Spring cleaning means more than just your windows and your fridge. When you dig those summer shorts out of the basement this May, you should really take a look into your makeup bag too. How long have you had that mascara? That blush that’s almost gone, how old is that?
The truth is that cosmetics have expiration dates too and if you can’t remember when you last bought foundation, it is time to replace it.
Like groceries, fragrances, moisturizers, and makeup only last so long—and what you put on your skin is almost as important as what you eat.
“The moment you open a new tube of mascara or bottle of lotion, the clock starts ticking,” says Anne Marie Fine, an Arizona-based naturopathic physician and skin specialist.
High end, conventional, or organic products all start to harbor germs the minute they make contact with your skin. Although it may sound like good savings to use them for as long as they last, it isn’t good for you. Remember that what you put on your skin is as important as what you eat. It’s all absorbed and used by our bodies and if they are expired they can irritate or cause infection.
“An expired moisturizer, for example, might irritate your skin,” says Fine. “But it could further harm you, especially if it contains certain ingredients that eventually break down into carcinogens.”
Because we don’t know how badly expired products can harm us, it’s best not to take the chance. Each time you open a new product, mark it with a Sharpie. Then you’ll always know when it’s time to toss it.
If you haven’t noticed this on your product, look for it. It’s the Period After Opening icon and it’s there to keep tabs on the product’s freshness. The number will tell you how many months the product should be used after breaking the seal.
Lasts: Three to four months
Toss it sooner if: You get an infection, such as pink eye, or it dries out.
Insider info: Replace often. “Bacteria gets transferred easily from your eyes into the container via the brush,” says Fine. If you do contract an eye infection, toss all eye makeup and start fresh after it has cleared up.
Lasts: Up to two years
Toss it sooner if: It gets suspiciously crumbly or shiny.
Insider info: “You can literally see powder going bad,” says Fine. “When it glistens or disintegrates, that’s a sign the moisture has evaporated from the cakes.”
Lasts: A year with wand, two years with direct or brush application
Toss it sooner if: You get a cold sore or other lip infection.
Insider info: Like mascara, you transfer germs and bacteria back into the tube with every application. Swap the wand that comes with the gloss with a washable wand. If you get an infection, toss all lip stuff and start over.
Lasts: Up to three years, with sharpening
Toss it sooner if: It becomes either unusually dry or melty.
Insider info: Sharpen often. “Every time you sharpen a liner or lip pencil, you get rid of the part that touched your face where bacteria lives,” says Fine. Cap pencils firmly when not in use to avoid other contaminants.
Lasts: Up to two years
Toss it sooner if: The color changes or separation occurs.
Insider info: Did you know that the oxygen that gets into the bottle when you open and close it can help it break down faster? Close caps right after use or get one with a pump dispenser.
Lasts: About two years in a pot; up to three years in a pump
Toss it sooner if: You notice a change in the smell or consistency.
Insider info: Pump dispensers minimize bacteria. If you use moisturizer in a pot or jar, use a spatula to get it out to minimize bacteria transfer from your fingers. Organic and natural creams and lotions may last longer when kept cold in the fridge.
Lasts: Up to a year
Toss sooner if: The expiration date on the tube or package has passed.
Insider info: Active ingredients in sunscreens and sunblocks occur when they are opened and sit in the hot sun. Fine suggests being conservative. “Always toss them within a year of opening.”
Lasts: About two years
Toss it sooner if: It doesn’t smell the way it used to.
Insider info: “Resist the urge to display your favorite scent on your vanity,” says Fine, “no matter how pretty the bottle.” Instead, store it in a cool, dry, dark space to keep air and light from degrading its quality.