Is it bad to use old makeup products? Do they ever expire? The experts explain why it's so important to replace the items in your makeup bag and how often you really need to do so.

By Melanie Rud

When was the last time you replaced your mascara? If you’re not sure, you’re going to want to first, throw it out and second, keep reading. Just like the food in your fridge, your makeup stash will go bad eventually, meaning it’s important to regularly assess the condition of your cosmetics and replace things past their prime. We asked experts to weigh in on why this is so important and to share exactly when to toss different types of makeup.

Image courtesy of Getty.

Is Old Makeup Effective?

“Any type of powder makeup that’s cracked or crumbly isn’t going to pick up well on a brush,” says beauty expert, makeup artist, and best-selling author Jenny Patinkin. Liquid or creamy products—think foundations, lip glosses, cream blushes—dry out and start to tug and pull on your skin, she adds. Not to mention that regardless of the texture, the colors can start to change, too. The bottom line: Old makeup will neither apply as well nor look as good on you.

Related: How to Clean Makeup Brushes

Is It Safe to Use Old Makeup?

Not to sound like alarmists, but using old, grimy makeup can be dangerous. “Old makeup can harbor disease-causing microbes that can lead to infections, rashes, or other skin problems, so it is a safety issue,” says cosmetic chemist Perry Romanowski. “Even if your makeup starts off properly preserved, over time it picks up microbes from your face and the environment, which might eventually overwhelm the preservative system.” Still, not all makeup is created equal—nor will it go bad at the same time—so it’s important to think about products differently.

“Eye makeup is the most problematic because you’re dealing with a mucous membrane where there are more ports of entry for the bacteria to get into your body,” says Chicago dermatologist Jordan Carqueville, M.D. (Don’t worry, we’ll get to exactly when you need to pitch your mascara, liner, and shadow in a moment.) You can contract all kinds of things, including conjunctivitis (aka pink eye) to sties, to name a few common issues.

But using a foundation that has been in your makeup bag for who knows how long can potentially be problematic too. “There’s less of a risk of carrying infection on skin because the skin's oil acts as a protective layer,” says Rita Linkner, M.D., of Spring Street Dermatology in New York City. Still, it is possible to contract serious infections such as staph or strep from old, dirty makeup, says Carqueville, particularly if you have a pimple or blemish, which makes it easier for the bacteria to get in. And to that point, if you’re prone to breakouts, you definitely want to keep your makeup fresh and clean. “Oil, dirt, and bacteria are a recipe for clogged pores,” she says. “The preservative systems in makeup break down with time, upping the likelihood of bacterial growth. And, especially if you’re sticking your fingers in a product, it can get full of oil and dirt. All of that ends up on your skin.” No, thank you.

Related: How Much Should You Really Tip at the Salon?

How Often Should Makeup Be Replaced?

Follow this universal rule: No matter the product, if it smells funny or looks funny (e.g., has started to separate or change color), get rid of it. When in doubt, throw it out. Otherwise, follow these helpful guidelines.

Eye Makeup

It’s most important to be diligent about your eye makeup, particularly mascara and gel eyeliner, Romanowski says. Because these products contain water (which is necessary for bacteria to grow) and are applied to skin then dipped back into the container, they’re more prone to microbial contamination, he says.  All the experts we spoke with recommend replacing your mascara every three months. A tell-tale sign it needs to go? “You should hear a popping noise every time you open it and pull out the wand,” Patinkin says. “If you don’t hear that sound, it means too much air has gotten into the tube and the mascara is old and dried out.” (Again, putting you at risk not only for eye issues but also upping the likelihood that your mascara will clump or flake.) Pending any changes in scent or appearance, eyeliner pencils and powder shadows can be used longer—six months to a year—given that they don’t contain water.

Powder Makeup

It’s harder for bacteria to grow in any kind of powder because there’s no water present, Carqueville says. That means that powder blushes, bronzers, and foundations are OK to use for nine months up to year, Linkner says. Although, once again, keep an eye out for any changes in how they look. See strange speckling on top of the powder? That’s a buildup of oil that Patinkin says you scrape off with a knife. Depending on how much of the product you have left and how pricey it was, it may just be easier to replace it.

Cream Makeup

Cream formulas (foundations, concealers, blushes) contain water so can become problematic. Replace these after about nine months, more frequently if you’re either constantly dipping your fingers into the jar or are dealing with breakouts and acne.

Related: This Is the One Makeup Product with SPF You’ve Been Missing

Lip Gloss and Lipstick

Lip gloss and lipsticks should be replaced every six months, says Linkner, especially if you’re prone to perleche—cracking, crusting, or irritation in the corners of the mouth caused by bacteria or fungus. “The lip makeup can harbor those microorganisms and reinfect the skin if you’re not careful,” she cautions. For similar reasons, it’s a good idea to throw out any lip makeup you use while you’re sick or have a cold sore.

Tip: When you open a new makeup item, write the date on its bottom with a fine-tip permanent marker (or note the date on a piece of masking tape, then stick it on the product).

Remember, when to replace makeup boils down to the formula (powder versus cream) and the type of product, but updating your beauty arsenal every few months is in your best interest. Besides, it's a good excuse to change up your routine and try new products.

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