Natural Beauty: Shelf Life of Makeup

September 21, 2014

It takes forever to find the perfect signature red lipstick or that blacker-than-black eyeliner, so it can be hard to let go of your most coveted beauty items even when they’ve been worn down to a nub. But how do you know for sure whether your makeup is past its prime, or if it’s safe to hold on to for just a few months more? Some brands do the work for you and will label the item with an estimated “use by” date; look for a little icon of an opened cosmetic pot marked with an “M” (for months) or “Y” (for year). Or, if you’re super organized, you could label each item with the date it was opened, so you’ll know how long you’ve been using the item. If the item doesn’t give a date, follow these expiration guidelines so you’ll know when to toss and when to keep your beauty products.

The Shelf Life of Makeup: Expiration Guidelines

Mascara: 3-6 months. Of all the guidelines, this is the one you should probably adhere most closely to. Because mascara is removed from the container, applied to the delicate eye area, then replaced (repeat x100), it can quickly become a breeding ground for nasty bacteria. Using an ancient mascara can lead to infections, pink eye, or sties, which means you then have to toss all eye makeup that was used in conjunction with the mascara. 3-6 months sounds like a ridiculously short shelf life, but it’s better to be safe than sorry (and dealing with pink eye). This is one reason why I stick to drugstore mascaras, as they never last long anyway.

Powder products (foundation, blush, eye shadow): 2 years. Face powders, blushes and shadows don’t contain water, so they can last for ages. Use discretion with eyeshadow, however, as like mascara they are applied to the eye area and can pick up lingering bacteria. Remember to use only clean fingers to swatch your shadows, or any of your makeup for that matter. If you notice a chalky, grayish film over your powder products, it’s time to toss it.

Foundation (cream or liquid): 12-18 months. Foundations (especially in liquid formulas) are water-based, and bacteria loves water. Unopened, foundation can last for many years, but once used it goes bad within about a year. The most obvious way to tell if your foundation is a goner is if the formula is separating, smells off, or has changed color.

The Shelf Life of Makeup: Expiration Guidelines

Nail polish: the Twinkie of the cosmetic world

Lipstick and lipgloss: 1-2 years. Lipsticks and glosses typically contain a variety of oils rather than water, so they can last quite awhile. You’ll know when to replace these if they smell like rancid oil, or if the texture and pigmentation has changed for the worse.

Nail polish: At least 4 years. If stored correctly, nail polish can last for years and years. Even if the polish has separated, it doesn’t necessarily need to be trashed. Simply shake the bottle to redistribute the color and it should be good as new. However, if the lacquer has dried out, or has gone streaky and gloopy, it’s time to go.

Related: Natural and Organic Labels Decoded

How to Clean Vegan Makeup Brushes

Are Petroleum Beauty Products Safe?



Photo credit: Maria Morri via Flickr; Denise Levy via Flickr

Sarah is a freelance writer based out of Portland, Oregon. Her top three passions in life include her family, her husband, Geoff, and her pug, Rupert. She also enjoys spending her time volunteering, traveling, and experimenting with new recipes. Follow her on Pinterest.


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