I always learn something when I’m researching and writing a blog post, like how Bakuchiol is not actually a kind of Retinol, or how eczema is often triggered by dietary factors, but rarely does a post influence me to change my habits so drastically! While researching this post— talking to brand founders and scouring websites and product packages for details— I realized that a lot of my makeup is too old and needed to be thrown away!
It shouldn’t really be such a shock— I LOVE makeup, and I love trying out new products. I always have more opened and in use than I could possibly use in a lifetime, so of course it all sits around longer than it should. But writing this post really motivated me to do something about it!
I learned that just because I could sharpen down my precious Kjaer Weis eye- and lip-pencils to a “new” point in the wood doesn’t mean that I should still have them around three years after opening and using them. (See below for how long makeup pencils are actually good for!) I learned that my impulse to toss my mascara more often than every six months is absolutely correct. I would say that I don’t wash my makeup brushes nearly often enough, but to be perfectly honest, I’ve always known that and it’s something I’m still working on.
As many of you know, this is Part 2 of a three-part blog series on how long natural beauty products should be open/used and still retain their potency and effectiveness. (Here’s Part 1, in case you missed it!) This part focuses just on makeup.
I can’t tell you how many times people have asked me, “Do you think my mascara is still okay if I’ve been using it for two years?” While that seems to be an obvious answer to me (um, no– two years is too long!), the lifespan of other makeup items seems to fall into a grey area for me, and I realized I really didn’t know how long powder blush or lipstick was good for. I decided to investigate, and learned so much more than I thought there was to know! Here are my main takeaways, along with advice from brand founders, a doctor, and, of course, from me– a product junkie who knows she has too much makeup!
1. Don’t confuse shelf-life with how long it lasts once opened.
For example Vapour Beauty explains on their website that “All Vapour products have at least a 24-month shelf life. … In keeping with standard beauty industry hygiene recommendations, we advise that once opened, you use your product within 6 months.” How long a product lasts once opened is also referred to as the PAO– Period After Opening– and that’s what the icon on your products means, the one with a picture of an open jar and a number of months inside it. It’s important to know both of these numbers when assessing if your makeup is still safe to use.
Every brand has a different way of assessing and guaranteeing how long their products are good for. For example, the Kjaer Weis team told me for this article that “Our makeup is self-preserving through the use of ingredients such as honeysuckle, and a special heating and cooling process during formulation. KW products stay fresh and usable up to 3 years unopened, and up to 12 months after they are opened.” RMS Beauty‘s website says, “Lab testing shows our products will last well over two years, but for best results we recommend you use them within one year of opening. RMS Beauty products are made to be used every day.”
An important takeaway from this is that while every brand is different, the basic industry standard is 12 months. Very few formulations should be around for longer than a year.
2. However, this 12 month basic standard is only a guideline! The time differs from brand to brand, and also varies depending on what kind of product it is, and what ingredients were used to make it.
For example, powder products tend to last longer because they are anhydrous, which means they contain no water, which can harbor bacteria. Lily Lolo Eye Shadow Palettes are viable for 2 years, the brand told me. “New factory batches are made every few months ensuring freshness,” said their team in an email.
But while powder may last longer than other ingredients, mascara is the opposite. Because it’s applied to your sensitive, delicate eye area, and because it’s a more liquid formula, mascara must be replaced more frequently than other makeup items. Ere Perez mascaras are good unopened for 12 months. Once opened, they should be used within 6 months. Lily Lolo‘s advice regarding mascara is similar, but slightly different. “Depending on how tight the cap is tightened to preserve freshness, once opened the mascara will last about 4-6 months. The unopened mascara tube is viable for 2 years.” This is why it’s important to do your research on individual brands and products, and to take good care of your makeup, like tightening the cap on mascara.
I spoke with Dr. Sarah Villafranco, founder of Osmia, who, while her own brand doesn’t include makeup, gave me her medical advice regarding mascara. “Mascara is susceptible to contamination with microorganisms from your face, fingers, and lashes, which can lead to eye irritation or even serious infection; replacing your mascara every three months can substantially decrease the risk of complications.” I couldn’t agree more. It’s just not worth the risk so close to your eyes! I personally try to replace my mascara somewhere between every month and every three months at the most.
3. This talk of mascara and bacteria leads us to another valuable takeaway. You have to wash your brushes and use clean or sanitized hands before applying or touching your makeup, or all of the above doesn’t matter.
When I lived in New York, I used to see people applying makeup on the subway on their way to work in the mornings all the time. This upset me for many reasons. First of all, the lighting on subways is horrible! And many of these people weren’t even using mirrors, which is risky, of course. But truly, the most terrifying part of this practice is all the germs one can come into contact with on a subway or similar public area– and this is even before Covid19! We’re just talking about regular old bacteria. If you touch, for example, a subway pole, and then use your hands to apply lip gloss, the chances of contaminating your lip gloss and/or your face are high.
It’s better to use makeup at home, wash your hands first, wash your makeup brushes regularly, and try to keep your products free of water and other contaminants that could foster the growth of bacteria. Using a clean finger or fresh makeup brush will help you get the most out of your products. I love to wash my brushes with One Love Organics’ Easy Does It Foaming Cleanser. (It’s also my favorite foaming face wash, and a multi-use liquid soap I can’t live without.) Easy Does It leaves your brushes soft and supple– it doesn’t strip moisture from them, or from your skin when you use it as a cleanser, for that matter– and has the nicest, subtle apple scent.
4. Try and use only a few products at a time.
If you have dozens of similar makeup items open at the same time, you’re more likely to keep them longer than they’re good for. Remember that many makeup products are designed to be used daily. Alima Pure says on their website that you can expect your jar of mineral foundation to last 4-6 months. That doesn’t mean it goes bad after 4-6 months necessarily, but it is good to remember that it was intended to be used in this amount of time. Of course you can use it for longer– that 12 months industry standard applies here– but brands don’t intend everything to last forever. They give you a specific amount of product based on how long they think it’ll take you to use it up.
If you’re alternating between five different kinds of foundations at the same time, it ends up becoming wasteful, because there’s no way you can use them up within the amount of time the manufacturer designed it to be good for.
5. How do you know if makeup isn’t good anymore?
Beyond keeping track of the dates of purchase, looking for a PAO symbol, and labeling your products with dates of opening, the three things to keep an eye on are a product’s texture, smell, and color. Any changes in one of those is cause to toss the item. Ere Perez told me, “It’s important to pay attention to the products one uses. Noticing signs of deterioration is an indicator it is time to restock your product. As our formulas are natural, a deteriorated product won’t be necessarily ‘harmful’, but you want to use fresh product on sensitive areas like eyes and to maintain good skin health.”
6. Look at each individual product before you open it and take note of how long it should be good for.
As a result of researching this article, I’ve started labeling all of my makeup and skincare with the date I opened it, using washi tape and permanent marker. This way, I won’t forget how old a product is. Then, you can look at the specific product’s expiration dates or PAO icon, and do the math.
In summary, here are a few more general time guidelines to give you an idea of how long each type of product is good for. When in doubt, check the box or tube, or go to the website to ask the brand!
Lipsticks: Kjaer Weis and Rituel de Fille each say 12 months for Lipstick. Kari Gran Lip Whips have specific use-by dates on the bottom, usually written by hand at the time they’re made, which I find so charming and SUPER helpful!!! My picks: I love Rituel de Fille’s Enchanted Lip Sheer in Swarm, Kjaer Weis’ Nude, Naturally lipstick in Ingenious, and Kari Gran’s Lip Whip in Marsala.
Mascara: 3 months, regardless of brand! (Doctor’s “orders!”) My picks: Can’t get enough of Lily Lolo’s Natural Mascara.
Eye Pencils: Ere Perez says unopened 18 months, then, once opened, 12months. Lily Lolo Eye Liners are good for 2 years. My picks: I use Ere Perez’s Jojoba Eye Pencils on my lids AND lips, if I’m being honest!
Cream products (blush, foundation, etc): Kjaer Weis and RMS both say 12 months, though RMS notes that lab tests show they’re likely safe for longer. My picks: Kjaer Weis’ Foundation is the best, and RMS Lip-2-Cheek in Demure is my go-to blush. I also love Fitglow’s Lumi Firm in Pop!
There you have it: When in doubt, toss it out. For the most part, I’d say that if you’ve been using something so long you cannot remember when you started, it’s probably too old. And don’t be sad– this is an EXCELLENT excuse to buy new makeup! This is a good thing, really. Toss out anything old, smelly, or strange-feeling, and give yourself permission to buy something new. After all, it’s for your health!