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How Long Can You Hold On To Makeup Products? Expert Tips On When To Toss It

Jamie Schneider
mbg Beauty & Wellness Editor By Jamie Schneider
mbg Beauty & Wellness Editor
Jamie Schneider is the Beauty & Wellness Editor at mindbodygreen, covering beauty and wellness. She has a B.A. in Organizational Studies and English from the University of Michigan, and her work has appeared in Coveteur, The Chill Times, and Wyld Skincare.
How Long Can You Hold Onto Makeup Products? Expert Tips On When To Toss It
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Question: When was the last time you gave your makeup bag a spruce? If it's been a few months or if your immediate thought is some iteration of, Uh, whenever I run out of product? it's time to take a good, long look at your arsenal—it's probably time to replace a few products. 

Yes, you need to regularly swap out your makeup, even if you don't hit pan. A foundation gathering dust will not only separate and pill on the skin, but the ingredients also have the potential to go rancid, which can cause irritation. So grab your beauty bag and peruse the expiration dates below—let us walk you through a much-needed cleanup. 

When to toss your makeup products. 

Check your makeup labels, and chances are you'll see a number followed by the letter "M." That icon conveys the number of months the product should last, and you should consider it the absolute "must-toss" date. 

However! Depending on user behavior, makeup products can expire well before the general time stamp. Read: A tube of mascara frequently left without its cap will expire way quicker than one that's sealed tight. That said, there are a few telltale signs to watch out for—if you notice any of these markers, it's likely time to toss it: 

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1. Eyeliner

"Most liners have a pretty decent shelf life—up to a year or more," says makeup artist Jenny Patinkin. But if the product is so dry to the point that it shrinks inside the casing (which makes it loose and wobbly), it's likely time to part ways. "That means the wax has hardened, and it will tug too much on the delicate lid skin when you try to apply," she says. 

2. Mascara

Mascara has a notoriously short shelf life—perhaps the quickest of all makeup products. Since you're pumping the wand in and out of the tube before applying it to your eye areas (and repeat), it's easy for bacteria to sneak its way into the formula. So you'll want to snag a new tube every three to four months. It may sound like a quick turnaround, but trust that you don't want to introduce bacteria to the sensitive eye area. 

In terms of how to tell if it's gone bad, "The easiest way to tell if your mascara is contaminated or is too old is to give it a sniff," says Patinkin. "If it smells sour, or a little acidic, then toss right away." 

3. Lipstick

On the other end of the spectrum, you have lipsticks—these have a pretty decent shelf life, says Patinkin. "Often because they are made with preservatives that keep them from oxidizing or hardening," she notes. "A couple of years, or sometimes even more, is fine to hang on to a lipstick." 

And if your lippie has stiffened to the point where you can't easily glide on the pigment? You're probably better off tossing it. 

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4. Foundations, concealers, and highlighters

For all your cream products (including cream or liquid blush, we should add), user behavior can shorten the shelf life quite a bit. "So much about keeping your foundations or other cream products fresh is about making sure to put the cap or lid back on tightly after each use and making sure to store it in a temperature- and light-controlled place," says Patinkin. "When it heats and cools, the ingredients can separate and change the consistency. When too much air gets to it, it can oxidize and change color." 

She recommends checking on your cream formulas every 12 to 18 months—the expiration date stamped on the label may extend way beyond that, but make sure you're not noticing any signs of rancidity. 

5. Powders and eye shadows

Powder products (like blushes, bronzers, setting powders, eye shadows, etc.) should theoretically last a long while—there's no water or oil in the formula, so there's no shot of it going rancid, right? 

Not so. "The biggest problem with powder products is the transfer of oils from your makeup brushes on to the pan, building up and leaving those shiny little speckles on the surface," notes Patinkin. Ever opened your compact only to find it riddled with chalky, hardened areas? That hardpan can make it very difficult to pick up product with your brush, not to mention a less than enjoyable makeup experience.

When this happens, Patinkin says you can take a dull butter knife and gently scrape away the speckles. "If you keep your powders speckle-free, they can last up to three years or more," she says. You'll also want to clean your makeup brushes regularly to keep away the hardpan in the first place—but if it does happen, it's a relatively easy fix. 

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The takeaway.

Pay attention to your makeup; if you notice any changes in texture or smell, it's probably time to part ways. Even if the expiration date on the label isn't for a few more months, user behavior can certainly play a role. And when it comes to products you slather on your face (skin care, too!), it's far better to be safe than sorry.

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