Can you get herpes from shared lipstick?

Rihanna wearing a bright red lipstick

There was a story in the papers this weekend that someone is suing Rihanna because she caught herpes from a sample of her lipstick given away at a concert.  Before I get onto the main point, I find it interesting that this kind of promotion goes on in the first place.  It does make sense.  The cosmetics industry is desperate to find ways of differentiating basically rather similar products.  The music industry is equally desperate to find ways of turning interest in its products into income.  The music itself is now so easy to pinch that they struggle to get anybody to pay full price for it.  It is also extremely easy to consume music quite legitimately without actually paying for it. So tying in makeup with pop stars makes a lot of sense.  I am not saying that Rihanna isn’t interested in her makeup range.  I am sure she is.  But she is basically the face of a big operation, and that all has to be paid for.

So that is how concert goers come to be given free samples of lipstick.  I am sure it is a very professional set up and I am sure that the hygiene of the samples was considered.  But even so, it was a concert which is a one off event with no doubt a lot of casual staff being employed.  It isn’t hard to see how a sample of lipstick could end up being used by more than one punter.

Can lipstick give you herpes?

It doesn’t sound at all impossible.  I don’t know if that makes Rihanna legally liable – I’ll let the lawyers sort that one out.  It is happening in America, and they have plenty of them over there.  They might even get a film out of it.

But how likely is it that lipstick could pass on herpes?  The answer is that it is just about possible, but not particularly likely.  Herpes is a virus, and viruses don’t last for very long outside of living bodies.  You can catch it fairly easily from direct contact with infected skin.  So kissing and similar activities is an effective transmission route.  Mucous membranes and similar are very good routes including the lips.  So a virus could get onto a lipstick.  It wouldn’t last there very long.  I can’t find any studies specifically in lipstick but on plastic surfaces it lasts a matter of hours.

So using a contaminated lipstick at a concert is within the window and is a possibility.  It also means that using somebody else’s lipstick is not wise if you haven’t checked their medical history.  But if you have to, leave it a few days before applying and you should be fine.

Another interesting question is will Rihanna make more money from music than makeup?   I’d be reasonably confident that over the long run she will.  

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