Does Makeup Expire? Here’s What the Experts Say
Wondering if you should keep that old beauty product or toss it? Makeup expiration dates just might be more important than you think.
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The scoop on makeup expiration dates
You’ve paid a pretty penny for your favorite foundations, lipsticks and other assorted beauty products, so you want to eke out every last drop before it’s time to toss them. But while that may sound smart from a money perspective, is it a good idea from a safety standpoint? Does makeup expire, and if so, can you get away with using it anyway if it seems fine?
“The makeup we use can have a big impact on the health of our skin,” says Joie Tavernise, a medical esthetician and the founder of JTAV Clinical Skincare. “Dry products, such as powder blush, pressed powder and eye shadow, have the longest shelf life, whereas liquid products, such as liquid liner, mascara and lip gloss, have the shortest.”
Is it OK to use expired makeup?
While you can use it, you really shouldn’t. Makeup can lose its effectiveness, make you break out or even cause an infection. Unfortunately, cosmetics are not required to have expiration dates, says Homer Swei, PhD, senior vice president of Healthy Living Science at the Environmental Working Group. “There is usually a manufacturing date somewhere on the package (usually on the bottom) but not an expiration or ‘best used by’ like in foods,” he explains. “This presents an issue for consumers to know when to discard their products. Too early and they’re wasting product. Too late and it causes a safety concern.” You can also often find general information about the “period after opening” on a makeup symbol on the back of your product.
In general, most makeup can last one to three years unopened (when stored in a cool, dry place, ideally) and then between a few months and a couple of years after opening. Preservatives do break down over time, even before a product has been officially opened and even in the best clean beauty brands. Wondering if your makeup is past its prime? Here’s what you need to know, along with some helpful makeup tips from the pros.
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Opened: 1–2 years
Does foundation expire? Unfortunately, yes. As for exactly when it expires, it depends on the formula. Liquid foundations usually expire in a year, while pressed powders can last up to two years. But it’s important to pay attention to the product itself, especially if it’s a liquid. “A telltale sign that a product is past its expiration date is odor,” says Tavernise. “If you notice that there is an unusual scent or that the scent has changed at all, it is a good idea to toss it. Visually, dryness or separation in a product is also a good indication that the product is past its prime.”
The bottom line: If your foundation is starting to separate, it won’t apply properly. As a result, it will be less effective at covering redness, may sink into fine lines more than it should or cause irritation.
Opened: 3 months
Mascara expires a lot sooner than you probably think—just three months after you open it! The main issue, explains Tavernise, is potential bacteria growth, which you definitely don’t want near your eyes. While it’s probably OK to use a tube of mascara for a few weeks beyond that three-month mark, you exponentially increase your risks of incurring an eye infection if you’re still using it after six months.
Mascara that’s way past its expiration date also generally isn’t up to snuff, notes dermatologist Rebecca Marcus, MD, founder of Maei MD. It tends to dry out and change in texture, which could translate to clumpiness, a lighter shade or shedding. But before your mascara has run dry, it will likely be time to switch it out.
We know, it’s painful to ditch an expensive tube before you’re done with it, so consider an affordable makeup-artist favorite like L’Oreal Voluminous Mascara. It will make throwing it away sting a bit less.
Liquid, opened: 3 months
Pencil, opened: 2 years
Note the stark contrast between a liquid and pencil eyeliner. A liquid eyeliner is similar to a mascara, in that it should be replaced every three months. The issue is that you’re constantly opening and closing liquid eyeliner, which exposes it to the air (drying it out), as well as potentially transferring bacteria from your eye to the tube and vice versa. There’s also no way to “clean” the inside of a liquid eyeliner tube. A pencil, on the other hand, is much more stable and can be sharpened, or “refreshed,” to last much longer. As a result, it poses very little risk of contamination.
Pencils can also be sanitized with an alcohol wipe, adds Dr. Marcus. Just spray a tissue with isopropyl alcohol, and gently rub it on the tip of the liner. Just make sure it’s completely dry before using it on your eye. (While you’re at it, wash the cap with soap, and dry it thoroughly.) If you have extremely sensitive eyes, you could also apply the alcohol and then sharpen the pencil.
Ready to toss your eyeliner? It could be a good opportunity to find one that’s more flattering and even makes you look younger.
Powder, opened: 2 years
Cream, opened: Up to 1 year
When it comes to eye shadow, it’s easy to forget the question “Does makeup expire?” That’s because we may not use it every day, and it tends to look fine, especially when you’re dealing with powder. “Cream eye shadow may expire faster and exhibit changes in texture,” says Dr. Marcus. “Powder eye shadow can be expected to have a long shelf life.” That said, you should still switch out your stash after two years, whether you favor glam colors or more natural looks. “If it has been used,” she adds, “preservatives likely will have expired, and bacteria may be able to grow on the product.”
Also be mindful that you are applying this makeup to a very sensitive area: your eyes. “Although it might be tempting, the risks involved with using a 10-year-old product are not worth the cost of buying a new makeup product,” warns Tavernise.
Lipstick, opened: Up to 2 years
Lip gloss, opened: 1 year
You’ve most likely used a lipstick past its prime, but pay attention to how the wear changes over time. “Lipstick may have a funny smell once expired, and its texture may change,” says Dr. Marcus. “Gloss will likely expire faster and may become stickier and thicker with time.” Long-wear, matte or liquid lipsticks can also become very drying, which won’t be pleasant on the lips.
To keep germs at bay, you can spray lipstick with alcohol and wipe with a tissue. Pencil lip liners should be sharpened. (Remember to sanitize your pencil sharpener as well after every couple of uses.) Alcohol and sharpening will inhibit bacteria from settling on your products, which, in turn, helps them last longer.
Cream blush, opened: 1 year
Powder blush, opened: 2 years
As you’ve seen above with other makeup products, powder formulas last much longer and stay more stable than cream or liquid formulas. You can probably get away with using a product like a powdered blush a little past the formal expiration date. “With powder formulations, as long as they do not contain water, it is likely safe to use makeup after its expiration date has passed as long as there is no change to the smell, texture or color,” says Dr. Marcus. What’s the problem with water? It can invite mold, bacteria or yeast to grow. Ick.
Opened: 2 years
Both pressed and loose powders should last a relatively long time, but the experts we spoke with still stand by that two-year mark for a hard expiration date. Formulas still break down over time and won’t be as effective after a while. There is also the risk of bacteria forming as the preservatives wear out.
“Time passes by quickly, so it is very likely that people are unknowingly using expired makeup because they don’t know how long they have owned a product like this,” says Tavernise. “It is important to be mindful when it comes to how long you have been using it—and be sure to clean your makeup brushes regularly as well.” Makeup brushes should be cleaned weekly. If you use the puff pad that comes with most powders, replace it every month, or start using a reusable, washable makeup triangle that you can wash in the sink with your brushes.
Do skin-care products expire?
“Yes, skin-care products absolutely expire,” says Tavernise. “It is very important to pay attention to the length of time you have used the product, the condition that it is in and any expiration dates or icons on the packaging.” Most skin-care jars or tubes have a little image of an open jar with a number inside. This number indicates the number of months the product is active, stable and safe to use. Generally, a product is shelf stable for two years, and safe to use for up to one year after opening. The exception to the rule? Active products, such as sunscreen or antioxidants, that have a listed expiration date.
Here are some general expiration dates to keep in mind:
- Moisturizers: 12 months
- Retinols: 12 months
- Sunscreens: 6 months
- Eye creams: 12 months
- Vitamin C serums: 6 months
Using an expired retinol won’t necessarily harm you, but the skin-care benefits also won’t be as strong as they would be if the product wasn’t expired. Basically, you’re just wasting your time with something that isn’t working. When it comes to expired SPF, however, there is definitely a safety issue, since it’s not offering the same protection anymore. As a result, you could get a serious burn, which may come as a very unwelcome surprise!
Pro tip: “Products that are in closed pump tubes tend to last longer than those in open jars, because it prevents the transfer of bacteria from your fingers to protect and prolong the formula,” adds Tavernise.
Pro tips to remember when your makeup will expire
Those little jar symbols on the back of your products are all well and good … but it’s still easy to forget when you opened the actual jars. That’s why it’s a good idea to place a tiny strip of painter’s tape on the side or bottom of your product and write when you opened it. (You can also write those makeup expiration dates directly on the bottle with a Sharpie.)
If you have a lot of makeup or skin-care products, be sure to organize everything in a way that ensures you use the oldest products first. This may mean putting your newest purchases in the back or in another drawer or closet altogether, remembering to make a note of when you purchased them or their expiration dates. Also use clear bins and bags whenever possible, like this Calpak clear cosmetics case. By doing this, you’ll be able to really see what you have—and use the things you love before they expire.
What causes makeup to expire faster?
Unfortunately, most people keep their makeup in their bathroom, which is hot, humid and steamy, thanks to frequent showers. This can cause products to oxidize, liquid formulas to separate, powders to crack and bacteria to grow. Generally speaking, you should store makeup and other products at room temperature, ideally in a cool, dark place without a lot of temperature fluctuations. A great spot is your linen closet or a vanity in your bedroom. But if you have something very expensive or important, you might want to invest in a skin-care fridge to decrease the likelihood of destabilization.
How you use your makeup and skin-care products also affects when they expire. If you are constantly putting your hands and fingers inside jars of moisturizer, for example, it’s likely that some bacteria will transfer from your fingers into the cream. Using a clean spoon or spatula can help keep the product clean—and help it last a bit longer.