Beauty

Your makeup is probably expired—here’s how to tell

A makeup artist offers her expertise

Your makeup is probably expired—here’s how to tell Credit: Getty Images / fstop123

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As you (hopefully) already know, makeup doesn’t last forever. And while almost everyone is guilty of holding on to things past the expiration date, in the case of makeup, it can lead to a dermal disaster. Makeup doesn't always wave red flags that it's time to toss, which leads many people to continue to unknowingly use expired products and proceed to scratch their heads at their sudden onset of acne flare-ups.

The truth is that bacteria can find its way into products easier than we think, and when germ-laden powders or creams are picked up on a makeup brush, that bacteria can be applied to your skin. "Because expired makeup products harbor bacteria and the molecular and chemical structure of the makeup changes, these changes can cause dermatitis, which can then cause redness, rashes, skin irritation, infections, and even pink eye," warns Savannah St. Jean, a Florida-based makeup artist and the owner of Savannah Rae Beauty. "When you look at your makeup products, you should be able to find a little bottle or jar symbol with a number inside, which represents how many months the product is good for [after it’s opened]."

Expiration Jars
Credit: Getty Images / Oleksandr Hruts

Look for the jar on the back of your makeup packaging to know when it expires.


While the majority of products have the symbol, some do not, or they're listed on the outside packaging, which many people throw away after purchasing. That's why you should be on the lookout for these telltale signs that indicate your products have reached the end of their lifespan to ensure you're not using expired products.

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1. How often should you replace liquid foundation?

How often should you replace liquid foundation?
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Store your foundations in a cool, dry place.

Liquid foundations usually last 12 months after opening. St. Jean notes that the signs to look for in an expired liquid foundation are product separation, a foul smell, inconsistent texture, or an orange, oxidized color when in the bottle. Any of these signs can occur before the product's actual listed expiry date, depending on how it's stored and used. To increase the shelf life of your liquid foundation, avoid touching the opening or neck of the bottle, and if it doesn't have a pump, simply pour it onto the back of your hand and dip your finger, sponge, or brush into the product from there. Also, keep it stored in a cool, dry place away from sunlight (that means not on your windowsill)—the heat and sun could cause the oils in your foundation to separate.

2. How often should you replace powder?

How often should you replace powder?
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Look for a hard film or changes in color in your powder products.

Powders, including bronzers, blushes, and face powders, typically last 12 to 18 months after first use. "Powder products on their own don’t harbor bacteria because those germs needs some sort of moisture for growth and will eventually die on a dry surface. The dangers arise when we use a brush or sponge that has residual oils and moisture on it to pick up the powder product," explains St. Jean. "This adds moisture to the dry powder product and can cause bacteria to flourish."

This can also create a hard, darkened film, known as “hardpan,” that can prevent the product from sticking to the brush. You may be tempted to scrape this off to prolong the use of your product, but it's best practice to use this as a sign it's time to toss. In addition, make it a habit to only dip a clean, dry brush into powders to keep them bacteria-free. This means washing your brushes with a dedicated cleanser or a mild shampoo at least once a week and allowing them to dry fully before using. If you notice texture issues or that visible film on top of the product despite your efforts, it’s time for a replacement.

3. How often should you replace mascara?

How often should you replace mascara?
Credit: Getty Images / AndreyCherkasov

Each time you open your tube of mascara, bacteria gets into it.

Mascara tubes are bacteria's living dream, as they thrive in moist, dark environments. Because it comes into contact with your eyes (and is nearly impossible to keep sterile), mascara should be replaced every three months. Think about it: Every time you apply mascara onto your eyelashes, you also coat the wand with bacteria from your eye secretions and then re-dip into the tube, introducing new germs with each dip. You can avoid eye infections if you know when to toss your mascara: If the formula is thicker than it was when you first bought it, it's dried out, its consistency is clumpy and flaky, or it smells off, it's time to say goodbye.

We know how tough it is parting ways with a luxury mascara that's gone bad when there's still product left in the tube, so to avoid waste, don't open more than one mascara at a time.

4. How often should you replace makeup pencils?

How often should you replace makeup pencils?
Credit: Getty Images / Gam1983

Pay attention in color and texture changes for your pencil products.

St. Jean says that products in pencil form—eyeliner and lip liner—typically expire after 18 to 24 months. If there's a change in smell, color, or texture (even after sharpening), or if the product has dried out, it's time to toss it. A change in performance is also a dead giveaway—is your kohl eyeliner unable to draw a smooth line? Is your lip liner applying chunky? St. Jean says either of those are indications that it's past its prime. To extend the life of pencil products, keep them away from moisture-rich environments, like your humid car and steamy bathroom.

5. How often should you replace lip products?

How often should you replace lip products?
Credit: Getty Images / misuma

Because you may ingest lip products unknowingly, it's important to stay on top of replacing them.

Lipsticks and liquid lipsticks usually last 12 to 18 months, and because they can be ingested, it's essential to abide by the expiration date. "If it's applying really thick, has a change in taste and smell, or a change in color, it's due to be replaced," St. Jean says.

As for lip glosses, be attune to any change in smell. Aging causes ingredients to break down and the product's scent may turn rancid. If it's in a clear tube and you notice a cloudy appearance, it's time to toss. Typically, glosses last for 12 months before needing a replacement.

6. How often should you replace makeup sponges?

How often should you replace makeup sponges?
Credit: Getty Images / AnastasiiaBabakova

Wash your makeup sponges after each use and replace them often.

Makeup sponges are breeding grounds for bacteria because they are typically used when damp. "It’s imperative that the sponge is washed after each use with anti-bacterial soap and replaced at least every three months," advises St. Jean. If you use a cosmetic wedge, use a new one each time you do your makeup. Also, if your sponge has tears in it, is severely stained, or has lost its cushiony texture, it's time to replace.

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