When we find an amazing beauty product, we fall for it—hard. We give it a special place in our makeup stash where it’s within reach to apply (or stare at lovingly) whenever we want. Beauty lovers know the hardest thing about owning makeup is having to part with your favorite blush, lipsticks, and eyeliners when their makeup expiration dates roll around. And when there’s still product left to play with, tossing your makeup in the trash can be downright painful. But there’s a reason why we can’t hang onto our products forever. “When makeup products expire, they harbor germs and bacteria. So when you apply [an expired] product to your face, it can cause skin irritation, breakouts, or even infection,” says professional makeup artist Ruby Vo.
That’s right, like so many good things, makeup products do meet their end. According to cosmetic chemist Joseph Cincotta, PhD, “No makeup products are meant to last forever, and typically only last 2-3 years sealed.” So how do you tell when your makeup is approaching its end-date? There are a few tell-tale signs to watch for. “If your product starts to smell odd, or its texture or color changes, it is most likely expired and you should toss it out,” says Vo. The best way to tell, of course, is by checking the expiration as soon as you buy it (more on that below).
Want to make sure your favorite makeup products are safe to use? Continue reading below to learn about makeup expiration dates for some of your most commonly used products, plus how you can keep them clean and safe, so they’re good to their very last day.
About the Experts:
We’ve definitely been guilty of opening brand new makeup products without giving their expiration dates a glance. And if you’ve ever pulled out a concealer and thought, “How long have I been using this?” we’ve been there too. But, it’s actually very easy to determine how much time you’ll have with your new makeup.
“On the back of every product there is a small illustration of a container with an open lid that has a number such as 12M or 24M on it,” says Cincotta. “In the lab, stability and compatibility testing at various temperatures is done to determine the shelf life of a product. That is the recommended amount of months after opening that product that it should be discarded.”
That’s right—the clock starts ticking when you first open it, not when you buy it. This can make it trickier to determine how long you’ve been using your makeup, because it’s not as simple as checking a receipt date. “I recommend getting a label maker and putting the date of the day you opened the product at the bottom so that you can keep track of the expiration date,” says Vo.
But that doesn’t mean makeup that’s unopened should sit around forever. Unopened makeup products have general shelf lives as well. Natural degradation can cause ingredients to break down over time and they can sometimes become unsafe to use. “Never keep an unopened product for more than 3 years since preservatives typically become ineffective [after],” says Cincotta. “Creamier products (cream concealer or cream blushes) that contain oils can go rancid in 1-2 years.” It’s also very important to know the shelf life of products made without preservatives (such as natural ingredient-based products) as they are more likely to grow bacteria without that line of defense.
While checking the expiration symbol, also known as the POA (Period After Opening) symbol, on your product is a surefire way to know its shelf life, there are some general guidelines you can follow to help. Cincotta and Vo helped us break down these common makeup expiration dates below.
Shelf Life: 3 years unopened, 6 months from first use
Tip: Pour foundation onto the back of your hand before applying instead of dabbing your beauty sponge, brush, or fingers on the neck of the bottle. This will help keep bacteria from entering.
Shelf Life: 1 year unopened, 3 months from first use
Tip: “For items like mascara or liquid eyeliner or any item that has a brush, wipe the brush with alcohol after every 2-3 uses,” says Cincotta. Also, never share your mascara with others to lower the risk of eye infections.
Shelf Life: 1 year unopened, 3 months from first use
Tip: Sharpen your eyeliner after each use (even just a little) so you’re using a fresh tip each time, and keep it away from humid places where bacteria can grow more easily. Like mascara, never share your eyeliner as bacteria can cause eye infections.
Shelf Life: 3 to 4 months from first use
Tip: Gel or liquid liners are loaded with moisture that can trap bacteria and encourage it to grow. Never share these products and store them in a cool, dry place.
Shelf Life: 3 years unopened, 3-6 months from first use
Tip: Lipsticks harbor bacteria pretty easily as they’re always exposed to moisture from your mouth. Storing your lipsticks in a cool dry place will not only prevent makeup meltdown, it’ll also help discourage bacteria growth.
Shelf Life: Two years, opened
Tip: Regularly clean your blush and powder brushes to keep germs, skin cells, and oils from transferring onto your products.
Shelf Life: 3 years opened or unopened
Tip: Keep your polishes out of direct sunlight to keep them from separating and prevent discoloration. Cincotta says to “shake your nail polish well if separation occurs.”
Shelf Life: 3-6 months from first use
Tip: “Sponges hold so much bacteria and depending on how you store them, they can collect a lot of dust,” says Vo. “People should be washing their makeup brushes every 7-14 days. I also recommend washing your makeup sponge before every use and replacing it every 3-6 months.”
Following the tips above will help keep your makeup stash fresh, but you should still follow the product’s makeup expiration date to be sure it’s 100% safe to use. That being said, a few good habits will make sure your products live up to their shelf life and don’t separate, become discolored, ineffective, or contaminated before they’re due to expire.
We know, it’s hard. But while sharing some products (like nail polish) is OK, there are certain ones you should keep to yourself. Eyeliners and mascaras can easily become contaminated—you should regularly clean your eyeliner tips and mascara wands to prevent this—and with the eye area being particularly sensitive to bacteria, it’s best to keep them to yourself.
“Always wash hands before touching or applying makeup with your fingers,” says Cincotta. Anything that’s on your fingers or your skin can and will be transferred onto your makeup—whether that’s bacteria or excess oils. Starting with clean hands will help minimize the amount of bad stuff your makeup is exposed to, and will help keep it clean.
“Cleaning your makeup stash can be tedious, but it’s well worth it if you want to keep everything safe and sanitized,” says Vo. “I recommend getting a spray bottle of 70% alcohol and spraying it on your powder products (like eyeshadows, bronzers, blush, highlighters, and powder) to keep everything sanitized. You can even spray your pencil eyeliners and lipliners.” Cincotta adds, “For items like mascara or liquid eyeliner or any item that has a brush, wipe the brush with alcohol after every 2-3 uses. For lipstick, cover it immediately after every use.”
That means avoid storing beauty products in humid areas like your bathroom (a breeding ground for bacteria) whenever possible. According to Vo, “It's best to keep your products in a cool dry place. I avoid storing makeup products in bathrooms because the humidity levels in the bathroom can encourage bacteria and mold to grow on your products.” Another (icky) but real truth: Keep your toilet lid closed, and your products far away. “Bacteria from your toilet can also latch on to your products and brushes—and you don’t want to be putting that on to your face.”
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