Keep or Toss? Knowing When Good Makeup Has Gone Bad

By Jessica Pigza

Throwing away makeup seems almost sacrilegious, especially when there still is some left. We are taught not to waste, yet here I stand, going through my makeup bag and cringing as I toss my half-full mascara into the trash. So why am I putting myself through this torture? Because as much as I don’t like to admit it, makeup has a shelf life. Trust me, I learned the hard way with a painful eye infection several years ago. Now I take this seriously and purge my makeup on regular basis, instead of every five years or so.

When I was working full-time and wore makeup daily, I usually ran out of my products before they had a chance to expire. Now, as a full-time mom to three busy kids, I don’t always wear makeup and definitely not as much as I used to, so odds are that my makeup will expire before it’s gone. Below is a chart of common makeup products and their open shelf life.

Tip:  Pin this chart so you can refer back to it later!

While this is a great reference chart, it still can be hard to remember what products expire and when. As if my mental to-do list wasn’t already maxed out, let’s add one more thing I needed to remember! Sadly, this task typically ranked low on that list. I have few tips, however, that have helped me keep track of my makeup and keep it from prematurely ending up in the trash.

Below are my five tips for keeping my makeup “fresh” and making it last as long as it should.

1. Keep Makeup Out of the Heat

Keep your makeup out of the heat! Whether you are leaving your makeup in a hot car, a sunny spot on the counter or too close to your hot shower, heat will cause makeup to age way before its time. The heat and condensation will cause a breakdown in your makeup, creating the perfect environment for bacteria and fungus to grow.

2. Find Your Makeup’s Cheat Sheet

I recently learned about this too, but a majority of makeup and skin care products have what is called a Period After Opening (PAO) symbol. The PAO includes a number followed by the letter “m” which stands for months. This awesome little symbol acts as a handy cheat sheet for knowing how long the product will last once it is opened. Seriously? How did I not know about this sooner?


Hint: Anytime I open up a new product I figure out the approximate toss date and write it directly on the item. This way I don’t have to guess how long it’s been in my makeup bag and if it’s expired or not.

3. Wash Your Brushes

Regularly washing your brushes will help keep bacteria out of your makeup and off your face. While it is recommended that you wash your brushes daily, I admit I usually don’t have the time to do that. I strive for weekly cleanings with the exception of my eyeliner brush, which I wash every time I use it. There are several products that you can use to clean your brushes but lukewarm water and shampoo works just as well. After washing your brushes be sure to reshape them and let them dry thoroughly before using them again.

MAC Brush Cleaner

4. Do Not Leave Your Makeup Open

Leaving your makeup open, whether it is a powder blush or a liquid liner, is a big No No! In addition to drying out and rendering the makeup useless, you are also allowing it to be exposed to the elements including water, hair spray and dust. You have spent good money on your makeup, take care of it!

5. Buy Products from Reputable Distributors

This may seem like common sense, but sometimes it is hard to pass up a third-party good deal on makeup that typically is on the pricey side. Remember though, makeup has a definitive shelf life and once opened, the clock is ticking. Another question to consider: are you getting the real thing or a knock-off? Knowing that this is something you are going to use on your skin, around your eyes and on your lips, isn’t it worth it knowing that what you are getting is safe and unopened?

Bonus: Buy Travel Sizes

If you’re like me and you don’t wear makeup every day, there’s a chance that also like me, you often throw out your makeup before it is finished. To help combat this dilemma, I try to buy travel sizes or sample sizes of products that I don’t use as quickly or that have a shorter shelf life. By buying the smaller sizes I am spending less money and chances are greater that I will run out of the product before it is time to toss it.

Benefit Gimme Brow

Above all, when it comes to your makeup, use common sense. If it does not look, smell or “act” right, throw it out. It’s not worth the risk. If you just bought the makeup, take it back to the store; others may be having the same issue and the distributor would want to know. In addition, if you develop an eye infection, such as conjunctivitis, commonly known as pink eye, everything you have used around your eyes since the infection occurred must be replaced. I know it’s not easy, but in the long run, the health of your eyes, skin and body is worth it!