Well Being

When To Toss: The Very Short Shelf Lives Of Cosmetics

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how long is makeup good for

By the time I came into this world, my mother had mostly stopped wearing makeup–but that didn't mean she didn't have a large cardboard box of very-bright cosmetics circa 1982 which I routinely dove into. And while I didn't die or break out in a disfiguring rash, the truth is that all of that makeup (and, indeed, probably much of the makeup in medicine cabinets and dresser drawers across the country) was expired. Because, apparently, the shelf lives of cosmetics are a lot shorter than most of us think.

Makeup, it turns out, goes bad more quickly than a blind date at a comedy club. But unlike food, which turns rank and becomes inedible, cosmetics usually just go from “weird smelling and clumpy” to “different weird smelling and more clumpy,” which makes it hard to tell. Really, the first symptoms of sour creams and liners is that they don't function quite as well. Lipstick is no longer smooth, concealer flakes more, and mascara becomes like crumbly mud.

Unfortunately, in the interest of keeping their good stash for the long haul, a lot of women will use little hacks, like adding acetone to nail polish bottles to thin out chunks, or heating up lip balm in the microwave. Do not do this. It not only degrades your cosmetics faster, it also puts you at risk of bacteria that can grow in warm, dark places (like the mascara tube in your purse).

And really, that's what you've got to worry about when it comes to expired makeup–you're not going to die from using it, but you will be putting your precious pores and follicles and nail beds at risk of bacteria and other crud that can clog your pores, give you styes, cause a breakout, or otherwise put you in a world of discomfort. And really, if your makeup is making your skin worse, it's kind of defeating the purpose.

Instead of trying to prolong the lives of your cosmetics, just toss them when their time is up. If you're worried about waste, look into products that use post-consumer recycled packaging, or reusable powder or cream compacts. Also, just a quick reminder: green or eco-friendly makeup might go bad even sooner, because it has fewer stabilizers.

Image: Graça Victoria via Shutterstock