Metro-poo-litan line: Makeup on the tube? Think again, as a recent study finds faecal bacterial on some London underground lines

The London underground is a necessary evil for millions. Whether you are trying to get from sightseeing spot A to B or if you need it to get to work, however, it is often overcrowded, a little too hot and just a little bit dirty. 

However, a recent study has found that it may be a bit more than dust and litter that you are sitting with when commuting. Which isn’t good news for those who like to save a few minutes to do their makeup on their way to work. 

The study, conducted by Vision Direct, swabbed a pole and seat of each of the tube lines, as well as three escalator handrails in busy stations to determine which bacteria tube riders are exposing themselves to and the results may turn a few stomachs. 

The swabs discovered that on the Victoria line seat there were exceptionally high colony-forming units (CFU) of 16000 for E. coli. On the Metropolitan line there were traces of Pseudomonas aeruginosa (400 CFU) and Faecal Streptococci and enterococci (960 CFU) on the seat and the pole (80 CFU). 

Pseudomonas aeruginosa was also found on an Oxford Circus escalator handrail (720 CFU), the Northern line seat (200 CFU) and the Waterloo & City line pole (40 CFU). 

On the risks of doing your makeup on the tube, Jason “The Germ Guy” Tetro, a long-time microbiologist and immunologist, said: “There are two risks at play. The first is contamination of the cosmetics themselves with unsafe hands. This can lead to the introduction of unwanted microbes on the skin such as bacteria that cause cellulitis, impetigo, and acne. Then there is the risk of putting unsafe hands in the mouth to aid in the application of makeup. This can lead to exposure to a variety of different pathogens including SARS-CoV-2.”  

What impact could exposure to these bacteria have on your eyes? 

Professional services optician at Vision Direct, Nimmi Mistry, explains what these bacteria are and the impact these bacteria could have on eye health, hoping to persuade on-the-go makeup artists to reconsider their place of application. 

Pseudomonas aeruginosa 

Pseudomonas aeruginosa is a bacterium that can cause severe eye infections, particularly in individuals who wear contact lenses or are immunocompromised. This bacterium can cause inflammation of the cornea, a condition commonly known as microbial keratitis (MK). 

The impact of this type of bacteria can be sight-threatening. Some symptoms of this type of infection include:

  • Pain and Redness 

  • Discharge 

  • Blurry Vision 

  • Photophobia 

  • Ulceration 

E. coli and streptococci 

Streptococci is most known to cause eye infections, however, E. coli which spreads to the eye can be as equally infectious.One eye infection that can be caused by these bacteria is bacterial conjunctivitis, the symptoms of which include redness, irritation, discharge, and crusting of the eyelids. Conjunctivitis is mostly self-limiting, meaning it will resolve independently. However, sufferers of bacterial conjunctivitis may need to resort to antibiotic eye drops if symptoms persist.

In more severe cases, especially when the cornea is compromised due to injury or trauma (such as an abrasion or scratch), E-coli and streptococci can cause corneal infections including ulcers. This can result in significant pain, blurred vision, and potential scarring of the cornea. If you are experiencing these symptoms, it is important to seek immediate medical advice, to prevent any long-term complications. 

Central line and Jubilee line packed with pollution 

The study also took the measurements of pollutants on the underground as well, as these can also have a negative impact on your health, skin and eye health. 

One factor looked into was PM2.5 which refers to particulate matter with a diameter of 2.5 micrometres or less. The Central line and Jubilee line are the two lines that you should be most concerned about as they had 125 and 124.2 ug/m3 respectively, and you should be concerned about anything above 50 ug/m3 (micrograms per cubic metre). 

PM, including PM2.5, can deeply penetrate the respiratory organs and enter the bloodstream. Not only does this result in cardiovascular, cerebrovascular, and respiratory effects, but also toxic changes to the intraocular tissues of the eye. 

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