Does makeup go off?

Does makeup go off? How to tell when it’s time to throw your old beauty products away

6th April 2024 | Author: Nina Nagel

We all know food has a shelf-life but when it comes to cosmetics, we might be more reluctant to chuck it away. Especially when most makeup doesn’t come cheap.

It’s also tricky to know when makeup has reached, or exceed this expiration date because makeup products tend not to manifest the same obvious signs; your lipstick won’t go mouldy, your mascara won’t sprout hair – but that doesn’t mean it’s still good to use. And it can cause health issues.

READ NEXT: Are your makeup brushes making you sick?

As we explained in our Are your makeup brushes making you sick? article, the combination of leftover makeup, skin cells, oils from your face and whatever else might get onto your makeup brushes, and into your palettes and pots, means your makeup bag is a hotbed for bacterial growth.

A study that looked at two brands of mascara found bacteria including Staphylococcus epidermidis. Strains including Streptococcus, and E-coli have been found on makeup brushes, and remains of dead mites can sometimes be seen on makeup under the microscope. Vom.

How to tell your makeup has gone bad

“All beauty products expire, especially if they have active ingredients in them – which refer to components that are added to target a particular problem or concern (fine lines or age spots),” says founder of solid soap company Beauty Kin, Nada Ward. “These kinds of ingredients can encourage faster bacteria growth which, if applied to the face, can cause reactions such as irritation or redness.”

As a general rule, most products will have an indicator of how long they’ll last once you opened them, so once the actual product is exposed to all the germs in the air and inevitably on your skin. The symbol looks like a little pot with an open lid and will have a number on the inside. This number refers to the number of months the particular product is safe to use, see below.

Does makeup go offmamabella | mamabella

“If you have very sensitive skin, a simple shift in the way the formula is made up could cause your complexion to become inflamed, like if you keep a face cream in direct sunlight,” continues Ward. “If bacteria has set in, there may even be a particular smell coming off the product, which is always a good indicator of when to know to throw something away.”

But what if the product you bought doesn’t have the expiration icon, or you can’t find it? Or what if you’ve used your favourite product so much that the label has rubbed off? Don’t you worry, we’ve got you!

Here is a list of how long each category of cosmetics lasts. Individual products may differ, depending on the formulation, but this chart should give you a guide.

Shortest lifespan: 2-3 months

  • Mascara
  • Face peels and masks
  • Pads soaked in product, e.g. acne pads

6 months – 1 year

1-1.5 years

  • Eyebrow gel
  • Shower gel
  • Bar soap
  • Sunscreen
  • Face cream (jar)
  • Cream eyeshadow
  • Lip gloss

2 years

3 years

What about beauty tools?

Many people know makeup has an expiry date – even if they don’t follow them – but you also need to be aware that your beauty tools don’t last forever.

The loofah is possibly one of the most well-known examples. A lot of bacteria can get stuck on it, therefore you should change them out every 2-3 months. Same goes for nail files, as the hands are the parts of our body most exposed to germs, get a new one every 2-3 months.

Your makeup brushes and beauty blenders will last much longer, but only if you take care of them. This is why it’s vital your clean your makeup brushes and blenders at least once a week. This also helps avoid bacteria and can control breakouts.

WANT TO KNOW MORE? How to clean makeup brushes and how to clean beauty blenders

As much as we understand the need to want to make the most out of your money and use cosmetics until nothing is left, health does come first. Using expired products puts you at higher risk of infections. That’s especially dangerous when it comes to eye makeup, as our eyes are one of the most delicate parts of our bodies.

Recycle old makeup for new

Makeup recycling logos what they meanmamabella | mamabella

If you’ve got draws full of old makeup that you didn’t realise had gone past their best (or you have no idea how long you’ve had them!), it can be disheartening. Particularly if it’s not that easy to just go and buy replacements.

We recommend you focus on replacing your eye products first, as they’ll likely cause the biggest health concerns, and then skin products.

In all of our Best Buys lists, we include makeup and skincare products that cover a range of budgets, including Budget Buys – the best products from the best cheap makeup brands. You can also check out our dedicated cheap makeup round up. Everytime we find a great cheap makeup or skincare product, we add it to the list.

Alternatively, an increasing number of brands now let you swap old makeup for new and offer makeup recycling. These include MAC, Kiehl’s and Lush.

For the MAC reward, swap six old MAC products for a free lipstick.

For the Kiehl’s reward, you can collect a stamp for every old product you return and once you get 10 stamps, you’ll get a free travel-sized product.

For the Lush reward, swap five old Lush products for a free face mask.

Aveda, Garnier and Origins are among the brands who offer a free recycling service, but they don’t give you anything in return. Origins will also recycle packaging from other brands, too.

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