How To: Tell When Your Cosmetics Are Expired

This is a question I get frequently, and have been procrastinating on for quite some time. Fortunately Aleya, who works with the Long Island Beauty School, offered to write a guest post on the topic. I also included a few of my own tips at the bottom of the post. To read more by Aleya, visit the school’s blog.

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Most cosmetics manufacturers do not print the expiration date on the packages of beauty products and are not required to do so by the FDA. Unfortunately using old makeup can lead to a variety of problems such as eye infections and itchiness , so it’s best to use newer cosmetics rather than old ones. But without expiration dates on the packaging, how can you tell if your cosmetics are expired? Here are some tips:

  • If your beauty product is watery chances are it has gone bad. This can occur with almost any type of beauty product, from hand cream to face powder.  If this happens to one of your products you should dispose of it immediately.
  • If your beauty product smells bad, then it’s expired and should not be used. Remember that if the product simply smells less fragrant, it has not necessarily expired yet, but use it sooner rather than later because it is likely to expire soon.
  • If there’s mold or fungus growing on the product and it looks like a science experiment, then it’s obviously bad.
  • If there is oil on the product that was not there previously, it has gone bad. Oil can be found on creamy products such as lipstick or creamy eye shadows.
  • If the product was stored in a very warm place for a long period of time then chances are it has gone bad, most probably before it would have if stored properly.

Here are some guidelines on how long you should keep a beauty product before throwing it out.

  • Mascara lasts 3 to 4 months and has the shortest life span of all the beauty products. Using expired mascara can cause infection because it gathers bacteria. The best way to keep this from happening is to put a label with the date on the bottle as soon as you purchase it.
  • Stick concealers last up to 1 year and wand concealers last up to 6 months.
  • Cream lasts up to 1 year before you will begin to see the cream separate from the water. The smell and texture of the cream will also change.
  • Nail polish lasts up to 1 year. It’s actually very easy to see when your polish has gone bad because you see the separation of the paint and oil.
  • Foundation is good for up to 18 months and has expired if it has separated. Once separated the foundation will not work as it should properly and may in fact cause rashes or irritation.
  • Lipstick is good for 1 to 2 years. Lipsticks that make the lips look fuller or plumper has a shorter life span than those that do not. When lipstick expires it tends to gather bacteria in the form of beads of oil on the surface of the lipstick itself. This bacteria may cause irritation.
  • Eye Shadow lasts up to 3 years, but be sure not to use it after 3 years because expired products applied to the eye area can cause eye infections.

Let’s face it, everyone has the odd beauty product that has been sitting around for a while. Maybe we love the color too much to get rid of it or maybe we simply forgot about it. Whatever the reason, it’s best to throw out the old and bring in the new in order to avoid unhealthy side effects like rashes.

Personally, I don’t think there are such hard and fast rules, and I tend to make individual judgments based on the product. Like Aleya said, keep an eye out for changes in c olor, texture, smell, taste as your first clue that a product may be expired. Unlike Aleya, I am happy to keep powders for years as long as I use clean brushes, spray them with alcohol occasionally to sanitize, and store them in a dry place (NOT THE BATHROOM DRAWER!). I also have plenty of older nail polish that works fine as long as I swirl it around a bit to mix the pigments in.

I also wanted to point out that although there aren’t expiration dates on most products, there is usually a little jar symbol with a number on the back label. That number is the number of months the product is good once opened. If it’s really important to you, consider writing the month and year of opening nearby! And of course, be vigilant with expiration dates on sunscreen, which are the one beauty product I can think of that DOES come with an expiration date. That sunscreen you bought at the beach 2 years ago and forgot about? Just let it go.

What are your rules for expired products? How do you decide?


8 Responses to How To: Tell When Your Cosmetics Are Expired

  1. Dee March 25, 2011 at 8.06 pm #

    I don’t pay much attention to that sort of thing – if it looks or smells bad or weird I chuck it, but I’ve got eyeshadows and lipsticks that are several years old and still going strong (I keep my lipsticks in the fridge).

    I do throw out mascaras after a few months but I find they start going gluggy then anyway. And I tend to get rid of jarred products – moisturisers, for example – if I haven’t used them for a long time, as I’m a bit squeamish with the whole sticking-fingers-in-jars thing.

  2. Justine March 25, 2011 at 10.08 pm #

    I don’t pay attention either, I’ve read on the nail board on makeupalley that nail polish never expires, if it gets thick or separates you can just shake it up and it’s fine, put thinner in it.

  3. Vijaya March 25, 2011 at 11.11 pm #

    I’m with you. I actually don’t entirely buy that three-month mascara thing that so many people are so insistent on. My mascara has never gone bad on me. It’s never even smelled slightly odd, actually, and that’s both to my nose and the noses of others. That could be because I actually USE mascara so rarely, though.

    • Katie March 25, 2011 at 11.17 pm #

      I usually find that mascara “goes bad” before 3 months, but I tend to use tubing mascara and I say it “goes bad” because it starts getting dry and flaky on me.

  4. Jen W March 28, 2011 at 6.42 am #

    Yikes, I’m a bit of a lipstick hoarder… nothing smells bad or has wept oils yet so I’m hoping they’re ok!!

  5. Sweet April 8, 2011 at 10.39 pm #

    I always take note of my moisturizer’s expiration dates. I make sure that I buy products recently manufactured so that I have ample time to enjoy its benefits before they expire. I am also cautious about cosmetics put on sale. Some of these items are near their expiration dates. One time, when I told the saleslady about their products expiring soon, she told me that it still has about 3 months allowance after expiration date before the products become bad and not usable.

    • Katie April 11, 2011 at 12.14 am #

      Trying to keep track of cosmetics expiration dates is kind of a minefield, as you said. Most don’t have an actual expiration date in terms of “month/year”, just a guideline for how long they are good after being opened. But obviously after a certain amount of time, even something that hasn’t been opened will separate and active ingredients will become worthless. I wish we had a more stringent system, sort of like with dairy products!

  6. Myriam March 6, 2012 at 5.07 pm #

    Me too I don’t pay attn to such things like nail polish only if it’s rly horrid smelling or the smell changed I chuck it

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