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Cosmetic Expiration Dates: When to Throw them Out

Just about everything has an expiration date on it if it’s consumable, right? Why then can’t cosmetics and toiletries have a time limit, considering we put those in our hair and on our skin? We know they are somewhat consumable since we absorb them through our largest organ – our skin.

Bacteria Buildup

According to the FDA, cosmetics aren’t required by law to have expiration dates, so you can’t just look at the label to know when a product has retired. However, some companies are labeling dates on their products for consumers who would rather not have more bacteria on their skin than necessary.

Be aware that expiration dates are simply a guide to go by and that a product’s safety may expire long before the expiration date if the product has not been properly stored. For instance, cosmetics exposed to high temperatures or sunlight, or opened and examined by consumers prior to purchase may substantially deteriorate before the expiration date.

Makeup preservatives should kill common bacteria (personally, I stay away from preservatives unless they are plant based), but studies show, that a little bit of bacteria is in makeup even before we buy it. Once you open your new product, airborne bacteria swarms in. This bacteria adds up as you touch the product with unclean hands, and is even more compounded when you use an unclean applicator. Know that aging cosmetics lose their power to fight this bacteria no matter how gentle and clean you are when using it.

So the question is how long can we keep our little ‘miracles in a bottle’, and can we extend the shelf life of them to protect ourselves from infections, like pink eye and skin breakouts?

See the chart below for general guidelines:

Product Type Product Expiration Period
Make-up Liquid Foundation 3 – 6 months
Cream Foundation 4 – 6 months
Foundation in a Pump Dispenser Lasts a little longer than Cream Foundation, because it is less exposed to air than jar foundation. If it has a higher percentage of pigment, such as mineral makeup, then you have about a year.
Concealer 6 – 8 months
Powders, including eye shadows and blush 1 year
Mascara 3 months
Hint: Never pump your mascara; air just pushes back into the tube. Clean your wand with tissue every couple of days. It helps prevent clumping.
Lip gloss and lipstick 1 year
Eye and lip pencils Over 1 year with continued use of sharpening; you’ll know when it has gone bad if it crumbles.
Body Washes and Skin Care Facial cleansers and moisturizers 6 months, unless they contain acids like glycolic acid, salicylic acid, and beta hydroxyl acid. If so, then they will have a longer shelf life. Try putting eye cream in the fridge. It feels great on tired eyes. Plus, it keeps it out of the heat.
Facial Toner 1 year, but if it has vitamin C in it, the nutrients can lose potency before a year
Natural body washes 6 months
Brushes Wash regularly, as often as once a week with mild soap and warm water, or use a spray brush cleaner – You can use alcohol; it’s a little harsh, but it works for emergencies.
Makeup sponges Need to be cleaned after every use. Toss within a month or when sponges show wear and tear.

When applying make-up, here is one more tip: Use a disposable applicator and use the front of your hand as a palette.

Another risk for infection can be from sharing makeup, which increases the risk for contamination. Testers at department store cosmetic counters are a great example of spreading bacteria. I used to work at a popular cosmetic counter 15 years ago and procedures have not changed much. It’s hard to keep your eyes on the cosmetic counter when people constantly stick their hands in the makeup and try it on without asking for help. Please be careful at the counters and make sure pencils are sharpened and tools are used when makeup is applied.

These guidelines are to help keep you safe and give you confidence when purchasing products and preserving them. Like the old saying goes, when in doubt, throw it out, especially if there’s no date.


Medical College of Wisconsin
Tips for Safe Keeping and Use of Cosmetics
U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition

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