What To Know About The Shelf Life Of Your Makeup
Let’s be real with each other: How much of your makeup was purchased in 2019 or later? Scheduling a regular makeup bag clean-out a couple of times a year doesn’t just free up space for new, must-have product acquisitions — it’s also good for your health. Holding onto past-prime cosmetics can make your mascara, eye makeup, and other products a breeding ground for bacteria and, in the worst case scenario, infections.
The biggest potential issues when using expired makeup is that you can develop skin rashes, acne breakouts, or even infections, says Joshua Zeichner, MD, a New York City-based board certified dermatologist. “The skin around the eyes is particularly at risk because it is so thin and sensitive,” he explains. Plus, the eyes themselves are at risk for infections like conjunctivitis.
With this is mind, here’s what you need to know about the shelf life and safety of your makeup.
How to Care for Your Makeup
Just like you care for your skin, you also need to care for your products. As we explained in our guide to the shelf life of skincare, storing products in a cool, dry place, keeping them in their original packaging, and limiting exposure to light and air are best practices across the board, but there are also additional factors to keep in mind for makeup:
- Check the Expiration Date: How much stock should you put into the expiration dates stamped on a product? Like skincare products, Dr. Zeichner says that cosmetic products are tested for stability and contamination before they are brought to the market. “Expiration dates represent the time up to which the company has shown the product is effective and stable,” he explains. “This does not mean that a product can’t be used after the expiration; it just means the company has no data beyond that date.”
- Wash Your Hands: Keeping your hands clean is just as important, if not more. Always apply makeup with clean hands. “If you go to the bathroom and don't properly wash your hands, bacteria like e. coli can spread to a makeup brush and later to your skin,” Dr. Zeichner says. “Using a contaminated brush is essentially no different than touching your face with dirty fingers.”
- Clean Your Brushes: Recent studies have shown serial contamination of makeup brushes is real. “Even if you can’t see bacteria, it doesn’t mean they aren’t there,” Dr. Zeichner says. As many of us know, it’s easy to get lazy and keep using the same brushes without washing them. “Most of the time you will be fine, but, if you have any cuts or open skin, you could develop a soft tissue infection,” Dr. Zeichner warns. He says to be extra careful if you have eczema, rosacea, or even acne, because the skin barrier may be disrupted. Ideally, makeup sponges should be washed with soap and water after every use (or, at a minimum, once a week). To keep your makeup itself clean, spritz with Beauty So Clean Cosmetic Sanitizer Mist to remove bacteria and germs.
Even if you’re following the rules above to a tee, makeup products aren’t designed to last forever, and it’s important to regularly review your stash for safety.
How to Conduct a Makeup Audit
Whether you are channel Marie Kondo or The Home Edit duo, a deep and thorough examination of your makeup collection is necessary. Begin by dumping all your products out on a table or the floor. The easiest way to tell if a product can’t be lost or needs to be tossed? “Be mindful of discoloration and smell,” says celebrity makeup artist Molly R. Stern.
First, do a smell check. If it has a weird chemical odor or evokes eau de clay, get rid of it. Be especially careful with ‘clean’ makeup. “Makeup starts to trap bacteria the first time you use it, so look for the small jar symbol with the number on the product packaging and always follow that expiration date,” says Kosas founder Sheena Yaitanes. “Clean makeup usually has fewer preservatives than conventional beauty products, so it’s even more important to keep to the expiration date and throw away immediately if it starts to smell rancid or there’s a change in texture or separation of the product.” Yaitanes also makes sure to follow maintenance tips like keeping her fingers away from the neck of the bottle and storing her makeup in cool, dry temperatures.
While the true shelf life of a product depends on the formula and how it’s been handled, below are some general rules of thumb for the most common types of makeup:
Stern says that foundation from traditional brands lasts about 18 months once they are opened. “Green brands with fewer ingredients need to be rotated out every six months,” she adds. Yaitanes notes that Kosas Tinted Face Oil Foundation expires 12 months after first use, so she recommends throwing it out then — unless you notice a change in consistency or smell sooner.
“Liquid eye products have the shortest life span because there’s more moisture and potential for bacteria build-up, so replace at least every six months or if it starts to smell weird,” Yataines says. Want to outsource the decision of when to toss your mascara tube? New mascara brand, GrayLane Beauty, offers a subscription program for clean mascaras that are certified by Leaping Bunny. Choose from Volume, Curl, Lengthen, Extend, and a Fruit Elixir (for super natural lash look) options and then pick your refill frequency.
Stern says to toss eye shadows after six months to a year.
Eye and lip pencils last about three to five years (as long as you sharpen them before each use). “Powders and pencils last a little longer, but always stick to the expiration date,” Yaitanes says.
Stern says lipsticks can last about 12 to 24 months depending on the ingredients. Generally speaking, cleaner formulas tend to have a slightly shorter shelf life.
Similarly, Stern says these can last about one to two years depending on the formula.
Illuminators can last one to two years depending on the ingredients and format (think: cream vs. powder vs. liquid), Stern says. When in doubt, refer to the brand’s recommendation.
Once you’ve tossed your old cosmetics, it’s time to clean out your makeup bag. Wipe out the inside with a disinfectant wipe before putting your shiny, cleaned-up beauty paraphernalia back in. Going forward, Dr. Zeichner says to avoid double dipping into your makeup and, needless to say, never share it. “If you have had a recent skin infection and used your makeup, get rid of it afterward,” he says.