Becky-Starsmore/shutterstockTake a gander into any woman’s makeup bag, and we can guarantee you’ll discover a cringeworthy hoard of years-old makeup. Whether we bought it because we didn’t know how to say no to the intimidating lady at the makeup desk or because we got a bit too spend-happy with our paychecks, chances are you have several foundation bottles or primer potions you’ve only pumped once (not to mention the Naked Palette that you’ve only used two shades out of). Beyond the blatant signs of expiration—dried mascara and crumbling eyeshadow— it can be tough to tell when makeup has met its end. Surprisingly, U.S. labeling regulations don't mandate an expiration date on most cosmetics, making it that much trickier to determine its lifespan. Regardless of whether they’re brand new or on their last life, beauty products do go bad. Even worse—they can cause breakouts, skin parasites, infections, and loss of vision if not disposed of at the proper time. While it may be difficult to toss away our precious samples, old makeup can serve as a breeding ground for germs, harboring nasty bacteria that can incur some serious damage. But before you start embarking on an extensive makeup cleanse, we decided to ask the experts to give us the real facts. We turned to Jessica Mae, founder, creative director, and makeup artist of WarPaint International Beauty Agency, and Kelli J. Bartlett, GLAMSQUAD’s Director of Makeup Artistry, for advice on when to dump our old cosmetics—and just how bad it is to use them past their elusive lifespan.
Yes, makeup DOES expire5-second-Studio/shutterstockLiquid foundation generally lasts for 12 months, while mascara and eyeliner only stretch for three. Lip products will generally go for around two years, but can begin deteriorating earlier if used frequently (and God forbid, shared). Compacts/eyeshadows, since they are “solids,” will generally last for two years or more if stored properly, but be aware that effectiveness and pigmentation will fade over time.
The older cosmetics get, the less they workMikhail_Kayl/shutterstockAs makeup gets older, the ingredients in your makeup will begin to corrode and oxidize, altering the effectiveness of the product. According to Jessica, the chemical ‘makeup’ (no pun intended) of the product starts to break down. “In foundation specifically, this can cause the product to not lay evenly on the skin. Longevity of the application is also affected. The other thing that starts to happen is the preservative starts to break down, therefore allowing bacteria to form.”
Content continues below ad
Even unopened makeup can pose a health riskJAYANNPO/shutterstockThis can be a difficult question as most people tend to associate “unopened” with “fresh.” This may be the case with your jars of cornstarch, but unfortunately the same does not apply to your favorite cosmetics. Jessica says, “The process will happen more slowly, but once the product is exposed to air the same expiration effects take place. It is also possible that the preservatives start to break down even before you open it. So, if you stocked up on foundation and it’s now been sitting unopened in your drawer for five years, chances are you should just throw it out even though it’s unopened.” Some makeup products are at more risk than others. Kelli says, “For mascara, cream, gel and even powders, it's super important to note how long you can use a product after opening because the minute air is exposed to the product, it is at risk for contamination.”
Repeated use of expired makeup (especially foundation and eyeliners) can cause infection5-second-Studio/shutterstockFor one, you aggravate the chances of bacterial growth—and in turn breakouts and infections—when you repeatedly immerse your fingers into old liquid foundation. According to Kelli, “Using old eyeliners can irritate the delicate eye area causing it to become puffy, red, and swollen. Expired powders can irritate your skin and cause little red bumps that look like acne.” In order to avoid reinfection, discontinue use of all eye makeup if you have used them with an eye infection, and lip products if you suffered a nasty bout of cold sores. Skin and eyes are most prone to infection, so products applied to those areas must be heeded with care. Jessica adds, “Foundation and mascara are the two non-negotiables in my book. Meaning, don’t ignore the expiration. Both of these products, when opened, get exposed to air, therefore allowing bacteria to enter the container. Over time, as the makeup gets 'older,' more and more bacteria and air are introduced.” Bacterial, yeast, or viral contamination can lead to cold sores and impetigo on the lips. Old mascara is prone to the same effects; eyelashes naturally have bacteria on them too, so your mascara wand will be contaminated as soon as you use it. Heavy formulations can block glands along the lash line, opening yourself up to the risk of styes, conjunctivitis, pink eye, and in rare cases, vision-threatening conditions. Moreover, eyeliner tubes are generally very moist, creating the ultimate breeding home for bacteria. In other words, it's not pretty. Despite cosmetics preservatives, bacteria will inevitably win over.
Cleaning old makeup won't always revive itphotopixel/shutterstockLuckily, not all is lost for your drawers of old makeup; there is hope in the rescuing prowess of alcohol. Kelli advises sanitizing used lipsticks by dunking them in alcohol and shaving off the top layer. Jessica agrees, “There are different theories out there about revival, but I on the other hand don’t feel there is a way to revive a product once it starts to go bad. Cleaning your makeup is definitely a possibility though. Use 70% rubbing alcohol to spray down your eyeshadows and powder products. This will sanitize the product and prevent bacteria from forming in the first place. Also, keeping your brushes clean will prevent introducing additional oils and bacteria to the product.” As a general rule of thumb, make sure to wash your makeup brushes at least once per week to avoid the throngs of bacteria resting in those synthetic fibers. (Find out how to effectively sanitize your beauty tools).
Content continues below ad