When Does Makeup Expire? A Quick Guide to Expiration Dates & How To Tell If Your Makeup Has Already Gone Bad

Wednesday 5 April 2017

When Does Makeup Expire?
Over the weekend, I went through my entire makeup collection and had a proper Spring Clean where I ended up throwing away a lot of makeup that had gone off. It was terribly sad looking at bags of products that I'd neglected or just hadn't gotten around to using before they'd expired, and I couldn't help thinking about how much money I'd wasted!

I'm guessing this happens to many beauty bloggers and makeup fans alike; we often buy far more than we could ever use, and inevitably situations like this will happen when you finally take the plunge and do a big old clearout.

But how do you know when your makeup expires or goes off if there's no 'best before' date on it? There are two main ways; the common 'period after opening' symbol below, and the easy look/smell/performance test, and you use both of these methods to determine whether your makeup has already gone off or can be used a little longer.
period after opening symbol
Look For The 'Period After Opening' Symbol 
This PAO symbol is one that features on pretty much all beauty and toiletries products that have been manufactured in a factory. Whether it's makeup, haircare, skincare or bath and body stuff, it will most likely have this symbol on the container somewhere (usually on the back). The symbol applies to the amount of time that you have to use that product after it has been opened. 

Once a product is opened, it's immediately exposed to the air which is when bacteria can start to get inside it - this is why many products have those foil 'safety seals' to keep them airtight until they're opened. Most mainstream brands will use preservatives in their formulas which keep the product going for a standard 12 months (12M) and some can be even longer (such as 24M and 36M) before it starts to go off, or the ingredients inside become less effective. 

If you're a green beauty fan and buy a lot of natural and organic-based products, you may have spotted lots of PAO symbols that feature 3M or 6M, as many natural products generally don't use preservatives or use a lot less of them, so they naturally have a much shorter shelf life.

So that's easy yeah? Well, it is if you can remember when you actually opened something. If not, you can enlist the help of the look/smell/performance test.
When Does Makeup Expire?The Look/Smell/Performance Test
This three question test is super easy. Grab a product and ask yourself:-

1. Does it look OK? A liquid foundation that has expired may have separated (be more watery at the top for example), a lipstick might look mouldy and discoloured, or a powder compact may have developed a hard coating. If it doesn't look like something that you'd buy from a shop, it's probably gone off.

2. Does it smell OK? Makeup that has gone off may develop a really nasty/pungent smell (often the case with mascaras), others will have a more subtle mouldy or damp scent to them. If it didn't smell like that when you bought it, it's time to bin it!

3. Does it still perform as it should? Expired products generally won't work as well as they used to, which is an indicator that it's been exposed to the air for too long or that the ingredients have gone bad. If a product no longer blends as well, has gone gloopy/sticky, dried out or changed texture, or you don't get the colour payoff that you used to with it, it's time to say goodbye.
When Does Makeup Expire?
A General Guide to Common Expiration Dates for Makeup

Natural & Organic Makeup (3-6 Months) - As I mentioned earlier, most natural and organic based makeup don't use preservatives or use a lot less of them in their formulas, so keep an eye on your green beauty buys. Mineral foundations and mineral based powder products seem to be the exception to this rule as they will often keep for 1-3 years depending on which brands you buy.

Mascaras & Liquid Eyeliners (3-6 Months) - Mascaras typically have the shortest lifespan in your makeup bag, and many experts recommend that you bin them after they've been open for 3 months to avoid getting eye infections caused by bacteria getting into the tube (this is also why you should NEVER share your mascara with your friends!). If your mascara hasn't dried out by then, and you don't have any problems with eye infections, you can use it for anywhere between 4-6 months, but keep an eye on that look/smell/performance test and bin it when it doesn't tick one of those boxes. Same goes for liquid eyeliners.  

Any Liquid & Cream Products: Foundations, Concealers, Lipglosses, Cheek Stains, Cream Eyeshadows etc (1 year) -  The guideline for any product that has a liquid/cream consistency is around a year as they contain a lot more water and hydrating ingredients that bacteria likes to grow in. Again, enlist the look/smell/performance test as these products will often change texture or separate when they start going bad.

Pencil Liners: Lipliners & Eyeliners (1-2 years) - Most pencil liners will keep for around 2 years, but if you don't put their lids back on properly and don't sharpen them regularly, they can start to go off in a year due to air exposure and bacteria build-up.

Lipsticks (2 years) - Lipsticks are the main exception to the cream based rule as they are often formulated with 'sturdier' binding ingredients to help it keep its form for longer. However, you do need to keep them clean and make sure the lids are put straight back on after use. If you carry a lippie in your handbag, go for one with a magnetic lid to stop it falling off in your bag.

Powder Products: Eyeshadows, Blushers, Bronzers, Highlighters, Foundations (2 years) - If you don't wear makeup daily or often, powder products are a much better option than their liquid counterparts, as the lack of water content means they can fend off bacteria for longer periods of time. That said, you do still need to use them with clean makeup brushes, and close lids on any compacts after use.

Nail Polish (2 years) - Nail Polish is a funny one. Most people say around 2 years, but I've found that different brands keep longer than others, so I always go by how it looks and how it still performs, before deciding whether to throw it out. If it's gone gloopy though, I'll bin it. 

Have you had a Spring Clean through your makeup collection recently?
Do you throw out expired products regularly?

*Special thanks to Just My Look for providing the makeup products above to illustrate this feature. Check them out if you need to stock up on any new makeup here!

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  1. Nice post! I keep a lot of stuff after the PAO.
    I have 2 pencil eyeliners for 10 years. It's terrible, I know. But they are great! They are not weird in any way, no allergies, nothing.

    We really have to use some common sense and evaluate this kind of products. I believe some people are throwing away perfectly wearable stuff

    Blog: Experiências e Constatações

    1. I think this is why the Look/Smell/Performance test is so useful - you can use it to decide for yourself whether you're happy to continue using a product or not. If your 10 year old eyeliners still work great and you're OK with using them, then that's awesome! :)

      With some makeup, I'm very fussy about expiry dates, especially mascaras because I've had eye infections in the past (not from mascara use but they're not pleasant however you get them!), and with other items, I'm a little more relaxed, though I try to stick to dates when I can remember them x

  2. Love this post! I really enjoy having a good clear-out but it's crazy how much you can get rid of once you start being ruthless about expiry dates! xx


    1. Thanks Beth! Oh definitely - I was quite shocked with how much I got rid of! xx


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