6 Facts That Will Convince You to Throw Out Your Old Makeup—Stat!

Updated: Mar. 05, 2021

The effects of expired makeup may not be worth the risk.

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Makeup bag with makeup products spilling out onto a surface.

Take a gander into someone’s makeup bag, and you may discover a cringeworthy hoard of years-old makeup. Whether you bought something because you were too easily swayed by a salesperson at a makeup desk or went on an Amazon “best sellers” shopping spree, chances are you have several foundation bottles or primer potions that you’ve only pumped once (not to mention the Naked Palette that you’ve only used two shades out of). Beyond the blatant signs of expiration—dried mascara and crumbling eyeshadow— it can be tough to tell when makeup has met its end. Surprisingly, U.S. labeling regulations don’t mandate an expiration date on most cosmetics, making it that much trickier to determine its lifespan. Regardless of whether they’re brand new or on their last life, beauty products do go bad. Even worse, they can cause skin—and health—problems if not disposed of at the proper time.

If you’re noticing that your skin has been breaking out abnormally, it could be from old makeup, but if you’re still noticing a problem after you’ve ditched the old products, it could be caused by something else—including one of these 7 sneaky reasons you’re having an acne breakout.

While it may be difficult to toss, old makeup can serve as a breeding ground for germs. Ready to be more grossed out? Check out this list of 15 household items that are dirtier than your toilet seat.

Before you start embarking on an extensive makeup cleanse, we turned to Jessica Mae, the founder and creative director for WarPaint International Beauty Agency in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Kelli J. Bartlett, artistic director at Glamsquad in New York, for advice on when to dump old cosmetics—and just how bad it is to use them past their prime.

Six shades of open red and pink lipstick.

Yes, makeup DOES expire

Liquid foundation generally lasts for 12 months, while mascara and eyeliner only stretch for three. Lip products will generally go for around two years, but can begin deteriorating earlier if used frequently. Compacts, since it’s a “solid,” will generally last for two years or more if stored properly, but be aware that effectiveness and pigmentation will fade over time. Check out when you should be tossing the rest of your beauty products.

Old blushes and bronzers.

The older cosmetics get, the less they work

As makeup gets older,  the chemical ‘makeup’ of the ingredients in the product starts to break down, says Mae. “In foundation specifically, this can cause the product to not lay evenly on the skin. Longevity of the application is also affected. The other thing that starts to happen is the preservative starts to break down, therefore allowing bacteria to form,” she says.

Makeup brushes in foundation palettes.

Even unopened makeup can pose a health risk

Most people tend to associate “unopened” with “fresh.” However, according to Mae, “the [breakdown] process will happen more slowly, but once the product is exposed to air, the same expiration effects take place. It is also possible that the preservatives start to break down even before you open it. So, if you stocked up on foundation and it’s now been sitting unopened in your drawer for five years, chances are you should just throw it out even though it’s unopened.”

Some makeup products are at more risk than others. “For mascara, cream, gel, and even powders, it’s  important to note how long you can use a product after opening because the minute it’s exposed to air, there’s a risk for contamination,” Bartlett says.

Not convinced enough to throw out that unopened NARS foundation that cost a small fortune? Check out 18 more ways your makeup could be making you sick.

Woman applying makeup to her face in front of a mirror.

Repeated use of expired makeup (especially foundation and eyeliners) can cause infection

For one, you increase the chances of bacterial growth—and in turn breakouts and infections—when you repeatedly immerse your fingers into old liquid foundation. Plus, according to Bartlett, “Using old eyeliners can irritate the delicate eye area, causing it to become puffy, red, and swollen. Expired powders can irritate your skin and cause little red bumps that look like acne.”

Two items to discard promptly: foundation and mascara. “These are the two non-negotiables in my book,” says Mae. “Both of these products, when opened, get exposed to air, therefore allowing bacteria to enter the container. Over time, as the makeup gets ‘older,’ more and more bacteria and air are introduced. This may put you at a greater risk for infection or irritation.

Mascara is one place the Food and Drug Administration steps in with a hard line. The regulatory agency advises you to toss it after three months, as it’s easily contaminated by bacteria, leading to a greater risk of eye infections. If you got an eye infection (like pink eye, or conjunctivitis), it’s best to throw away any eye makeup you used while you had the infection, advises the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Guilty of using makeup that’s gone sour? See if you’re making any of these other 7 mistakes while applying your makeup each day.

A line of brushes in a row.

Cleaning old makeup won’t always revive it

Luckily, not all is lost for your drawers of old makeup; there is hope in cleaning some. Bartlett advises sanitizing used lipsticks by dunking them in alcohol and shaving off the top layer. You can do the same with powders. “Use 70% rubbing alcohol to spray down your eyeshadows and powder products. This will sanitize the product and prevent bacteria from forming,” says Mae. Also, keep brushes clean. The extra step “will prevent introducing additional oils and bacteria to the product.” Read our guide on how to effectively sanitize your beauty tools.

Row of makeup in the bathroom medicine cabinet.

Makeup stored in the bathroom is especially risky

In order to prolong your makeup’s shelf life, proper makeup storage is key. Although it may make sense to keep cosmetics in the bathroom, storing products there may not be the best idea. Humid steam from showers can breed mold, especially in older products, says Bartlett. “If you keep your makeup in a warm or steamy place like your bathroom, I suggest a shorter shelf life,” she says.

Old makeup powders and bronzers in an old case.

Bottom line: When in doubt, throw it out

So when exactly is your cue to clean out your makeup bag? If your cosmetics are starting to smell funky, nix them. If your liquids are starting to turn a different color, discard them. And if your mascara consistency is starting to resemble that of dry raisins, discard it. “If the product starts to dry out, it’s definitely time to replace it. In foundation, watch if the product is separating in the container. For lipstick or gloss, [toss it] if the color starts to change tone or you notice a change in the way it smells,” says Mae.

Kelli adds, “When it comes to mascara, try the smell test. You can really tell when it’s gone bad because you’ll notice a hint of something funky in the smell. You’ll probably also be able to tell by the way the mascara goes onto your eyelashes. If it starts flaking or just doesn’t last throughout the day, it’s another sign you need a new tube. For blush and bronzers in both creams and powders, you’ll notice a kind of a film on the top to indicate they’ve expired.” Next, learn how to clean your makeup brushes so they last.