say you can’t and blame your mom. If you just can’t say no, at least clean it with disinfectant before wearing it again.
  • Sharing food:
    • If your friend offers you a bite of her cheesecake, hamburger, etc, use a clean fork or other utensil to cut off a bite from an uneaten portion. Or, better yet, say, “That looks so good, but I just can’t eat any more!” or something similar. If someone comes after your food with their dirty utensil, and you don’t want to stop them, just leave the part they ate off of on your plate.
  • Sharing drinks:
    • If someone offers you a drink from their cup/can/bottle, say, “That looks good, I’m going to get one too, be right back!” or “No thanks, I don’t like ____.” If someone wants some of your drink, you can say, “I think I might be getting a cold or something—let me get one for you.”  If they insist and you don’t want to refuse them further, or they look really thirsty, let them have the rest of your drink and get a new one for yourself. They’ve been warned. ;)
    • Make it cool to keep drinks personal! Attach bling to drinking glasses. You can make your own from old jewelry and earring loops purchased from the craft store. Make each item unique in some way. For glasses without stems, get a sheet of plain/blank static cling vinyl. Design your own reusable stickers and cut them out

    • personalized stemware bling
      click image to enlarge

Things to remember

  • Lots of people who are infected with serious diseases like HIV don’t know they have a disease. 
  • People can pick up and pass on less serious infectious germs before they even feel sick. 
  • You can end up with a cold, a skin infection, diarrhea or any number of nasty things if you share personal stuff.
  • Our fingers and hands can be “vehicles” for germs to hitch a ride from one place to the next. So by not sharing, you’re helping protect yourself and others from these germs.
  • Friends will respect your viewpoint if they feel you care about them and aren’t “judging” them. 
  • Anyone who makes fun of you for practicing healthy habits isn’t someone worth your time.

Learn More

FDA skin health and cosmetic safety info for teens

Scientific methods for testing microbe-resistance of cosmetics

Understanding cosmetic ingredients


Important disclaimer: The information on is for educational purposes only and should not be considered to be medical advice. It is not meant to replace the advice of the physician who cares for your child. All medical advice and information should be considered to be incomplete without a physical exam, which is not possible without a visit to your doctor.

Top 4 ways to prevent the spread of disease:

  1. Wash your hands often.
  2. Get immunized.
  3. Practice standard precautions.
  4. Disinfect regularly.