Makeup Expiration Dates: Do I Actually Need To Pay Attention To Them?

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Makeup expiration dates are:

  • Just a formality, like those mattress tags you aren’t supposed to remove (but do anyway)
  • A conspiracy designed by the beauty industry to trick you into buying new cosmetics
  • Designed to protect you from bacteria and other nasty things that can grow in an open container
  • Guidelines really, just like the date on a milk carton

If you chose A or B, you obviously like to live dangerously. Congratulations on your approach to risk taking, but you better keep some antibiotics on hand, just in case.

Makeup has a definite shelf life, and so do other beauty products like sunscreen, anti-aging potions and even lotions and hair products. Expiration dates apply to cosmetics in two ways:

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  • Manufacturer Expiration Date: Each product has a defined shelf life, with a date clearly stamped somewhere on the container – just like the food you buy in the grocery store. Products with a liquid base, active ingredients or a mix of oils have shorter shelf lives than powder or pigment based products.
  • Active Use Expiration: The clock starts ticking the moment you break the seal or twist off the lid; once you expose your cosmetics to the air, your fingers and your skin, you’re introducing bacteria that could grow and change over time. If you store your cosmetics in the bathroom, then moisture and environmental conditions could impact the remaining shelf life as well.

What Happens if You Use Expired Makeup or Beauty Items?

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It depends. Using a powder blush past its prime may not hurt you much, particularly if you use a brush to apply it. Expired mascara or a skin product you regularly dip your fingers into is another matter. Every time you use the product, you are touching it to your skin and introducing bacteria (it’s not just you, humans all harbor bacteria on their skin).

Over time, that bacteria grows and mutates. Eventually, that pricey pot of skin cream turns into a festering petri dish packed with bacteria – which you will slather on your skin every time you use it. The same thing happens to mascara, and that’s how you get pink-eye or even nastier eye ailments.

Some cosmetics turn into fetid swamps full of bacteria, but others simply lose their effectiveness. That sunscreen you were using to protect your skin from wrinkles, sunburn and even cancer? It won’t work as well after the expiration date, and you could end up with a nasty burn.

Even the makeup that doesn’t actively seek to harm you will lose its effectiveness and usefulness over time. Lipstick dries out, foundation separates and eye makeup becomes a hard cake that can’t be penetrated by a normal makeup brush. Expired makeup won’t perform like you want it to and you won’t get the results you want.

Skip the Expired Stuff and Buy New Instead

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So how often should you dump the old stuff and treat yourself to something new? Follow manufacturer expiration dates on unopened products and keep products you put your fingers into or that you apply with an applicator no more than 3 months after opening to protect your skin and get the best results from your products. Your skin will thank you.


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