When It’s Time to Get Rid of Your Makeup

Do a quick check of any bathroom and chances are you’ll find jars of rarely used face cream, the dregs of a favorite powder blush and at least one tube of lip gloss squeezed within an inch of its life. Being that I’m a makeup artist, you can pretty much triple all the habits above. “Hi, my name is Cat and I’m a beauty product hoarder.”

Whether used or unused, these products are taking up space mostly because we want to get every penny we spent on them. But this hoarding habit has a catch: Beauty products do go bad. At best, they stop performing as well as they used to; at worst, they can cause irritations or infections. An added bonus is that decreasing your product stash will speed up your day, too!

 Unopened, well-formulated cosmetics can remain stable for a couple of years at room temperature, but the clock starts once you bring a product home and open it. When air hits the formula, certain ingredients start to oxidize, then degrade. What is more, every time you touch your makeup or skin-care lotions and potions, you transfer germs to them – then subsequently to your face. Also, heat and humidity promote the growth of mold and yeast, which is one reason the bathroom, though convenient, isn’t the ideal spot to store cosmetics. A better place: a cool, dry linen closet.

Oddly U.S. labeling regulations don’t require an expiration date on most cosmetics, and beyond the obvious signs, such as dried mascara or separated foundation, it can be tough to tell when something’s past its prime. So to help you home organize and de-clutter your space, here are some beauty-protecting tips on when to throw away what.

Face Makeup

Toss-it time: Six months for liquids; two years for powders.

Insider info: You increase the odds of bacterial growth, breakouts or irritation when you repeatedly dip your brushes and fingers into liquid foundation. Also, as it ages, foundation can go on unevenly, creating a streaky, inconsistent finish. Oils rises to the top and the consistency thickens. Powders present less of a problem because bacteria can’t grow where there’s no water. However, over time powders with botanical ingredients, such as aloe or jojoba, can become harder to blend and are more likely to crumble as their trace amounts of water evaporate. If you put a lotion or cream on first and then apply a mineral powder, then your brush must be cleaned often, as bacteria will grow there as well and get into the powder.


Toss-it time: Three months or less.

Insider info: A mascara tube is a dark, wet environment, the perfect breeding ground for bacteria. Preservatives in mascara only work for so long, and truthfully three-month-old mascara just doesn’t perform well. It is chalky and powdery, and any lengthening or thickening fibers often separate from the fluid, so the mascara stops going on in a smooth, even coat. To avoid hastening the demise of your mascara, never pump the wand – this pushes air into the tube, causing it to dry out faster. Instead, slowly draw out and twist the brush to scrape the tube’s interior. When good mascara goes bad it can cause all sorts of problems; you can even develop a sty from the mascara wand.

Eyeliner and Eye Shadow

Toss-it time: Liquid eyeliners, three months; cream eye shadows, six months; pencil eyeliners and powder eye shadows, two years.

Insider info: As they do with mascara, bacteria tend to flourish in liquid-eyeliner tubes, and the product dries out. Pencil eyeliners have a longer shelf life because you can create a fresh; clean surface each time you sharpen them. (Just be sure to regularly sanitize your sharpener with rubbing alcohol.) Powder shadows, like pressed powders, are less prone to contamination because they, too, lack water (if you wet them, toss after six months). But aging eye shadows have performance issues: They get packed down, making it harder to pick up pigment with your brush.

Lipstick and Lipliner

Toss-it time: Lipstick and lip gloss, two years; lip liner, two years or more.

Insider info: The water content in lipstick makes it a potential mini-reservoir of bacteria. No surprise, they also dry out with age – they no longer look creamy on the lips. The newer, long-wearing formulas have an even shorter life span, since they often contain ingredients that evaporate more quickly than creamier formulas. Pencil lip liners, like eyeliners, may last a little longer, since putting them through a sharpener removes the old surface.

So in review: Accept that you’re going to be discarding items for which you “paid good money.” Discard anything that smells funny, has separated or has gone past suggested times above. Pitch it if you don’t like the texture, the color or never use it. Placing your left items in categories on the shelf or in a basket will make things move faster and keep your products where you’ll see them – and use them.

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