Tips to Live By

Do Makeup & Skin Care Products Expire?

May 17, 2021 - Katie McCallum

Whether its aggressively twirling a mascara wand in a tube you know is basically empty, or using so much force to squeeze out the last drop of BB cream that your fingers hurt, we're all looking to get the most out of our makeup. It's pricey, after all.

But, on the other hand, we put these products on our faces — a part of our bodies we're not particularly indifferent about.

With these competing interests at hand, it's time to ask: How old is too old when it comes to the products you put on your face every day?

"Most makeup has a three-year shelf life and no expiration date, while creams and moisturizers typically last about a year. However, that doesn't mean you should use every type of makeup or skincare product for its full shelf life," says Annie Christenson, medical aesthetician at Houston Methodist.

And this isn't just because a product's active ingredients can degrade over time. There are real health consequences to holding onto makeup for too long.

"Bacteria and mold can be introduced into your makeup, and, from there, they can live and grow in your makeup if you're not careful," warns Christenson.

Microbes hiding in your makeup can lead to:

  • Acne breakout and pimples
  • Skin irritation
  • Eye infections and styes
  • Rashes and skin infections

To help make sure your makeup doesn't become science experiment, Christenson recommends regularly opening your makeup drawer (or drawers) and asking yourself the following questions about each product.

To toss or to keep? 6 questions to ask yourself

1. Is it a liquid?

"As far as inadvertently acting as a petri dish for microbial growth goes, liquid makeup is probably the largest offender," says Christenson. "This includes mascara, liquid eyeliner, foundation, eye creams and moisturizers."

Not only can bacteria and mold live and grow more easily in liquid products than powdered ones, Christenson points out that the way we apply and store many types of liquid makeup add to the problem.

"When you apply mascara, you touch the wand into the liquid, to your eyelashes and then back into the liquid until the next use. This process introduces bacteria that may have been on your eyelashes into the mascara liquid — where the bacteria can now live and, over time, even multiply," explains Christenson.

Christenson's recommendation: Replace liquid makeup products every three to six months.

2. Do you apply it around your eyes?

Another time to play it safe with your makeup is when it's a product you use around your eyes.

"I recommend being a bit more cautious with products such as eye shadow, since there are certain types of mold that can live even in powdered products. If your eye shadow is contaminated, it's certainly possible to pass that mold to and between your eyelids," warns Christenson. "If you develop an eye infection, throw your eye makeup out and start fresh."

Christenson's recommendation: Replace eye makeup (even powdered types) every three to six months.

3. Does it pass the smell test?

Powder or liquid, new or questionably old — one of the best ways to decide if its time to toss your makeup is to just sniff it.

"Generally, makeup products don't have a noticeable smell. When they do, it's typically more neutral or pleasant, not bad," says Christenson. "If you sniff your makeup and it smells different, weird or just off, it could be a sign that there's bacteria or mold growing in it," says Christenson.

Christenson's recommendation: Immediately toss and replace any makeup that smells weird.

4. Has the consistency or color changed?

Another sign that liquid makeup might be harboring bacteria or mold is if the consistency changes.

"If a product goes from having a fairly smooth liquid texture to a consistency that's thicker, goopier and harder, toss it," warns Christenson.

Changes in the color of a makeup product can be another clue that something is off.

"While not necessarily a health concern, changes in color can indicate oxidation, which often affects the quality and function of the product. For something like foundation, this might not be a huge deal. But for an antiaging skin care product, such as a retinol cream, a color change can indicate that the active ingredient may not be as effective as it once was," says Christenson.

Christenson's recommendation: If your liquid makeup becomes goopy, toss it. And know that color changes might indiciate reduced effectiveness of your product.

5. Are your makeup brushes, sponges and blenders clean?

We've all heard that one of the keys to good complexion is to clean our makeup brushes regularly. It helps wash away residual product and oil that's built up, which would have otherwise clogged your pores and led to breakouts.

But cleaning your brushes helps prevent infections, too.

"Just as bacteria and mold can live and grow in your makeup, these microbes can live on the tools you use to apply it, as well," warns Christenson. "I recommend cleaning your brushes and sponges regularly and avoiding sharing them with anyone else."

Here are 5 steps for washing your makeup brushes:

  1. Rinse the bristles of the brush with warm water (no need to wash the handle)
  2. Apply a small drop of a gentle shampoo and work up a lather while swirling the brush in the palm of your hand
  3. Rinse the brush thoroughly with water
  4. Dry the brush by squeezing water out and dabbing it on a clean paper towel
  5. Leave the brush to air dry on a clean paper towel

Christenson's recommendation: Clean your makeup brushes and sponges every 10 days.

6. Does it have an SPF?

Sunscreen is one skin care product that does expire, and you should check the expiration date on the bottle and follow it. For sunscreens that don't list one, the FDA states that sunscreen without an expiration date expires three years after purchase.

"If your sunscreen is expired, replace it. There's no guarantee that expired sunscreen will protect your skin from harmful UV rays," says Christenson.

And for moisturizers or creams that have an SPF, it's time for you to make a judgment call.

"If you rely on your moisturizer that has SPF for sun protection, follow the same rules above — if it's expired, toss it out," says Christenson. "However, you can keep expired moisturizers around if you plan to solely use them for hydrating dry skin."

Christenson's recommendation: Throw away expired sunscreen and consider tossing expired moisturizers that have SPF.


When in doubt, throw it out

Your makeup products and items that passed the gauntlet of challenges above are likely safe to keep using — had doubts.

For instance, if you don't think you've had your mascara longer than six months but also can't quite recall, it may be best to err on the side of caution.

"If you have trouble keeping track of how old your makeup is — and who doesn't? — try writing the date on the lid or tube the first time you use it," recommends Christenson. "That way, the next time you go through your stash, you'll know how long you've been using each product."

In addition, if you have sensitive skin or allergies, you may consider being even more judicious about replacing products regularly — especially if you've had a recent flare up.

"It's hard to get rid of unused makeup. But the key to healthy skin, as well as preventing eye and skin irritation and infection, is using makeup and makeup brushes that are fresh and clean — replacing anything that's old, smells weird or expired. Your skin and face will thank you," adds Christenson.

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Categories: Tips to Live By