“Even though cosmetics manufacturers aren’t required by law to put expiration dates on their products, makeup does not last forever. Jacqueline Bissett/Getty Images
In a world of endless YouTube tutorials, celebrity-endorsed lip kits, and candy-colored shimmers and sheens as far as the eye can see, makeup has never felt more glamorous, accessible … or prone to improper use and bacterial overgrowth? OK, so it’s the less-than-sexy secret no one likes to talk about, but it’s true: Cosmetics can go from super sexy to straight-up disgusting really quick if you’re not swapping out your old Sephora finds for fresh products on the regular.
It may be the last thing you look for when you’re scrutinizing the label of a foundation, gloss or shadow, but many makeup products have best-used-by dates. And if you swear up and down you’ve never seen one, you probably haven’t: According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, cosmetics manufacturers aren’t required by law to provide those dates. But even in the absence of printed expiration dates, your cosmetics do have a shelf life. So while concealing your dark circles may get you carded at the bar, you can’t cheat time when it comes to your beauty arsenal.
We asked Los Angeles-based makeup artist Allie Renee to break down the do’s, don’ts and oh-my-god-seriously-don’ts of makeup hygiene so you can clean out your makeup bags and avoid any nasty beauty blunders.
How often should we toss out and replace our makeup?
A good overall rule to go by is if it’s a creamy formula and has been open for a year or longer, toss it. Chances are, it’s bad.
What are the big differences between products?
Mascaras have a much shorter lifespan because you are adding oxygen, debris and bacteria to the formula every time you use it, and this formula goes on one of the most sensitive parts of the body, your eyes. I recommend throwing away mascaras after about four months, or whenever the formula starts failing.
Generally, powders last quite a while longer because they aren’t as likely to contain agents for bacteria to cling onto and don’t provide the environment that bacteria prefer to thrive in.
Lipsticks are interesting because despite being a cream, they can generally last a bit longer. Keep the lid on it, clean it off occasionally, and unless it starts to smell strange or have inconsistent texture, they can typically last about a year-and-a-half to two years.
What are the risks of using makeup past its expiration date?
Major risks of letting your makeup live past its expiration can include majorly blocked pores, breakouts, cold sores, eye infections and exacerbated skin conditions. The primary cause of all of these is due to introducing bacteria to your skin.
What’s a good way to make sure we don’t keep products too long?
While not all cosmetics are required to have expiration dates, a good indicator of how long you should be keeping and using the particular item is by looking for a jar symbol with a number on the packaging. This is how long after opening until the product is no longer recommended to be used. These expiration dates do vary by product type, so a good way to keep track of when you bought an item is to use a permanent marker to write the month or date of purchase.
Using common sense with your products is also important. If you notice a change in texture, scent, color, the way it applies, or have had unusual breakouts, or an eye infection, definitely throw them away!
What about brushes and applicators?
To prevent product buildup, it’s so important to clean the tools you use for your beauty routine. Both brushes and sponges are porous and can harbor bacteria, oil and debris. Keeping your brushes clean can ensure a longer lifespan, as well as a cleaner, more consistent, makeup application.
Generally, I recommend complexion brushes be washed at least twice a month and all other makeup brushes monthly. A good way to keep up with cleanliness is to use a brush cleanser between monthly deep cleanings.
The best way to wash brushes is by wetting the bristles with lukewarm water, spray a brush cleanser onto the bristles, then massage a baby shampoo into the bristles until they are clean. Squeeze out the excess water, reshape the brush, then leave it to air dry.
Beauty blenders should be cleaned after every use or at the very least once a week, due to buildup of makeup products, skin, oil and bacteria. These reusable sponges can last about three to four months if you take care of them and keep them clean. The brand Beauty Blender makes an amazing sponge cleanser. Simply wet the sponge, massage the cleanser into the sponge, rinse until the sponge is clean then leave to air dry. If you notice any dark spots on them, throw them away immediately.
What else should we know about keeping our products (and faces) in good shape?
If you use a compact powder for touch-ups, please change your sponge! Not only will the sponge harbor bacteria, but you can also transfer oil to the powder that will create a hard film over the product. You can buy virtually any size replacement for the compact.
And if you have had pink eye or a cold sore, I recommend throwing away any products you may have used on these areas during this time. Once the cosmetic product has been contaminated, the products will continuously spread this infection.
Now That’s Interesting
Bacteria may pose a risk to modern-day makeup wearers, but 16th-century nobles like Queen Elizabeth I exposed themselves to potentially scarier stuff by using something called Venetian ceruse (or Spirits of Saturn), a combination of vinegar and … lead! It supposedly smoothed the complexion but came with the nasty side effects of hair loss, skin discoloration and rotting teeth. Pretty!