A woman in Hollywood, California, is suing the cosmetics store Sephora after claiming she contracted oral herpes from a lipstick tester tube, according to TMZ.
The woman said she used one of the sample tubes on display at a Hollywood store in October 2015 and was diagnosed with the herpes virus shortly after.
According to TMZ, she filed a lawsuit against the store for failing to warn her that sampling products could possibly lead to contracting the virus and that Sephora owes her for an “incurable lifelong affliction.”
Sephora has since responded to the incident:
“While it is our policy not to comment on litigation, the health and safety of our clients is our foremost priority. We take product hygiene very seriously and we are dedicated to following best practices in our stores.”
But could someone really get herpes from lipstick? And how common is it?
circa 1955: Two women playing an unusual game of chess, with lipstick instead of chess pieces. (Photo by Chaloner Woods/Getty Images)
Chaloner Woods/Getty Images
Infectious disease specialist Amesh Adalja told Live Science that it’s not especially common for someone to get the herpes virus from lipstick. Instead, it’s more likely that the person already had the virus before coming into the store.
Oral herpes is a very common infection. According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 67 percent of people under age 50 have herpes simplex virus type 1 (the virus that causes oral herpes).
Though symptoms of oral herpes can include painful blisters and open sores around the mouth and a tingling or burning sensation in the region, not everyone with the virus will experience the symptoms.
“They may be ‘clinically silent’ but contagious,” Adalja, who is also a senior associate at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security said.
The virus can easily spread through saliva and skin contact, he added.
So if someone with the virus used the lipstick without a disposable applicator and soon after, another person used the same lipstick, the second person could easily become infected.
Depending on environmental conditions (humidity, moisture, etc.), the virus could survive on the lipstick for a couple of hours, Adalja told Tech Times.
“In general, it’s a good rule of thumb to not use anyone else’s lipstick, toothbrush, what have you,” Dr. Larry Beatty told Cosmopolitan in 2013 after a N.Y. woman alleged the same after sampling a lipstick at MAC Cosmetics. “If you had chapped lips or a break in the skin and swipe on a lipstick that someone used that’s infected with the herpes simplex virus, then you’re more susceptible to contracting it. But even if your skin is 100 percent intact, it’s still not a guarantee that you’d be protected from getting it; there is still a degree of risk.”
If you are going to use test products, dermatologists recommend applying the sample on the wrist or neck instead of directly near the mouth or near a scratch or open sore. And never directly apply the tester to an area — use a disposable applicator.
But in the end, the virus is so common that it’s nearly impossible to avoid. In fact, Adalja said, it’s “basically part of the human condition.”