Do beauty product expiry dates really matter?

When it comes to cleaning and organizing, we tend to focus on our closets. But what about our stash of beauty essentials? Our bathroom shelves are lined with products that we use daily, as well as lipsticks that are saved for special occasions and mystery items that have been there for so long they’ve become invisible.

We tapped beauty industry pros to learn about when, why, and how to use makeup and skincare product expiry dates. Below, we’ve broken down how long your favorite beauty products really last and tips on how to keep them fresh longer.

Do Beauty Product Expiry Dates Really Matter?

How long will an unopened product last?

The expiration dates printed on makeup are guidelines for after the product has been opened. It can be hard to find out when sealed; unopened makeup expires since it isn’t stamped on the packaging.

If makeup is unopened and completely sealed, it should last for 2 to 3 years. That said, creamy products that contain oils or butter, like cream concealers or liquid blushes, may turn earlier because oil can go rancid. Natural makeup formulations without a strong preservative could also go bad if sealed.

In cosmetics, preservatives help prevent bacteria from growing and damaging the product. So even if a product is unopened, it is still possible that it will have some bacteria growth over time. In fact, most products will have some level of bacteria in them by three years.

Is the expiration date on a product just a suggestion?

The shelf life of cosmetics is based on the amount of time that bacteria can grow in the product. Bacteria will cause the product to deteriorate faster and sometimes produce an odor.

To determine how long a cosmetic product can be stored, manufacturers will first determine the worst-case scenario for bacteria growth, then develop a formula for extending that time period to ensure the product remains effective and safe to use. The worst-case scenario is considered to be 25 degrees Celsius, a temperature range that allows bacterial growth within 48 hours.

If you wear makeup, you should throw it away if it expires. But if you use makeup a little bit after its expiration date, you might still be healthy, and the makeup may work fine.

Products like lip liner or eyeliner pencils can last longer than other makeup because they can be sharpened if you want your makeup to last as long as possible.

What happens to the makeup?

Expired makeup can dry out, and you should never use water or saliva to moisten it. It can introduce bacteria into the product. Color pigments may not look as vibrant, and powder may seem packed down and hard to use.

Old makeup can also harbor bacteria which can lead to:

  • Staph and eye infections
  • Rashes
  • Sties
  • Acne

It’s especially important not to use eye makeup past its expiration date, as this will be harmful to the delicate eye area.

How can you tell if the food product you purchased is expired?

All makeup should have an image of a jar with an open lid, followed by a number and the letter “M.” This symbol signifies how many months the product is good for after opening it. It’s helpful to remember around what month you opened it.

Mascara and other eye makeup have a shorter shelf life than a concealer and may be stamped with a 6M, for example, while concealer is usually around 12M. Fragrances may last as long as five years.

The first thing to do is check the smell of the makeup. If it smells off, you should toss it. Make sure that the color hasn’t changed; for example, many concealers will turn orange. Pay attention to whether or not the texture has changed, and throw away if it feels different on your skin.

What about skincare products?

Some skincare products expire and should also be marked with an expiration date. For example, anything in a jar or that comes with a dropper, like a serum, is frequently exposed to air and bacteria on hands and should be thrown away after about nine months. Products that come in a pump may last up to a year.

After the expiration date, active ingredients won’t perform as well. Be especially careful with SPF and sunscreen expiration dates.


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