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Woman Claims Sephora Lipstick Sample Gave Her Herpes

Just about everyone would like to sample something before they buy it. We try on clothes and shoes before purchasing, get sips of wine before assenting to the whole bottle, and hear snippets of music before downloading an entire song or album.

It's no surprise that we'd like to try on our makeup before we buy it as well. What else could account for the ubiquitous free samples at makeup counters in malls and stores nationwide? But exactly how we sample makeup has become a central issue in a lawsuit filed by a California woman who claims a lipstick sample from a Sephora store gave her oral herpes.

Sephora Samples

Elena Davoyan asserts that while other stores use "lipstick wands or swabs" or have individual, disposable tubes to make samples more sanitary, Sephora instead encourages "common use" lipstick use, offering "shelves and shelves of open lipstick tubes" and pads to clean the lipstick off. Davoyan claims this setup, along with a lack of warnings about the dangers of shared samples led to her contracting oral herpes from a lipstick sampler in 2015.

"The bottom line," according to her lawsuit, "is that (there) are numerous simple solutions to prevent the spreading of diseases through lipstick testers, and that is Sephora's responsibility." Davoyan claims she never had herpes or even a cold sore before that fateful visit, and is suing Sephora for negligence, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Her suit is seeking $25,000 in damages for an "incurable lifelong affliction."

Sephora the Source?

A study published in 2010 found staph, strep, and even E. coli bacteria on public makeup testers. Biological sciences researcher Elizabeth Brooks examined testers at makeup counters, specialty stores, and drug stores for two years. According to her research, on one Saturday she found 100 percent of the samples tested carried some sort of germ on it.

Sephora released a statement in response to the lawsuit: "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." And researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine note that herpes is extremely common, estimating that somewhere between 50 and 80 percent adults carry the virus.

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