MESA, Ariz -- Halloween conjures up all kinds of scary fun. Americans will spend nearly $7,000,000,000 on Halloween costumes and masks, but it's the tiny little monsters living on those masks that is enough to make anyone scream.
“In terms of gross, it's definitely kind of disgusting looking at this data," says Dr. Stan Kikkert, who heads up the Bio-Technology program at Mesa Community College. Even he was alarmed to see the results of our 3 On Your Side undercover investigation.
We started by going to four popular Halloween retailers where we found people taking turns trying on rubber masks. But with so many people touching, breathing and sweating underneath these masks, we wondered about their cleanliness. So we purchased nearly a dozen masks and brought them back to our studio, where the 3 On Your Side team swabbed the nose and mouth areas of each mask.
We took our samples to Dr. Kikkert, who placed them in an incubator and waited to see just how much, if any, bacteria would be found. Kikkert said, "I was quite surprised at the number of bacteria and the diversity of the bacteria that you guys found on these different plates," he says.
Turns out every mask was full of living bacteria and germs. In fact, the devil mask was the worst, containing the most bacteria, presumably because it was tried on the most. But even a child’s power ranger mask was filthy and had microscopic creepy crawlers like mold and fungi.
"One person after another after another wearing this probably adds to this and allows for the bacteria to actually cultivate so that might be part of the reason why we see such robust results," says Kikkert.
The bacteria not only looks gross, it smells gross too, emitting a sour, pungent odor. And remember this is the stuff people are putting on their faces over and over.
"The main danger is probably the potential of acquiring a skin infection from an organism like staphylococcus," he says.
Kikkert went on to say there's one way to kill the germs, and that is to soak the masks in rubbing alcohol.
"After seeing a mask like this, I might be more inclined to just get something that kind of covered my eyes and maybe left my mucus membranes kind of free," he says.