Clean Sheet

May 19th, 2015

May 19th, 2015

The dream for every MUA is to be able to travel to exotic locations and work across multiple continents, sharing their artistry and experiencing different sights and cultures as they go. But it is crucial to remember that different countries have different rules and ways of working with cosmetics. Here at Warpaint we’ve delved into the practices of sanitisation, and emerged with advice on how to apply these to working abroad.


Make-up hygiene is an important part of any MUA’s work, but even more so when you are working on jobs which require you to make up multiple people in a short space of time. The dangers of cross-contamination through dirty hands, unhygienic application or unsanitised tools can cause a whole host of health problems as bacteria is transferred across products, tools and skin. While you might see other MUAs abroad thinking nothing of double-dipping or not cleaning their tools between models, the fact remains that laws and codes of good practice should be enforced to protect both yourself and your client.

“I’m really passionate about this,” Cher Webb, MAC Senior Artist, emphasised to us when we caught up with her. “At MAC, it has been drummed into us from day one. We did some experiments in a lab on what was in some of our cream tester products – you couldn’t even imagine what they found. And people do things like go up to the counter, and take a pencil, and pop it into their waterline! That’s directly into your bloodstream.

“I hate the thought of my kit, inside, all this bacteria just travelling around, so I’m always really thorough. I always scrape everything out. I always sanitise any lipstick I’m using straight from the bullet. And I make sure my brushes are always really clean – I would never use a dirty brush on someone, because I would hate for someone to use one on me.

“But the UK are really hot on it,” Cher insisted, “they really are. And Americans are as well. Some other countries are a bit like ‘Whatever darling! As long as it looks good!’ They just don’t see it as… important. But hopefully we’re slowly influencing them.”


In the UK, Habia is the government-approved, standards-setting body for hair, beauty, nails, spa therapy, barbering and Afro-Caribbean hairdressing. It creates standards that form the basis of all related qualifications, including NVQ’s, SVQ’s and Apprenticeships, as well as codes of practice. It also provides guidance on careers, business development, legislation and equal opportunities, and is responsible to the government on industry issues such as training and skills.

When discussing hygiene it is important to be aware of the terms – sterilisation is the total removal or destruction of micro-organisms, and is an absolute term – there is no such thing as partial sterilisation. Disinfection is the removal of micro-organisms by chemical or physical means. Unlike sterilisation, disinfection does not remove all micro-organisms, but it does reduce the population to safe levels. Any organic material (dead skin etc) and visible contamination should be removed from any surfaces and equipment when disinfecting your products and tools, as they can deactivate the disinfectant.

Sandra Exelby, Chairman of NASMAH, advises reading up about the hygiene and sanitisation laws in the UK, and using them as a benchmark abroad. “Our members abide by our own set of laws, as well as NASMAH guidelines, and we take them abroad with us. The UK and USA have some of the highest standards of sanitisation in the world, so knowing the laws and using them as a benchmark is a good way of protecting yourself. Also, be aware of shipping regulations when transporting your products – make sure they are packed and shipped safely. Prosthetics and silicones can be a strong fire hazard, so make sure fireproof precautions are in place. Insurance is important.”

clean hands

Covering the Basics

When your reputation as an MUA relies on your work and professionalism, it isn’t worth taking the risks of a dirty kit or double-dipping products. A dirty kit means a MUA who doesn’t look after their products and tools, and therefore not their client. Making sure your equipment is clean and sanitised will go a long was to setting the right tone for your work.

“Clean is beautiful,” insists Antonia Hawke, who founded the Safe Beauty Association. “Beauty is a glamorous industry – you don’t want to talk about the bacteria on the products. Things like disposable mascara wands and other hygienic tools are perceived in a sort of ‘Do I really need it?’ way – like insurance. But it’s such a competitive industry these days, that things like good, comprehensive insurance, using disposable tools, proving you have good hygiene standards to your client – if an MUA is smart, they can use it as a USP and gain more business that way, even if it does bump up your costs a tiny bit.”

Antonia and her team do a lot of educating in colleges, where they advocate the four P’s – Preparation, Planning, Products and Practice. “The reality is that this is hard work, being in this industry!” said Antonia. “You have to be prepared, to invest. To accept when it’s time to head home, to prep your kit, to wash your brushes. Professionalism goes across all ranges of the profession.”

Speaking of the range of standards found across MUAs, both within the UK and abroad, Antonia’s experience in this field shone through. “Within this industry there are no legalities. Unless the industry demands it, it won’t be there. If a client on a fashion show ends up developing conjunctivitis or something, where is the responsibility? On the individual MUA, on the talent? Or the team bookers? Everything is very grey. There’s no industry body to go across all sectors, and there are too many holes which things fall between.”


“Models assume, clients assume,” she continued, “that the artist is A) insured, properly. And B) that they have clean hands and tools. Ignorance is bliss sometimes. But because of the way the industry works, it’s difficult to challenge. Change needs to be made from grassroots level, and it needs to be enforced. How can you change behaviour when you see idols in the industry getting away with it?”

Antonia has worked with Aviva insurance to help set up iMakeupMatters, a comprehensive insurance policy which covers working abroad and all manner of other MUA-specific legalities, to fill the gap of comprehensive cover for MUAs.

“It’s like fillers and other non-surgery procedures,” Antonia explained. “They’ve only recently become regulated, properly. What hope does make-up have? It’s an issue which will take time to change. But we’re being constructive – we have the information, the education and the tools to do it. It’s up to the individuals after that; there’s no excuse now.”

Antonia gave us some tips on how to keep your kit in a tip-top sanitary state:

Lipstick, Concealer & Other Cream Products – Dip in or spray with alcohol (91% is preferable) and then wipe completely with a clean tissue, presenting a “virgin” surface to work from. You can then remove a small piece of the product and work from a sanitary surface or work directly from the tube or palette. In the case of cream concealers and foundations where blending is expected, use of a mixing palette is preferred by most professionals.

Pressed Powders (Including Eyeshadow, Blush, Etc.) – Wipe the surface thoroughly with a clean tissue prior to touching it with a brush or any other applicator. Repeat prior to touching the product as necessary. Spraying with alcohol doesn’t hurt in terms of sanitary precautions but can ruin the product over time.

Create a wipe-in, wipe-out system when disinfecting your tools – before and after you use any tool, give it a quick spritz or wipe with a product to disinfect between uses if you are pressed for time or have a string of clients. This will ensure minimal bacteria transfer until you get the chance to clean your tools thoroughly.

Keep hand sanitiser nearby at all times, even if you’re not applying product with your fingertips! It’s not always possible to wash your hands repeatedly when on location.

Disposable wands

Always decant products onto clean palettes or surfaces. Never, ever double-dip into the main container, and do not pour any leftover product back into the container; you will only undo your efforts by contaminating everything.

Blowing on your tools is about as unhygienic as spitting on them – tap off excess product instead. Give brushes a quick clean between clients and a thorough clean at the end of each day.

Cut off the ends of mascara wands or lip/eye applicators, so you are never tempted to use them straight onto clients and contaminate the product. Keep a stash of disposable wands and applicators on hand.

Sanitise pencils by sharpening them between clients, and cleaning out the sharpener each time as well.

Use latex-free sponges in case clients or models have an allergy which could be triggered.

Whenever possible, buy products in single-use packs.

There are a variety of disinfectants and sanitisers available, in various forms depending on whether you are cleaning make-up or tools. Invest in a good brush soap or cleanser for thorough cleaning, such as MAC’s Brush Cleanser (£11), or Cameleon’s Brush Soap (£5.99) for those who prefer a solid soap. For quick disinfecting on-the-go, try Beauty So Clean Cosmetic Sanitiser (£9.50). The Pro Hygiene Collection have a great range of sanitising products, including Antibacterial Spray, Brush Cleaner and Hand Santitizing Gel. The Try Me Kit is great value, with 100ml sizes of five of their products for £35.

MAC CleanCameleonSmallerbeauty-so-clean-sanitiser

For more information on UK regulations, you can visit the websites for HabiaDepartment of Health and the Health & Safety Executive Website.



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By Warpaint Magazine

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