Action News Investigation: Lawsuit alleges Montco woman contracted herpes at makeup counter

ByChad Pradelli and Cheryl Mettendorf WPVI logo
Friday, April 23, 2021
Lawsuit alleges woman contracted herpes at makeup counter
ACTION NEWS INVESTIGATION: A Montgomery County woman's lawsuit claims that she ​contracted ocular herpes at a makeup counter inside a local mall

WILLOW GROVE, Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- The pandemic has changed the way cosmetic counters operate. But as malls and establishments reopen, a Montgomery County, Pennsylvania woman hopes the changes remain permanent.

Her plea comes after she contracted ocular herpes while getting her makeup professionally done for an event.

Tammeka Hill said she visited the MAC cosmetic counter in the Willow Grove Mall in June 2019.

"She did a wonderful job with my makeup," said Hill.

But several days later she says, "I woke up in excruciating pain. I couldn't see, I had to be taken to the emergency room."

Doctors said she had ocular herpes.

Like the virus people get on their mouths, Hill had it in her eye.

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"I literally cried myself to sleep that night because I just was like, this is unbelievable," said Hill.

She believes she got the virus from the MAC makeup artist who she says was not using disposable brushes.

"I asked her, 'Aren't you supposed to be using disposable makeup?' And her exact words were, 'Girl, you know, I can't beat no face with no disposable brushes,'" said Hill.

The Action News Investigative team repeatedly tried to get a comment from Estee Lauder, the parent company of MAC Cosmetics, but we never heard back.

Hill says her autoimmune condition, Lupus, has exacerbated her herpes outbreaks. She said she ended up losing her job.

"I was having flare up after flare up after flare up after flare up," Hill said. "So at this point, my eyesight was continuously blurry, and I am missing weeks at a time at work."

She says she initially wanted her medical costs covered and an apology. When that didn't happen, she says she decided to sue over the 2019 diagnosis.

"I've lost my job, I've lost my income," she said. "So this has completely destroyed my life."

"I would hope that big corporations like this, like the Lauder Company, would take it upon themselves to be responsible, and to make changes that really affect the whole industry," said Hill's attorney Mark Webb.

Rowan University Biological Sciences professor Dr. Elizabeth Brooks has studied makeup counters over the years.

"So they do have some really good protocols. Unfortunately, not every counter follows them," said Dr. Brooks.

Dr. Brooks' study found at least two-thirds of makeup samples had gross bacterial contamination.

"Our studies show that there are an incredible amount of bacterial contaminants in makeup products, especially samples," Brooks said. "There are studies that say if there's bacteria, human bacteria, then there will also be human viruses as well, so I would not be surprised."

Dr. Brooks says these sort of infections can be prevented.

Incorporating single-use applicators is one way, also debriding makeup samples by taking the top layer off after use or dipping a lipstick in alcohol and letting it dry.

This is not the first lawsuit against MAC for allegedly causing herpes.

Another woman sued the company in 2013. An attorney for that alleged victim says it was resolved on confidential terms.

In both cases, MAC has denied wrongdoing.

An attorney for Hill said just this week her lawsuit has also been dismissed on confidential terms.

"I want women to know that if you do decide to get your makeup done, you're doing it at your own risk," Hill added.