People like to say that beauty doesn’t last forever, but the only time that’s really true is when you’re talking about your beauty products. Most skincare and makeup items have a shelf life because the preservatives in the formulas degrade over time.
“The ingredients evolve, and they’ll eventually go bad,” explains Giorgio Dell’Acqua, Ph.D., chair of the New York Society of Cosmetic Chemists. That’s why it’s important to clean out your beauty cabinet from time to time. That’ll protect you from potential infections and adverse skin reactions (plus it frees up room for new finds!).
Every time you dip your fingers into creams or use an applicator like (brushes and mascara wands) to apply makeup, the products get exposed to bacteria and fungi.
Preservatives prevent this growth, but when those start to break down, the bacteria and fungi can find a breeding ground, thanks to the products’ essential minerals, organic compounds, and high water content.
How to know when to throw away beauty products
Check the expiration date. If you remember when you bought a certain product, you can check the “Period After Opening” date on the ingredients label. Look for a tiny jar icon with a label such as ‘24M.’ That would indicate the product should be used within 24 months of opening.
Test your senses. “If you see a weird color, smell something funny, or feel that the texture has changed—toss it,” says Dell’Acqua.
Check up frequently. “It’s important to go through your makeup bag every six to twelve months and examine your makeup,” says Lee. In addition to giving you a chance to toss whatever has gone bad, it’ll help you better keep track of how long you’ve really had a particular product.
Ahead, learn more about the three common signs that signal a product has gone bad, plus how to keep your favorite beauty items clean.
Signs your beauty products have gone bad
The color is off.
Does your product look as good as it used to? “If the nice white and watery facial cream you bought a few months back now has a yellow color and looks oily—it’s time to get a new one,” says Dell’Acqua. Old foundations and concealers may appear more orange-y and skincare products that contain vitamin C may also turn a dark yellow color.
It smells weird.
Exposure to sunlight and warm temperatures encourage the growth of bacteria that leads to foul odors. Some products, like lipstick, may give off a chemical odor, while creams and moisturizers may have a sour or rancid smell. “Old mascara may smell like gasoline,” adds Lee.
“This happens a lot with sunscreen when people go to the beach,” says Dell’Acqua, but your bathroom can have the same effect. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also warns that bacteria thrive best in warm, moist, protein-rich environments and grow fastest in the temperature range between 41 and 135 degrees Fahrenheit. To prevent the growth of bacteria, try storing your makeup and skincare products in a clean, dry place, away from direct sunlight and moisture.
The texture changed.
As cosmetics and skincare age, their formula changes consistency. Many products will start to harden and crack. “You’ll begin to see separation in creams (and nail polish) because the water and oil molecules will break apart over time, causing the oil to rise to the surface,” explains Dell’Acqua. Mascara will become clumpy and dry, while lipstick may develop tiny holes or start feeling gooey or rubbery.
The general rule of thumb for discarding cosmetics after opening
- Nail Polish: Two years
- Powder foundations and eyeshadow: Two years
- Liquid foundation and concealer: Six to twelve months
- Lipstick, lip pencil, eyeliner pencil, and eyebrow gel: One year
- Blush, bronzer, and face creams: One year
- Lip gloss: Three to six months
- Mascara and blending sponges: Three months
- Facial moisturizers, eye creams, serums: Two years
How to clean your beauty products
Wash your makeup brushes frequently, clean the inside of nozzles, eyeliner tips, eye pencil sharpeners, and everything you regularly use that touches your face. “You should also keep your makeup kits, boxes, drawers, and compartments free of dirt and grime by cleaning it regularly with a cleansing wipe,” says Lee. This will help prevent bacteria from growing on or inside of your products. Below, check out a few derm-approved products you can use to clean and sanitize your beauty tools.