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Time to toss - when to say goodbye to that cosmetic or cream

March 31, 2012 Reviewed by Marta 3 Comments

Unlike fine wine, cosmetics and other personal care products simply do not improve with age. To make things more difficult, these products are rarely printed with an expiration date, and most don’t display the same yucky signs that tell us when to toss a head of lettuce or a loaf of bread. However, the products you rely on for your beauty and personal-care needs can lose effectiveness over time and can even become breeding grounds for dangerous bacteria. Check out our list below to find out when it’s time to clean out the medicine cabinet or makeup bag.

Mineral powder:

Most mineral powders are applied using a makeup brush in the lid of the container, so there is a low risk of bacterial contamination in the makeup container. Several popular brands of mineral makeup, including Bare Escentuals, claim to have an indefinite shelf life, but, if makeup brushes and applicators are repeatedly dipped into the product, or if the powder is exposed to moisture, it may become a host site for unpleasant bacteria or mold. To be on the safe side, check for an expiration date on the package, and even if there is none, toss mineral powders after three years.

Liquid Foundation:

Liquid foundations, which are routinely exposed to air, brushes, and bacteria-breeding foundation sponges, can begin to separate and lose pigment over a period of time. To lengthen the life of your foundation, pour a small amount of product into your hand or onto a makeup palette, rather than touching the applicator directly to the mouth of the bottle, and make sure you secure the lid tightly when finished.

Lip products:

Most creamy cosmetics have a slightly shorter shelf life than their powdery counterparts, and lipstick is no exception. Products that come into contact with your mouth or hands, like lip liner, lipstick, and lip gloss, are at a high risk for bacterial contamination. Lipsticks will often develop an unpleasant odor once they are past their prime. Play it safe and get rid of any open lip products after one year.

Eye Makeup:

Eye makeup, particularly eye pencils, like any other product that may come in contact with your mucous membranes, has a high risk of contamination. To prevent the spread of bacteria, which can lead to pink eye, among other nasty things, never share eye makeup or tools with others. Powder cosmetics, applied using a brush or Q-tip, have a lower chance of becoming contaminated than cream shadows and pencils, but should still be tossed out after a year. Mascara has a slightly shorter shelf life than other eye makeup products, due to the potential for contamination in the tube and the product’s exposure to air. To keep your mascara from drying out before its time, refrain from pumping the mascara wand into the tube, and get rid of the whole tube three months after opening it.

Nail Polish:

Nail polish has a tendency to thicken over a period of time, making it difficult to paint evenly onto nails. Throw out nail polish after 18 months, or as soon as it gets a goopy consistency. To extend the life of your nail polish, keep it cool in your refrigerator.

Vitamin C products:

Vitamin C, which has been proven to have benefits in both its ingestible and topical forms, has one of the shortest shelf lives out there. Vitamin C has a half-life of approximately 30 minutes when consumed in food, liquid, or pill form, and creams and cosmetics containing this ingredient don’t last much longer. Once exposed to air, vitamin C begins to oxidize, making it less effective, and increasing its harmful side effects, including upped production of free radicals. To get the safest and most effective bang for your buck, look for products with a high concentration of vitamin C, or those that contain vitamin C derivatives, which last longer. After one year, get rid of any opened topical vitamin C products that you haven’t used.


Depending on your preferred formula, fragrance can either deepen with age, or, in some cases, lose its scent almost entirely. If your perfume is smelling less sweet than when you bought it, it’s up to your discretion whether or not it’s time to give it the old heave-ho. Most commercial perfumes contain a high percentage of alcohol, which evaporates quickly, so make sure you close your bottle tightly to keep your fragrance fresh.


Sunscreens lose effectiveness over a period of time, making you more prone to the damaging effects of the sun’s rays. Some sunscreens have an expiration date on the bottle, but those that don’t should be replaced after three years, when the SPF factor is likely to have become less effective.

  • May 17, 2012

    by Ann

    One thing I can suggest is to buy smaller sizes of products and take advantage of samples when you can! Alima pure sells samples of their foundations....but of course they are mineral powders which have a longer shelf life. Other companies offer bonuses with color products and/or mascara which should help you be able to pitch it since it was free!


  • May 16, 2012

    by Natalie D

    If you take your sunscreen out into the sun with you then it needs to be replace more frequently than every 3 years. The heat/sun will break down the sunscreen and renders it useless. I don't keep a sunscreen for more than a year.

  • August 2, 2010

    by deborah rodell

    Again, thank you for this most of necessary of information. I tend to keep things way past their shelf life. The "don't want to waste it" voice continually pops its ugly head up.

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