If you have 10-year-old lipstick in the bottom of your makeup bag and eyeliners that last saw the light of day sometime before the millennium, it’s probably time to give your cosmetics a complete overhaul. You might be surprised to learn just how short a shelf life some cosmetic products have.
Rules of thumb. Unlike other products governed by the Food and Drug Administration, cosmetics are not required by law to display an expiration date. And the FDA says that even when a product carries one, it should be regarded as a rule of thumb only. Products that have been opened for inspection prior to purchase or exposed to high temperatures or sunlight may become unsafe to use long before the expiration date. On the other hand, products that remain unopened and properly stored may remain viable after the expiration date.
Mascara. Advice on the shelf life of mascara ranges from the six months suggested by Sheldon Hargrove, director of George Brown College's Yorkville School of Makeup and Esthetics, to the six to eight weeks advised by professional makeup artist Jo Adams. The FDA suggests a middle-of-the-road three months, adding that you should discard any mascara that becomes dry. Don’t try to resuscitate it by adding water or saliva, as that will introduce bacteria and increase the risk of eye infections.
Active ingredients. Jenna Jones, a paramedical esthetician at USF Dermatology, says that products with SPF protection and other active ingredients will have a shelf life of around one year. “That doesn't necessarily mean that the product is no good” after that, she says, “just that the active ingredients are no longer active.” The FDA also says that “all natural” products may “contain plant-derived substances conducive to microbial growth” and lack traditional preservatives found in other cosmetics, giving them a shorter shelf life than more mainstream products.
Lipsticks. Dr. Jason Rivers, a dermatologist at the University of British Columbia, says that lipsticks should last between one and two years, lip gloss six months and lip liners up to three years. Hargrove and the FDA caution against sharing cosmetics, as this increases the chances of spreading infections. Tester lipstick are intended to be applied to the hand to check that the color matches your skin tone, Hargrove says. “They're not meant to grab and actually start applying to your naked lip.”
Powders. Aside from eyes, lips and active ingredients, powders will generally have a longer shelf life than liquids, and all makeup will last longer if lids are replaced after use and they’re stored away from sunlight and high temperatures. If you avoid touching your makeup directly, always use clean applicators and wash your makeup brushes regularly, they’ll last even longer. If powders start to cake or any cosmetic product “starts to get a nasty sort of rancid smell, it's time to pitch it,” Hargrove says.