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Even if you’re not a professional makeup artist, makeup bags tend to fill up with old products. Many people who wear makeup own a tube of lipstick that’s only been used once or an eyeshadow palette they’ve had for an indeterminate amount of time. While it’s normal to hold onto old makeup, these products do have a shelf life.

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How to Tell When Your Makeup Has Expired

While the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not require manufacturers to place an expiration date on beauty products, there are a few ways to tell when these products have surpassed their lifespan:

  • Check the label. The label of many beauty products features a small jar with a number and the letter M next to it that denotes how long that product will last after you open it. For example, 3M means three months, 6M means six months, 12M means a year, etc. These numbers represent the timeframe in which the products work best, after being opened and exposed to air. After this timeframe, the products will decline in quality and can become a breeding ground for bacteria.
  • The product has a unique smell. One of the surefire ways to tell if a product is expired is by smelling it. Before you apply the product, bring it up to your nose, and smell it. If the product has a peculiar odor or smells slightly off, it may have expired.
  • The texture has changed. Another way to tell if your product has reached the end of its shelf life is by examining the texture before application. If your liquid foundation has thickened, or your powder foundation is exceptionally crumbly, it’s most likely expired.
  • The color is off. Like fruits and vegetables, makeup goes through a chemical reaction called oxidation when exposed to air. This reaction affects the color of your makeup. The longer your products sit on the shelf, the more likely they are to oxidize. If you apply foundation and the color takes on an orange or brassey hue, it has most likely oxidized and should no longer be used.

What Happens If You Use Expired Makeup?

Using an expired makeup product may not always have noticeable adverse effects, outside of transferring poorly onto your skin or appearing discolored. In worst-case scenarios, using products past their lifespan can cause breakouts, skin irritation, an allergic reaction, or even infection. If you suspect that a makeup product is no longer safe to use, dispose of it immediately.

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How Long Does Makeup Last?

Different types of makeup last for various lengths of time. For example, dry products can last for up to two years if stored in a dry place, while mascara lasts the shortest amount of time because of the consistent transfer of bacteria from your eye to the applicator. Here is a brief overview of the recommended shelf-life for common skincare products and makeup:

  • Liquid foundation: Water-based liquid foundations can last up to one year. Oil-based formulas can last up to 18 months.
  • Sunscreen: Sunscreen can last up to one year before losing its efficacy.
  • Moisturizers: Once opened, moisturizers and creams can last anywhere from six months to a year.
  • Lipstick: Lipstick can last from one to two years.
  • Lip gloss/liquid lipstick: Lipgloss can last from six months to one year.
  • Mascara: Mascara can last three to six months. If you start to notice a change in the product’s texture or smell, discontinue use immediately.
  • Powder products: Products like setting powder, bronzer, or powder blushes can last up to two years.
  • Cream-based makeup: Cream-based makeup like cream blushes or concealer can last from six months to one year.
  • Liquid eyeliner: Liquid eyeliner lasts from three to six months, similar to mascara.
  • Liners: Liners—including gel eyeliners, pencil eyeliners, and lip liners—can last up to one year. You should sharpen your liners every couple of uses to shave off any bacteria-laden bits and avoid eye infection.
  • Nail polish: A bottle of nail polish can last indefinitely if unopened. If opened, it can last up to two years. Ingredients begin to evaporate once the bottle is opened, which, after a while, causes the polish to thicken.
  • Makeup brushes: Brushes can last indefinitely, but you’ll need to wash them every two months to remove bacteria and build-up.

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