It’s easy to get attached to your beauty products. After all, if you’re shelling out for quality natural products, it seems like a crime to throw something out before you’ve used every last drop.
And while that’s the most financially sane idea, it’s also a risky venture if you’re also blowing past the makeup expiration date.
The best case scenario: Your foundation, say, doesn’t wear quite as well as it used to. Worst case scenario: You’re risking skin irritation or something more concerning like an eye infection from your past-due mascara—not exactly the wide-eyed, glamorous look you were going for, is it?
So when do natural makeup products really expire? And when should you toss your products?
Unfortunately, when it comes to knowing the expiration date of your makeup bag contents, it’s not very cut and dry.
“The only products required to have expiration dates are OTC drugs (sunscreens, acne products, antiperspirants),” explains cosmetic chemist Ni’Kita Wilson. “Any expiration date that you find on your makeup is strictly a courtesy (unless it has an SPF claim).” Which means most of the responsibility lies with you to practice beauty non-attachment and toss it.
Many natural beauty brands do some courtesy labeling, but even then, the “use by” date is a loose guideline, Kristen Arnett, celebrity makeup artist and founder of GreenBeautyTeam.com, tells us.
Are there any general guidelines worth following?
All makeup products, conventional or natural, actually have similar expiration dates, explains Spirit Demerson, founder of Spirit Beauty Lounge. “A popular misconception is that [naturals] need special care or aren’t preserved, but they are,” she says. “The only difference is that the oxidization is more apparent with naturals—you’ll see and smell the aging before you will with conventional,” which is what leads you to accidentally keep using that mascara for three years, thinking it’s still a-okay. Ah, the magic of preservatives.
In Europe, it’s required that all cosmetics contain a “period after time of opening” (PAO) label, an icon that indicates how long a product is good once it’s been opened. So any brand that also sell its products in Europe will have this label on all its products. Check the packaging (usually on the bottom or the back of the box) for a little icon that looks like an open jar of face cream. The M stands for months, and will have a number paired with it. This is the lifespan that the product is guaranteed to be safe and work as promised.
How to tell if your makeup has expired?
The most glaring evidence that a product is turning is when it starts to look or behave differently. “It’s time to toss your products if: the texture has changed; you see signs of separation; the odor shifts to a funky note; or the color dramatically changes,” Wilson says. Separation is normal for some natural products that contain oil, like foundation, so give it a shake and if it remixes seamlessly (it’s most likely the color that will separate a bit), then it’s fine.
To give you some specifics across product types, we asked Wilson and Arnett to lay out some makeup expiration standards (however flexible they may be):
Hold onto it for 18–24 months, or until the smell and/or odor changes. “I’m not as concerned about bacteria as I am about the oils going rancid,” Wilson adds. Rancidity is expedited by heat, so don’t leave your lipstick locked in the car on a hot day (or steamy bathroom, for that matter).
These can last up to 12–18 months. Clean your brushes often to avoid contamination and make them last even longer. For the most part, pressed powders won’t ever really turn bad because there’s no oil or water in them. “You can probably keep them for 10 years and be fine,” Arnett says. Their demise will most likely come when they break apart and ruin your carpet.
Glosses will last for at least 12 months, closer to 18 if it’s an oil-based product and you store it properly. But the nature of the product—pulling the wand out of the tube, letting in oxygen, and then dipping it back in with your saliva on it—ups the chances of it turning. Arnett’s insider tip: apply gloss to the back of your (clean!) hand first, and then dab onto the lips to extend its glossy life.
Since it’s wet, mascara’s more prone to bacteria growth, Arnett explains. And since it’s your eyes, you should be concerned about keeping it fresh and clean. Many people will keep a tube for six months—most brands out there call that out as the magic number. But some formulas will flake and clump before that; others, if you take good care of them, will last a lot longer.
“I keep mascaras for up to a year but I don’t use the same mascara every day and it’s stored in a dry place,” Wilson explains. “If you’re not careful about storage then I would toss in 6-9 months.” But always err on the side of caution to protect your peepers.
Pencils, as long as you sharpen them often, shaving away the oxidized and potentially bacteria-laced tip, can last as long as it takes to use them up. So this is where to stock up. “Since you are so close to the eye, you just don’t want to take a chance with bacteria,” Wilson warns.
These products are often made with plant oils, so if you’re careful to avoid contamination and store them away from heat, they’ll last longer than water-based products. Again, a smell and color check will let you know when these have turned—your nose will know if the oil is rancid. As long as you wash your hands first, and use clean brushes or sponges, these should last around 12–18 months.
Eye-to cheek multi-sticks
You can hold onto most of these creamy products for 12 months. Once they start to turn bad, they’ll start to get dry and not apply as smoothly—that’s your cue to chuck ’em.
How strict are these guidelines?
Not very. They’re good to know to put things in perspective. But when it comes to expiration, your senses are the No. 1 best way to determine what can stay and what’s headed for makeup heaven—and how you treat your products can affect their lifespans.
“If someone is leaving a product in the glove compartment, it’s going to go bad quicker than someone who stores it in the fridge,” adds Arnett, who also admits that she’s had some products for close to three years, when their recommended shelf life is probably about one.
That might sound like a huge makeup faux pas, but Arnett explains that the standard shelf life of a product can drastically be altered by how much TLC you show it. So show your makeup some love. —Amy Marturana