Earlier this month, a woman in California filed a lawsuit against makeup company Sephora claiming she had contracted herpes from testing samples in one of their stores. Specifically, the unidentified woman claims she contracted herpes simplex virus – 1 from using a sample of lipstick. The suit claims Sephora did not properly warn customers of the risk of using cosmetic samples. This suit has many wondering if oral herpes can be spread this way.
First, you have to understand what oral herpes is and how it actually spreads. Herpes simplex virus – 1 (HSV -1), or herpes labialis, is referred to by many other names including oral herpes, cold sores or fever blisters. Oral herpes is transmitted through skin-to-skin contact. The fluid contained within a herpes sore carries the virus and if your skin comes into contact with those fluids you can also become infected. Sometimes, this fluid is present in the saliva of an infected person.
Transmission is more likely when symptoms are present, however, herpes can also be transmitted when there are no symptoms or signs. The symptoms of oral herpes most commonly appear on, or around, the lips. Oral herpes is not always limited to this area. For some, symptoms may appear between the upper lip, inside the nose or on the chin or cheek. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are several days throughout the year when the virus reactivates yet causes no symptoms. This is called asymptomatic shedding, viral shedding or asymptomatic reactivation.
This brings into question whether or not a person could get oral herpes from using lipstick in a retail store. According to Dr. Janellen Smith, a dermatology professor at the University of California – Irvine School of Medicine, “Technically, if someone with a cold sore used a tube of lipstick and then you used one immediately afterward, there is an extremely small chance you could contract the virus.”
So, while it is possible to get oral herpes from using sample lipstick, it’s very unlikely. Still, customers using samples of any product that comes into contact with their mouth and the mouths of other people should be cautious of the possibility. The American Sexual Health Association believes that over 50% of the adult population in the United States already has oral herpes. The CDC states that most people come into contact with virus during childhood.
If you believe that you may have come into contact with HSV-1 or any other STD, you should have STD testing performed right away. Symptoms are not always present, so testing can often be the best way to know the current status of your sexual health.