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When Should You Toss Your Beauty Products?

August 20, 2014

Photo: Toby McFarlan Pond/Trunk Archive

In a perfect world, we would finish every last drop of every single beauty product. But this doesn’t happen very often—if ever. Makeup and skin care products are not like Twinkies; they don’t last forever. If you hang on to things too long, at best they lose their efficacy, and at worst they can become contaminated with bacteria or other gross stuff. To figure out when to throw things away, I chatted with experts with intimate knowledge of each category.

MAKEUP: Generally, the drier a product is, the longer you can keep it, according to Debra Coleman-Nally, Maybelline’s Head of Research & Development. “Mascaras have the shortest shelf life due to daily use and the small quantity in the tube.  We recommend three months for a mascara for optimal performance,” she says. Powder shadows, face powders and blushes have the longest shelf life since they don’t contain water. You can keep them for up to two years. BB creams and foundations last about 18 months.  Store your makeup in a cool, dry spot – extreme heat and cold are cosmetics’ enemy. If there’s any change in color, odor, or appearance, it’s best to get rid of it.

LIPSTICK: According to Poppy King, the founder of Lipstick Queen, lipstick actually lasts a long time, if stored properly. “You only need to throw away lipstick and lip gloss if it starts to smell strange or it hardens and the texture feels strange,” she recommends. Like all the other products, store lip products in a cool, dark place—lipstick is especially susceptible to hot temperatures. In general, check in with them every two years or so. “If you are one of those people who buys in bulk when you find a shade you really love, store the extras in the fridge and when you are ready to use them, let them adjust to room temperature before applying,” King says.

SUNSCREEN: Sunscreens contain active ingredients, so they’re labeled like drugs with expiration dates, making it a no-brainer. “Sunscreens are designed to remain highly efficacious for two to three years from the date of manufacturing,” Holly Thaggard, the founder of Supergoop, says. “But remember, if your sun care products are applied generously and frequently, a bottle of sun protection shouldn’t normally last from one year to the next!” Although Thaggard says sunscreens are tested in storage conditions up to 104 degrees F to determine stability, it’s best to store in a cool, dry place. Toss it if the texture, smell or color changes. Bacterial contamination is a concern; a few years ago, natural brand Badger had to recall a batch of sunscreen for contamination.

SKIN CARE: Skin care products make it easy on you – there’s a symbol on the label that looks like an open jar with a time (ie “12 m”) listed above it. If you write the date when you open it on the label, you know exactly when to toss it. “Unopened products traditionally have a three year shelf life,” a rep from Skinceuticals’ Education & Training Division says. “Once products are opened, shelf life varies by formula.” Store products at room temperature, because they can deteriorate if left in extremely hot conditions. Again, keep an eye on the texture, smell, and color. 

HAIR PRODUCTS: “It is typically okay to use standard shampoo and conditioner for two years,” says Fabian Lliguin, of natural hair care brand Rahua. “For natural shampoo and conditioner like Rahua (which is naturally preserved), it is safe to use up to 18 months after opening.” Styling products, however, run the risk of drying out sooner if they’re kept open or stored in less-than-ideal conditions. Lliguin also points out that products you scoop out with your hands are at higher risk for contamination, so use a scoop if you can. Like skin care, hair care product labels are stamped with the “after open” symbol on the back.