Cosmetics. How old is too old?

August 09, 2016

Cosmetics. How old is too old?

We have all picked up a bottle or tube of personal care product or makeup and hesitated to use it because we were unsure if it had passed its “safe” usage time frame. Here’s what you need to know so you can make safe decisions.

When you purchase your products look for three things on the packaging.

  1.  Little “open jar” images

    This is the recommended usage times in months. There are a few brands that don’t, but this has become regular practice in this industry. These symbols are for both safety and efficacy. The plain facts are, the longer its hanging it loses its potency, efficacy and textures change. This is also a means of controlling bacterial (and sometimes other scarier things) issues. So if you want you product to do its job? Use it in the recommended time.

    There is great information on how to manage your cosmetic usage in this article.

  2. An expiry date.

    This is where it can get a bit complicated. Expiry dates are on products containing sun protection. The sun protection factor (SPF) has a time limit that does not require the jar to be open. It starts its decline of efficacy from the time it is packaged. ALWAYS check for an expiry date when purchasing any product containing SPF.  What if the “open container” reads 12M and the SPF expired 6 months into use? That means the SPF is unstable, but the product is still good. Conversely, if  a 12M open jar has been open 12 months and the expiry date is longer, the product has reached its safe usage time, the SPF status isn’t relevant at this point.

  3. Compromised packaging or broken seals

    I spent 20 years out in the mainstream beauty world before I joined the green side. ALWAYS check the packaging before you buy it. There are many customers who open products, touch them, smell the and put them back on the self rather than using a tester. This could mean your product has been open for a period of time before you even got a chance to bring it home.


What is lurking in cosmetics that are past a recommended usage period?

I have always found this part of the topic overwhelming, scary and really disgusting. The bacterium that have made their home and are proliferating in your old cosmetics can be really dangerous, make you very sick, cause eye infections and skin problems.

There have been some great studies done on this subject.  Here is a great article to learn more.


What the heck do you do with the expired stuff?

Dispose of the product and find the packaging’s waste stream so you can keep it out of the land fill. You can also read our blog post that goes into detail about how to recycle your old cosmetics.

Recommended Shelf Life for Cosmetics

1-2 years. Powder and stick form they can last for up to two years, but liquid form should be replaced after only 1. Avoid transferring bacteria by regularly washing your brushes or replacing sponges – applying with fingers are more likely to transfer bacteria, especially if you don’t wash your hands right before applying.

3 months. Mascara has a very short lifespan due to the risk of transferring bacteria back and forth from your eye into the mascara tube. Never try to water down or re-wet your mascara if it starts to dry out!

Liquid eyeliner
3 months. Same deal as the mascara – you don’t want to risk getting an eye infection!

Lipstick and Lip Gloss
2 years. Make sure to clean the tip on a regular basis.

Eye pencils
2 years. Make sure to clean and sharpen the tip on a regular basis.

Eye shadow
1 year for liquid, 2 years for powder. Always keep your applicators clean! If you use your fingers to apply, make sure to wash your hands first.

1 year for cream blushes, 2 years for powder. You will also know they are going bad if the colour starts to get cakey or darken.

Makeup Sponges
uses for cheap makeup sponges (one use each side), 1 month for higher quality ones which may come with a cleanser to allow for more re-uses. Old sponges don’t work as well and are great at collecting bacteria!

Good brushes can last for years if kept clean and stored properly. It is a good idea to wiping them on a cloth or paper towel after every use, wash them often, and give them a thorough cleaning every 2 weeks with a gentle cleaner, ideally a clean, eco-friendly cleaner made especially for makeup brushes. Store them upright if possible, where they can air out (with the added bonus of them not getting squashed that way).