Woman Sues Sephora — Can You Get Herpes from Lipstick?

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A California woman is suing the makeup store Sephora, because she claims that she contracted oral herpes from a "tester" tube of lipstick at the store, TMZ reported yesterday (Oct. 30).

The woman says she sampled one of the tester lipsticks that was on display in a Hollywood Sephora store in October 2015 and was later diagnosed with the herpes virus, according to TMZ. But can you get herpes from lipstick?

Technically, a person could get the virus from lipstick, but it's not a common way that people acquire the infection, said Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious-disease specialist and a senior associate at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in Baltimore. Adalja is not involved in the woman's case. [7 Beauty Trends That Are Bad for Your Health]

Rather, there's a high chance that a person already had the herpes virus before coming in contact with the lipstick, Adalja told Live Science. "I would suspect that many people who think they get herpes from certain things were already positive [for the virus], because it's such a common and unavoidable infection," he said.

Oral herpes, which produces cold sores, is caused by the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1). Worldwide, an estimated 67 percent of people under age 50 have HSV-1, according to the World Health Organization.

But not everybody who has the herpes virus experiences outbreaks, or cold sores,  Adalja said. "They may be 'clinically silent' but contagious."

The herpes virus can be spread through saliva and skin contact, Adalja said.

Technically, if one contagious person used the lipstick and transmitted virus particles to the makeup, and then, almost immediately after, another person used the lipstick, the second person could become infected, Adalja said. The length of time the virus survived on the lipstick would depend on environmental conditions, such as humidity and moistures levels, but it could be there for a "couple of hours," Adalja added.

But ultimately, HSV-1 "isn't something people should be distressed about," Adalja said. The virus is so hard to avoid that it's "basically part of the human condition," he said. 

Originally published on Live Science.

Sara G. Miller
Staff Writer
Sara is a staff writer for Live Science, covering health. She grew up outside of Philadelphia and studied biology at Hamilton College in upstate New York. When she's not writing, she can be found at the library, checking out a big stack of books.