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The Unhealthy Handbag: The top ways your purse can make you sick

June 30, 2015
Silhouette of woman with handbag

A pocketbook is more than just a designer label and the latest fashion color. Did you know that one of your favorite fashion accessories could actually make you sick?

You may want to think twice before placing your pocket book on the floor again…

A number of studies have found a cornucopia of germs on the bottom of handbags including E. coli and S. aureus, as well as the bacteria found in fecal matter. Germs like this can cause you to get extremely sick. They have been known to cause skin infections, colds, viruses, as well as diarrhea.

Lisa Beaudry, certified nurse midwife and director of Patient Care Services at Baystate Mary Lane Hospital, offers her thoughts on the dos and donts of maintaining a healthy hand bag free of bacteria.

Bacterial Breeding Ground

Chances are you wouldn't eat a pretzel or a hot dog after running your hand along the soles of your shoes, yet many people don't give handling their bag a second thought. Lab studies have shown that the bottom of a pocketbook can contain a broad spectrum of bacteria and germs, including E. coli.

Handbags and purses end up everywhere from bathroom floors to public sink counters on a daily basis. Regular cleaning is required to keep them hygienic.

Be very careful to avoid placing your handbag in places likely to be dirty, and even more vigilant about not placing your bag on areas where food is prepared, like tables, kitchen counters, the desk you keep eating your lunch at, and more.

Funny Money

That legal tender in your wallet has been passed around from hand to hand, person to person and possibly traveled the world and back.

A study at the University of California at San Francisco cultured 113 examples of "real life" cash from a deli, a post office, a newsstand, and common places where money changes hands. Most grew harmless organisms, but 18 percent of coins and 7 percent of notes had some less-friendly bacteria on them, including E. coli and S. aureus.

Beaudry suggests keeping a separate wallet and change purse to prevent loose change and currency from floating around the bottom of your purse.

Toss Out Old Makeup

Today, people use wipes and other disinfecting cleaners all over their houses and in the office. Yet, most never think about cleaning the very products placed directly on the face, lips and eyes. These are entryways for bacteria and germs to get into our systems.

A sudden, uncontrollable sneeze or cough while applying makeup can leave germs and bacteria on the surface.

The skincare products you use before makeup application can contain bacteria, which then cross-contaminate your makeup, especially when using a sponge or a puff for application. Also, your hands are always carrying bacteria and those bacteria are transferred into your products, particularly if you use your fingers to apply makeup. Re-applying lipstick or lip gloss after eating could lead to food particles and possible bacteria on your lipstick.