Not Sure if Your Makeup Has Expired? Here’s How to Tell


Let’s be real. Most of us probably have a few questionable products chilling in our makeup bag, or maybe an entire drawer full of items that haven’t seen much light, but that we’ve kept around “just in case.” Here’s the thing: there’s some gray area regarding when to throw makeup away, but if expiration has long passed then it’s your skin that’ll pay the price.

“I totally feel the pain of letting go of your favorite lipstick or shadow, but it’s important to throw expired cosmetics away since they can trap bacteria. Using these old products can lead to infections or skin irritation,” explains Dr. Nazanin Saedi, a board-certified dermatologist based in Philadelphia, Penn.

In the name of sanitary vanities, we asked experts to help us figure out when it’s time to say sayonara to even our most treasured beauty loot.

Makeup Brushes: 5 years

The thing about makeup brushes is that you can wash them – which you ought to do once every week or two. “It’s important to wash your brushes regularly because they can trap bacteria and dirt,” says Dr. Saedi. There are specific washes made for brushes, but I often wash with a plain face wash like Cetaphil, warm water, and then leave them out to dry. It’s amazing what comes out after a few weeks.” You might be able to squeeze even more than five years out of a brush but pay attention to its quality and whether it’s still delivering.

Sunscreen: 3 years

Though not technically a cosmetic, it should be part of your everyday regimen – and you should be using it often enough (every day!) to not have to worry about expiration anyway. Still, if you’ve got an old bottle or tube lying around then three years is the max lifespan. However, if it’s been kept somewhere warm has been half used, it’s probably better to throw it after six months to one year. Look out for changes in the texture or a separating of the formula – the longer SPF is open and exposed to air/ heat, the faster the efficacy of the SPF fades.

Primers: 2 years

“Primer will start to separate or clump up, depending on the type of formula, once it’s expired,” says Marlena Stell, founder of Makeup Geek Cosmetics. “Two years is a good life span. After that it should be tossed.”

Liquid Foundations: 1 year

“Liquids always expire first, and the first sign will be an odd smell and severe separation in formula. They also can dry out,” says Stell. “Using an expired foundation can cause it to oxidize – AKA turn orange on your skin after a short time of wearing – plus they can cause all sorts of skin infections.”

False Eyelashes: 4 to 5 years

False lashes can last about four to five years but ditch them sooner if they start to look bad. Also, Dr. Saedi says to avoid getting makeup on them in order to prevent bacteria from growing. She adds, “Keep them clean and dry in between uses. If they don’t stay on or have clumps of other product, it’s time to let them go!” Make sure you wash them thoroughly between uses

Mascara: 3 months

Three months seems short, but trust us. “With mascara, the risk is greater. The tubes harbor bacteria and make it much easier for contamination in the product, which can lead to eye infections such as conjunctivitis, styes, or pink eye,” says Breana Hume, a licensed esthetician and makeup artist at Blue Water Spa. Physical signs mascara has gone bad: it’s dried out, flaky, or not giving you the same va-va-voom it once did.

Brow Gels & Liquid Liners: 1 year

“Anything that is dipped into a product is at a higher risk of bacterial growth. Bacteria can grow in the tube and cause break outs near your brows,” says Hume. “If the color changes in your brow gel, it smells funky, or it’s drying out then you should throw it away.”

Pencils: 3 years

This includes eye, lip, and brow pencils. Pencil products tend to last longer because they’re consistently sharpened. They are, however, at risk for drying out and becoming crumbly. If this happens, goodbye!

Lipsticks: 2 to 3 years

The very nature of lipstick means it makes contact with your mouth every time you use it. This can create a harboring ground for bacteria. You can slice off a thin layer of the tip to “refresh” the lipstick, but if it becomes dry, chalky, or changes consistency then to the bin it goes.

Lip Gloss & Balms: 6 months to 1 year

“Lip gloss has an increased risk for contamination because we often double-dip. If the gloss changes color or smells, it’s gone bad,” says Dr. Saedi. “Try to avoid the balms that you are constantly dipping your fingers in. If you have a cold sore, toss the gloss you used!”

Pressed Powders: 2 years  

This category includes foundation, eyeshadows, blushes, bronzers, setting powder, and any other pressed powder cosmetics. “When these products get too chalky or break, it’s time for a replacement,” says Dr. Saedi. “Eye products should be replaced sooner than other products like blush because they are used around the eye and the eyes are more prone to infection.”

Water-Based Cosmetics: 1 to 2 years

This includes any sort of water-based cosmetics, such as tints, gels, sprays, mists, and serums. Some primers and foundations are also water-based. If it’s separating or has changed in color or smell, it’s soured.

Cream-Based Cosmetics: 1 year

This includes products formulated with oils and butters, such as foundation, bb creams, and cream eyeshadows, blushes, and highlighters. Some primers and foundations are also cream-based. Similar to water-based cosmetics, if the texture, color, or smell has changed then it’s gone bad. You might also notice a change in the way the makeup applies, such as streaking, flaking, and quick oxidation.

Cheat Sheet for When You’re in Doubt

Time to Say Buh-Bye if a Product:

  • Looks different
  • Smells different
  • Doesn’t apply well anymore
  • Has dried out
  • Has separated
  • Appears old AF or is old AF!