I received an email from a long-time reader just recently, asking me if I’d ever talked about the shelf-life of cosmetics, in particular, dry (powder) cosmetics. She had an eyeshadow palette that didn’t seem to work anymore and was wondering if it might have outlived its shelf life and should be tossed.
It was an interesting question, because I realised that I’d never really talked about the life-span of makeup before this, or how long you should keep your makeup before throwing it away. The primary reason is that, once I do, I’ll come across as sounding like a right hypocrite! 😛
But in the interest of discussion, I thought I’d tell you what the general shelf-life of makeup is, and then you can tell me if you stick to it, or if you wing it, the way I do 😉
In general, these days, the shelf-life of each item are indicated on the box and on the case of the item itself. If you look at the box or turn the case over, you will see an image like that of an open tin, and a number specified within.
What this symbol indicates, is how fresh the item remains after opening. The number within indicates the months it will remain fresh. E.g. In the Nars tinted moisturiser, it indicates that the product will remain fresh for 18 months after you first open it, while in the Urban Decay Naked foundation, it’s 6 months.
Do note that this is not an indication of its expiry date. That is a separate date that isn’t usually indicated on makeup items, but will be on skincare packaging. All this symbol tells you is how long you can expect the item to remain fresh, or at least in a store-fresh condition once you start using it.
While I pay a little more attention to this, when it comes to skincare items, I’m a lot more lax when it comes to makeup. Yes, I live a little dangerously, hence I’m a hypocrite! 😛
Freshness of Liquid and Cream cosmetics
For liquid and cream cosmetics, the nature of the product usually means a shorter freshness period. This usually covers items like foundations, eyeshadows, lipstick, concealer, lipgloss etc. Anything that comes in an emollient texture. The general rule is between 6-18 months of opening, depending on the manufacturer’s recommendation.
The primary reason is because these mediums can be more prone to bacterial growth, especially if they come into contact with our skin or the air a lot. While logically, these products contain a lot of preservatives to keep them fresh, they will not last you your whole life as it will eventually break down and sometimes separate.
A product that comes in a pump dispenser will usually remain fresher longer than one in a tub. So, a liquid foundation in a pump bottle should remain fresher longer than say, one in a dropper bottle that is more exposed to the elements. A product that comes into contact with your skin often e.g. mascara or lipgloss will degenerate more quickly. This is especially so, because the wands are replaced into the product once you’ve used it on your eyes or lips, and that allows for transfer of bacteria into the tube. Did you just shudder? 😛
Freshness of powder cosmetics
This usually covers products like powder foundation, loose powder, eyeshadows, blushes etc. Anything that comes in a powder formula. The general rule is 2-3 years from opening.
Technically, powder formula tends to be regarded as being more inert and a poor breeding ground for bacteria, as bacteria breeds best in a wet/liquid environment. However, this will of course depend on how you store your makeup. Store it in a damp area, and naturally, there will be some sort of damp transfer, which can lead to powder makeup growing mouldy. I’ve never experienced it myself, but I had a friend tell me it happened to her makeup.
Stored properly, the theory is that powder makeup can last practically forever. However, the quality of the pigment and intensity and formula may degenerate over time, which will be why a product that was lovely and soft and strongly pigmented when you first buy it, may lose its lustre after a few years. Some formula start out lovely and soft, but over the years, harden and become less impressive. If you use your fingers, then oils from your finger can transfer to the powder, and cause the surface to harden.
How can you tell when you should throw away your cosmetics
Well, you can either keep to the general rule, as recommended by the manufacturer, or play it by ear, as I do 😛 I’ll give you a general idea of how I gauge the freshness of my makeup below. Note: I run my own risk – if you’re not a risk-taker, please play it by the book!
If you recognise some of the older items in this picture, why I might even have met you on the Makeupalley boards back in my pre-blogging days! 😉
With things like mascara or eyeliner, err on the side of caution. Although the general rule is 3 months, do note that some brands actually specify that you can use it up to 6 months before tossing it out. When I was using mascara, I’d go by the 6 month rule because my mascara seemed fine – it didn’t dry out, it was still smooth and it didn’t infect my eyes. Higher end mascara seemed to last longer for me. The minute it starts drying out, I toss it. Ditto eyeliner. I love the Maybelline Hypersharp eyeliners, but they dry out incredibly quickly! So, it sometimes doesn’t even last 3 months. I’m a little more careful when it comes to my eyes.
With products like lipstick or lipgloss, I use the visual and nasal test. It’s not scientific of course, but as I don’t share my makeup, I have less to worry about. If the lipgloss looks weird, or goopy or separated or smells off, I bin it. Lipgloss can be tricky sometimes, because you apply it to your lips and then replace the wand into the tube, and I’ve had quite a few smell weird after a while. So, I’m always a little wary about using old lipgloss. I may keep them, but I don’t necessarily use them. Lipstick can sometimes get mouldy, or it can turn rancid, or the colour can change. If it looks weird or smells weird, I toss it. That said, I have some that are fairly old, but are still fine. I’m not sure what that says about the formula!
With cream eyeshadow, I find that the problem doesn’t lie so much in them turning bad, it’s in them drying out and shrinking. So, as much as I do enjoy using cream eyeshadow (Shiseido makes really good ones that I enjoy using) I have stopped because of this problem. I do find that Shiseido’s doesn’t dry or shrink as quickly, so if there’s one brand I’d buy it’s that. Benefit was one of the worst culprits. With cream eyeshadow sticks, I don’t have this problem with shrinkage, and they seem to last longer.
I do tend to use up concealer, so even if it takes me a little longer than the recommended time, I don’t usually face a problem. Also, I’m not much of a concealer hoarder, having already found my HG, so I just stick to it. But a similar rule to lipgloss will apply – if it smells or looks weird, bin it. I used to really like a concealer by Shu Uemura (now discontinued, but the sponge tip really smelled funky after a while – ew!)
Ok, I confess to owning and using foundation that are probably way past their freshness date. But they still look fine and smell and work fine, and don’t break me out so I still use it. I do cull occasionally, when I need the space, throwing out old formula, or those I rarely use, but I’m otherwise not very particular. I guess I should be, but I’m not. That’s why I still own the now discontinued Bourjois Healthy Mix foundation (the new one is different and too dark for me) 😛
I don’t use a lot of powder foundation anymore, as I find them far too drying for my skin. They seem to suck the moisture out of it. So, whatever I have is really too old to use by now. But when I was using it, I’d discard if the texture of the powder changes. If you use a sponge, then you may find that the transfer of oils from your skin to the powder can change the texture. If it looks weird, bin it.
Loose powder, finishing powder (Meteorites)
The only time I’d bin it will be if the powder smells weird (happened to me once) or absorbs the humidity in the air and becomes heavy and cakey. Otherwise, I erm… don’t bin them LOL! I have pretty old Meteorites that I still use. No problems *touchwood* 😛
Powder eyeshadow, blush
The only time I’ve binned a a powder eyeshadow or blush is if it crumbles or hardens to the point that it’s just too much hassle to use. Otherwise, I just hold on to them, and use them. Yes, I own and use makeup from many years ago. Some stay usable longer than others. Some, like Chanel Joues Contraste baked blushes deteriorate in quality over time, as they harden and lose their pigment. Pressed makeup has less of an issue, I find, but they will harden over the years, and lose their lustre and intensity of colour. Usually, I toss them if I just know I won’t use them anymore, and they’re too old to give anyone else.
Work within your comfort zone
I’m not saying that you should do what I do, because there is every possibility that a makeup product that is too old, powder texture or not, may cause you to experience problems e.g. eye infections, lip infections etc. I’m just telling you what I do i.e. live dangerously, and what you SHOULD do, i.e. don’t 😛
So, that’s me and my rule of thumb when it comes to when I should throw out my makeup. The moral of the story here, is not to have a very large collection. I know, it’s a little counter-productive my saying this, since I blog about new makeup so often, but it’s a fact. The more you have, the less likely you’ll use them all, and the more likely that products will expire or go off, before you finish them. Yet, realistically speaking, there aren’t many of us who can safely, hand on heart, say that we’ve finished an eyeshadow or blush recently. I have finished a blush, but that was 10 years ago – never hit pan since LOL! 😀
So, I understand the minimalist movement that’s gaining popularity, but that’s a story for another day, that I promise I’ll get to 🙂
Do you abide by the general rules to toss out your makeup? Do you even toss out your makeup?
I’m sure most of you will throw out mascara and maybe lipgloss or lipsticks. Maybe you even finish them before they go bad! But what about powder makeup – eyeshadow or blush – do you finish them, or do you even toss them out? Share your thoughts with me 😀
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Great article Paris! And Jane Cosmetics!!! Havent seen one of those in awhile now! 😀
I go by the visual / nasal test as well – if it looks / smells nasty, then i’ll toss it. Otherwise, I’ll keep using it and keep my fingers tightly crossed that it won’t break me out! I still have some eyeshadows from 2007 that work perfectly fine… i think! 😛
The husband calls me a hypocrite, because I’m a use-by nazi when it comes to food. I’ll toss out everything that has expired in my fridge even if it still looks ok but you rarely see me toss out makeup 😛
Paris B says
Hahaha ya! I remember this Jane bronzer was such a big hit back in the day, everyone was dying to get hold of one. I’m a little more prudent when it comes to food too – food poisoning isn’t much fun! Well, so is an eye infection but I guess we know our limits eh? 😉 p/s I do still actually use some of these – I didn’t even realise how OLD they were till I looked up the dates! :O
Nicely done Paris B! I do the same step & once I finish a lipstick & the packaging is pretty, I’ll clean it & keep it as a remembrance hehe
Paris B says
Aww that’s nice! I’m trying to remember when I last finished a lipstick >.< I think it was a Dior Addict... that was probably a few years old 😛 Oh dear.
Good write up! Enjoyed reading it. Also happy to know that I do almost similar thing as you. I do toss some cosmetics recently. But some old blusher n eye shadow very sayang to throw coz never hit pan.
Paris B says
Glad you enjoyed it Lavender 🙂 I don’t know if doing what I do is the right thing, to be honest! HAHA! I think we have to be aware of our own stuff and how bad they may look/smell. I try not to throw things out, but sometimes we just can’t help it right? Like you, I’m too sayang also, so I just keep them. Just dont’ use them LOL!
I will keep them until I find they either clump up or smell funny. Too bothersome to remember all the dates and keep ’em boxes! Haha
Paris B says
I know of some people who actually label their products so they know just when they bought/opened it! I take my hat off to them 😀
I adhere strictly to expiration dates when it comes to skincare, ever since I opened a sheet mask two months past its stated shelf life and found it spotted and gunky!
Same goes for makeup that has any contact with parts of my face that I know are sensitive. Am a lot more lax when it comes to eye shadows (note: I only own one trusty Naked palette, 3 years old, still going strong), eyeliners, brow pencils and the like
Paris B says
You know Joey, a friend’s Naked palette went mouldy! It was the first time I’d ever heard of an eyeshadow palette going mouldy LOL! But I don’t know where she kept it. That said, my eyeshadows usually stay alright till I toss them. Unless they’re cream ones in which case they tend to smell or look funny after a while.
Can i say i am so proud that i have no ancient makeup item in my stash anymore? ^_^v
Well..except for a few items that have some sort of memorable value/too pretty to bin. LOL.
and let’s pray that the meteorites will stay gorgeous forever!
Paris B says
GOOD ON YOU! I sometimes feel like I want to just throw everything out – but then all my storage space will go to waste! LOL! But all hail the Meteorites! That one I can’t bin
I’m more strict with mascaras and eye liners, but other than that, I just play it by common sense. If it looks weird, or if it smells funky, or if it just doesn’t perform as well anymore, I’ll toss it. For cream and liquid products, I usually toss them out when they’re too old. I think the oldest thing I have in my stash at the moment is 5 years old. I tossed out everything else older than that. The bin was heavy. LOL!
Paris B says
5 years old! Hmm I definitely have stuff older than that still floating around LOL! Mostly powder – liquids rarely survive coz they start looking funny anyway. But sometimes, I keep the old stuff for sentimental reasons, not because I use them. A little worried to use them to be honest! 😛
In general I just avoid collecting cream or liquid products. I buy lipsticks over glosses, powder blush over cream blush etc. I only use liquid foundations and cushions though, but I find the cushions generally get used up pretty fast so that’s not an issue. I throw out eyeliner and mascara regularly. Otherwise, I’m keeping my blushers and meteorites as long as I can!
Paris B says
So organised, Adeline! 😀 But you’re right about cream and liquid products being the first to have to go. A good practice is also not to hoard many different things e.g. different foundations. I’m only just starting to try cushions. Not my foundation of choice, but I can see why they are popular!
I actually follow your way of checking make up. Hardly any of the things I’ve purchased over the past couple of years I have yet to throw out. The only ones are lip glosses. They have since separated or have a weird smell to it.
But lipsticks, the scent hasn’t gone bad, the colour hasn’t changed so I continue using them. I mean, if my skin hasn’t broken out yet, I don’t see why I should throw them out.
I live dangerously with my skincare as well. ><
Paris B says
Yes! Lip glosses go bad quite quickly don’t they? I realised that because I rarely use lip glosses, there’s just no point in me buying any. Sure there are one or two brands I like, but in the main, I’d rather just wear lipstick 😀 Oh and skincare! Now that’s a whole different kettle of fish! (I sometimes live dangerously too! :P)
Beauty Bee says
I’m so sentimental when it comes to makeup, which is probably weird for some people 😛 I mean, how could you part with those gorgeous powders from 2007?!? People are vintage makeup collectors for a reason! 😀
But I’m very much like you – I judge the product individually and whether or not it’s a powder or liquid product. Lipsticks tend to be the only product which defies this ‘rule’ – they last for years (unless they’ve gone funky) as I keep them stored in a dry cool place.
Paris B says
True about vintage makeup. One day, these will be worth a fortune! LOL!! But lipsticks are surprisingly resilient aren’t they? I’m always surprised, thinking that it’s time I toss them but they smell, look and work fine, so I don’t.
Mrs Tubbs says
Like you, I tend not to worry about expiry dates and look at the actual product. If it smells okay, looks okay and, in the case of lipsticks, tastes okay, I tend not to worry. I keep pencils sharpened, clean brushes regularly and store cosmetics out of the light to help things last longer.
I am one of those makeup minimalists. I try to only buy to replace when I’ve hit pan. I do it partly because I hate waste and am a bit of a skinflint, but also because all I really do is buy endless variants of the same thing.
But I still read well written beauty blogs avidly. Just because I’m not buying, doesn’t mean I’m not interested!
Paris B says
“makeup minimalist” I like the term! 😀 But I think that’s really the right way to approach things – at the end of the day, I too find myself gravitating towards similar colours for makeup, and there are only so many textures in the world. Yet, I suppose that’s the reason companies need to come up with pretty designs – no one will buy their stuff otherwise! 😀 Plus, I admit to being a bit of a fickle minded person hence the never ending quest for more! LOL!
I am so guilty with this. I do not keep track at all 😛
Oppsss! If the product is OK on me, I’ll still use it. Bad huh? Especially eyeliners and mascara. That is why I prefer trial size mascara.
Paris B says
I only remember when I wonder just which collection an item was from and then I shock myself silly when I realise it’s over 5 years ago LOL! Time sure does fly when you have a ton of product 😛
For skincare I am pretty good about using stuff up within the allotted time, except for sunscreens – really slow about using them up.
For makeup I pretty much go by smell/texture. Totally not sanitary but 😛
I have a YSL and a Dior gloss that still smell and feel fine – definitely more than 5 years old… I should try to use them up first. Really like them too 🙂
This is one of the reasons I’ve stopped buying makeup almost completely – too much nice stuff to use up!
Paris B says
LOL I’m the opposite when it comes to sunscreen! I run through them like water 😀