Individual tubes of mascara and bottles of foundation don't take up much room, but collectively all the beauty products and cosmetics we’re saving can take a toll – both on available storage space and on our health. At best, cosmetics past their prime just won’t work as well. At worst, they can cause irritation and infection.
Well-formulated cosmetics can remain stable for a couple of years if stored unopened at room temperature. When they're opened and air comes into contact with the product, certain ingredients start to oxidize and degrade.
Every time you touch these products, germs are transferred onto them and, in turn, onto your face and skin. Heat and humidity promote the growth of mold, yeast, bacteria, and fungi, making the bathroom a poor choice for cosmetic storage. (Full disclosure: mine are in the bathroom, but after researching this, I’m planning to make a change.)
So, how do you know how long is too long to keep and use your beauty products? Beyond the obvious signs (mascara drying out, liquids separating), it can be difficult to tell. Plus, U.S. labeling regulations don’t require an expiration date.
When there is no recommended use-by date, how do you know how long to keep your beauty products and cosmetics? Continue reading below for the Three C's Guide to Beauty Product Expiration Dates: Chuck it (when to trash it); Cause for Concern (what are the health concerns); and Can't Compete (how it won't work as well as it ages).
Click here to download your free Cleaning Out Your Cosmetics Quick Guide!
Three C's Guide To Beauty Product Expiration Dates
Liquid Face Makeup (e.g., foundation, concealer)
Chuck it: 6 months
Cause for Concern: Repeatedly dipping brushes and fingers into liquid foundation increases the odds of bacterial and fungal growth.
Can't Compete: When it's past its prime, liquid foundation will separate. Oils rise to the top and the consistency thickens, and your foundation will create an uneven, streaky and inconsistent finish.
Powder Face Makeup
Chuck it: 3 months if used daily; 6 months if used infrequently
Cause for Concern: The dark, wet environment inside a mascara tube is perfect for bacterial growth and fungi. The preservatives in the formula have a shelf life and will break down, especially with exposure to air and humidity. Each time you use mascara, it’s exposed to bacteria and fungi. Plus, there's the transfer of the bacteria that naturally exist on our eyelashes. If it smells funky, it’s gone off, but trust us, just toss it after 3 – 6 months.
Can't Compete: When it's past its prime, mascara will dry out, especially if you pump the wand, forcing air into the tube. Instead, draw the wand out slowly and twist the brush to pick up product from the inside of the tube.
Chuck it: 3 months for liquid eyeliners; 2 years for pencil eyeliners
Cause for Concern: Liquid eyeliner has the same issues with bacteria and fungi as mascara. They flourish in a dark, wet environment. A pencil eyeliner is less bacteria-friendly, and a fresh surface is created each time it's sharpened (make sure to clean sharpener with rubbing alcohol regularly).
Can't Compete: When it's past its prime, a white film may develop on your pencil eyeliner that can’t be sharpened off. If this happens, replace it with a new one.
Lipstick and Lipliner
Chuck it: 2 years for lipstick and gloss; 2 years or more for lipliner
Cause for Concern: The water content in lipstick makes it prone to bacteria and fungi, especially when stored in a humid environment. Pencil lipliner lasts longer because a new surface is created each time it's sharpened. Also, don’t apply lipstick straight after eating – it cultivates bacteria.
Can't Compete: When it's past its prime, lipstick will dry out. Long-lasting formulas dry out even sooner because they contain ingredients that evaporate more quickly. Any beading of moisture, funky smells or chalky texture means it’s time to toss. Store your summer hue in the fridge. Keeping lipstick and gloss away from heat slows the breakdown of certain ingredients.
Chuck it: Acne creams and other over-the-counter products that contain drugs are FDA regulated and usually carry expiration dates. Other than those: 6 months for products claiming to have anti-aging and skin-changing benefits. 1 year if they're in pump bottles.
Cause for Concern: Some ingredients, like vitamin C, retinol, and hydroquinone, degrade more rapidly if left in direct sunlight or exposed to air. It’s uncommon, but some formulas become even MORE potent over time. How? Active ingredients like retinol and glycolic acid become more concentrated as their bases degrade, separate, or evaporate. This increased concentration can irritate your skin. Store properly, and look for products that come in a pump, which helps keep air out.
Can't Compete: When it's past its prime, skin care can be ineffective or the ingredients can separate.
Chuck it: 6 months
Cause for Concern: As the active ingredients degrade, the sunscreen becomes less potent, increasing the possibility of sunburns and skin damage.
Can't Compete: When it's past its prime, it can separate. But to play it safe, discard after 6 months. Store out of the sun.
Chuck it: 1 year
Cause for Concern: As preservatives break down over time, bacteria and microbial growth can occur. If these products are used on scalps or on skin with abrasions, open sores, rashes or similar, there could be a risk of added infection.
Can't Compete: Always close the caps of shampoos, conditioners, and styling products tightly, or water and air can get in, breaking down the formulas or causing them to separate. Aerosol cans are the best container for protecting product, so sprays should last longer.
10 Tips to Keep Your Skin Healthy
I'm Jen, a professional organizer ready to help you take charge of your space, free up your time, and lead a more organized life! (Read more about me here)