What are the risks of sharing your lip balm?

Among the possibly anecdotal elements which caused a reaction in The Alternate, Prince Harry’s autobiography, it’s not just this passage about his frostbite penis. The New York Times reacts to this other excerpt in which Meghan Markle asks her sister-in-law Kate Middleton if she can borrow her lip gloss. Disconcerted, the latter nevertheless ends up accepting.

This is an opportunity for the American newspaper to question the health risks of such sharing. Viruses and bacteria can indeed attach themselves for long periods of time to the sticky surfaces of lipsticks, ointments and other balms. However, we do not have precise data on the transmission of pathogens via the loan of a product intended for the lips, explains Amid Zota, professor of environmental sciences at Columbia.

Herpes and staphylococci

What is in any case proven, confirms Laleh Gharahbaghian, professor of emergency medicine at Stanford, is that certain viruses and certain bacteria are easily transmitted, and that they can remain on certain surfaces for long periods. For a classic cold or flu, it’s a matter of hours; but for the mumps virus, certainly rarer, we are talking about several days. The most tenacious can even survive for several weeks in certain environments.

Can the flu or Covid-19 be transmitted to each other via lip balm? It’s unlikely, but it’s still possible, says San Francisco-based dermatologist Tina Bhutani. And for good reason: it is by inhaling them that people are mainly infected by respiratory viruses. On the other hand, beware of cold sores, especially if the affected individual has sores. But we imagine that Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle would have avoided sharing the same product if one of them had encountered this problem.

It is also possible that a staphylococcus passes from one person to another via this kind of transmission, again because the bacteria can cause sores, from which flows a liquid which can be contagious.

Beware of self-infection

Among the products most likely to carry infections, lip gloss is the all-around champion, says the New York Times, because viruses love its gooey, watery texture. But Tina Bhutani prefers to avoid rankings and be more radical: from the moment a cosmetic product comes into contact with the eyes or saliva, it is better to keep them to yourself and take no risks. Some brands offer products containing antibacterial and antifungal agents, but it should be noted that their action tends to wane over time.

Also beware of the risk of self-infection: if you used a balm or lipstick when you had the flu, for example, it is better to wait a week before using it again, including on yourself. The risk of catching the same disease again is relatively low, but it is not negligible. Send the message to Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle.

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