There’s nothing hotter than vintage looks in clothes and shoes right now, but makeup doesn’t become vintage–it just gets stale. As tempting as it is to hang onto that favorite foundation or beloved lipstick from ages ago, you could be risking your skin by hanging onto old cosmetics.
Cosmetic products contain waxes, oils, and pigments that break down over time. While they won’t transmute into toxic waste or anything else equally drastic, they can contribute to breakouts or even infections. While there are specific expiration dates on some cosmetics, others’ natural lifespans vary depending on what they contain.
When to Toss It Right Away
Any product that develops a funky smell needs to go. Strange smells usually mean that the oils in the product have become rancid or that colonies of bacteria have taken up residence; either way, that’s not something you want on your lips. The same goes for noticeable changes in color; the foundation that was beautiful on you two years ago may now be too yellowed with age to match your skin.
Liquids or creams that separate also need to be weeded out (nail polishes are an exception here, as they will naturally separate over time without becoming unsafe or unusable). You should also toss products that have come into contact with contamination such as flood water, insecticide, or your slobbery puppy’s curious mouth.
Organic products have a shorter shelf life than products containing preservatives; if you choose to buy organic cosmetics, be diligent about replacing them more frequently. The timetables listed below are for traditional cosmetics, not for organic ones.
Once opened, a tube of mascara has the shortest shelf life of all your cosmetics. At best, aging mascara becomes lumpy, inflexible, and flaky (much like my Aunt Claudine, but the less said about that, the better). At worst, it’s a haven for infectious organisms and fungi (fortunately not true of Auntie Cee). If you can’t remember the last time you bought your mascara, it’s probably time to replace it.
When you buy your new mascara, jot the date down on the tube with a Sharpie. This makes it much easier to know when it’s time to replace before you see the effects of old mascara flaking down onto your face.
Six to Eight Months
Liquid and gel eyeliners, like mascara, spend a lot of time in close proximity to your eyes. Eyes are not only the windows to the soul, but also to potential bacterial infections and irritation; protect them from unnecessary harm by tossing out old liquid or gel eyeliners every six to eight months depending on how frequently you use them. Aim for replacing more frequently if you use liquid or gel liners to line the inner rims of your eyelids.
Liquid and cream foundations aren’t at their best after their first birthdays. While you’re probably safe from any greater health issues if you use up the last of a color you just can’t bear to part with, you do risk a greater likelihood of breakouts. Oil-free foundations are likelier than conventional oil-containing products to separate; while you might get a fair bit past the one-year mark with a regular foundation, oil-free versions will likely need replacing sooner.
Another reason to replace foundations is discoloration. Just as it’s easy to miss a few more gray hairs or a couple of pounds gained or lost in the course of a year, it’s easy to miss a foundation that’s slowly turned a different hue than the shade you originally bought.
If it hasn’t turned bitter or “off” in taste or smell, a lipstick generally lasts a couple of years once opened. In fact, they may last even longer, although they tend to dry and become less emollient over time. They don’t hang onto contaminants as easily as more liquid products as they get worn away to a new surface with each use. As they’re heavily pigmented, lipsticks are less likely to suffer noticeable discoloration.
Pencil eyeliners and eyeshadows are good for a couple of years as well. Although they also come close to eyes, they can be sharpened to a fresh new surface unlike liquid products. Their waxier base makes them relatively impervious to drying, too.
Cream blushes may dry, but should remain safe to use for at least two years. Still, it’s a good idea to give them a sniff occasionally to make sure that they’re still fresh; no one wants to apply a future breakout with her blush.
Eyeshadows, powder blushes, and most loose or pressed powders can last for years. These dry products generally contain no oil to go rancid and no moisture to give microbes a happy home. (Note that this doesn’t include cream-to-powder products; those count as creams, not powders when deciding how long they should live in your makeup drawer.)
Most experts will tell you to toss any product after three years. After that time, any preservatives added by the manufacturer will have lost their efficacy.
The Great Beyond
Perfumes and nail polish have no expiration date save the one the product itself will “tell” you. If a nail polish turns gluey or if a perfume smells like…well, like nail polish, then the products are past saving. Otherwise, they’re fine to use. Vintage perfumes often smell as lovely as they did on the day they were bottled; others change subtly over time like fine wines and become a different kind of beautiful. Aging nail polish can sometimes be resuscitated with nail polish thinner (not nail polish remover, which will only ruin the polish if added directly to it).
Egyptian pharaohs’ tombs, when opened, often contain jars that still have a trace of a favorite scent after thousands of years. Given that fact, why not indulge in a spritz of your grandmother’s Chanel No. 5 that she’s had for forty years?