While red lipstick will always be in style, that tube you bought five years ago is most likely past its prime. Sure, you can probably use it—with only minor risks to your health—but the color might be off and it likely won’t moisturize your lips the way it should. Using old eye makeup or foundation, though, can carry more serious consequences: Bacteria can easily grow in some products, potentially causing eye infections, breakouts, and rashes. This explains why knowing if your makeup has gone bad is so important.
Unfortunately, “there are no regulations or legal requirements under current United States law that require cosmetic manufacturers to print expiration dates on the labels of cosmetic products,” according to Nick Morante, a cosmetic consultant in Holbrook, NY. This is at least in part because products that remain unopened and shielded from water and light can technically last for years. Some companies, though, have chosen to include information about when a product goes bad once it has been opened: Look for a symbol of an open container with a number printed inside. That number tells you the number of months you can safely use a product once it has been opened.
No such label on your cosmetic favorites? Then keeping track of when to toss them is up to you. Here, a few guidelines on how long certain products last, as well as some ways to tell if your products should stay or go.
- Opinions on exactly how long to keep certain cosmetics vary from one expert to another, but in general, products that contain water (creams and lotions) don’t last as long as those with little or no water (powders and lipsticks).
- An easy-to-remember guide to when-to-toss: Every season (about every three months), throw away opened mascaras and liquid eyeliners; twice each year (about every 6 months), toss liquid foundation; every two years, invest in new powder-based eye shadows, blushes, bronzers and foundation as well as lipsticks, lipgloss and nail polishes.
- Morante suggests putting a small label on each of your cosmetic containers with the date you first opened the product. Otherwise, it can be easy to forget when exactly you began using each of the products you use.
- Sure signs that a product is past its peak: funny smells, irregular consistencies (harder, chalkier, etc.), discoloration and ineffectiveness.
- Always use makeup brushes and sponges when applying cosmetics: Dipping your fingers into pots, pans and tubes can introduce germs and bacteria into your cosmetic containers. Just be sure to wash your tools with a mild detergent at least once per month.
- Storing cosmetics in the refrigerator can help them last longer, as cold storage keeps the oils they contain from going rancid. That said, applying some products when cold could prove difficult unless you have the time to “defrost” your them first.
- The bathroom might be the most convenient place to stash your makeup, but it’s not the best in terms of extending the shelf life of your products. The bedroom would be a better choice. “Cosmetics in general should be stored in ambient conditions—not too hot or cold with minimal humidity,” says Morante. Be sure to keep cosmetics out of your car during the summer and tightly close all containers after every use.