Use It or Lose It: A Guide to When Good Beauty Products Go Bad

by Sonja on January 8, 2010

I get really into cleaning when a new year rolls around. Now that 2010 has arrived, I’ve been going through my beauty stuff and giving the boot to things that are past their prime. I was inspired by an article in Body + Soul magazine, especially when I read that old beauty products can become unsafe.

Along with irritating skin, an expired product can “further harm you, especially if it contains certain ingredients that eventually break down into carcinogens,” says Anne Marie Fine, an Arizona-based naturopathic physician and skin specialist.

When I read “carcinogens,” that put a whole new spin on things, and some lipsticks, face creams, and sadly, even some perfumes went right into the trash. A few companies, like The Body Deli, make it easy to figure out when to toss something by including an expiration date.

PAO date icon

In Europe, companies are required to include a “period after opening,” or PAO, date icon (shown at right). Some American companies have followed suit; but it’s not a requirement in the U.S. so I’m including Body + Soul’s list to help you figure out when it’s time to toss those beauty treats.

Mark It

Be sure to keep a Sharpie on hand to mark your products with the date you began using them to help you remember. I’ve been doing that this past year since I figured out what those icons mean, and it’s been really helpful. I must have a short memory, because I’m always surprised it’s been so long when I look at the dates.


  • Mascaras and Liquid Liners. Toss after three or four months – sooner if you get an infection, like pink eye, or the product dries out. Fine adds that we should toss all eye makeup if we get an eye infection and start fresh after the infection clears up. Ouch.
  • Powders: Eye Shadow, Blush, Face Powder. Toss after two years – sooner if it gets suspiciously crumbly or shiny. “When it glistens or disintegrates, that’s a sign that moisture has evaporated from the cakes,” Fine says.
  • Lipstick, Lip Gloss, Balm. Toss after a year if it has a wand or two years if you apply it direct from the tube/pot or with a separate brush – sooner if you get a cold sore. I was surprised that glosses with wands have to be tossed so much sooner. But apparently, the wands carry bacteria into the tube and keep it there. Nice. If you want a wanded product to last longer, Fine suggests dumping the wand and applying with a brush you clean regularly.
  • Pencils. Toss after three years with regular sharpening – sooner if it gets dry or melty. I’m going to start sharpening my pencils more often. Fine says that helps get rid of the bacteria after it touches your face. Good to know.
  • Liquid Foundations. Toss after two years – sooner if it begins to separate or the color changes. Each bit of oxygen that gets in there causes the product to break down so it’s best to cap bottles tightly or opt for one with a pump.
  • Face and Body Moisturizers. Toss after two years if it’s in a pot or three years if it’s in a pump – sooner if you notice a change in the smell or consistency. If it comes in a pot, using a spatula, instead of your fingers, will help the product last longer. To further prolong shelf life, store it in the fridge.
  • Sunscreens and Sunblocks. Toss after a year. I make a point to get a new sunscreen every year like clockwork. They simply break down and stop working. Fortunately, most sunscreens and blocks tend to have expiration dates marked on them.
  • Fragrance. Toss after two years – sooner if the smell has changed. This one really surprised me. I was under the impression I could keep these for eons. Maybe Grandma’s perfume was so stinky, because she’d had it for 20 years. Oops. If you really want the stuff to last, Fine recommends storing it in a cool, dry, dark place, because light degrades perfume. I’m not sure if I’m ready to put my perfumes in a dark drawer. But I will get better about using them and resisting the temptation to stockpile a collection.

Do Tell

How good are you about throwing out old beauty products? Do you still use eye shadows you’ve had since the ’80s? Do you need to go throw out some things after reading this? Were you surprised about the carcinogen thing? Do tell.

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

1 DailyDivaDish January 11, 2010 at 8:09 am

I had never heard about throwing out perfume. While I knew about the others, I always thought my perfume was safe. Seems I need to stop collecting so many bottles and just use what I have. Thanks so much for the info!
XO Piper
DailyDivaDish´s last blog ..In Glass Houses My ComLuv Profile


2 Sonja January 11, 2010 at 2:41 pm

I know what you mean. I figured I could just take my collection to the grave with me. So disappointing! :)


3 Ashe Mischief January 11, 2010 at 9:14 am

No wonder my girlfriend prefers to use sample sizes for mascara.. I feel like I JUST bought my Mac Plushlash, but it was mid-October… maybe I’ll push it another month ;)

As for eyeshadows… there are definitely some I have over that 2 year mark!
Ashe Mischief´s last blog ..Alice in Wonderland for Urban Decay My ComLuv Profile


4 Sonja January 11, 2010 at 2:43 pm

Yeah, I don’t think I’ve ever actually finished a mascara before it went bad. I totally hold out as long as I can.


5 stacy January 11, 2010 at 9:40 am

Well, this inspired me to clean out my make-up drawer. I have so much junk stashed away! Every time I clean up and organize, I realize how much stuff I buy and NEVER use. A tragedy!
stacy´s last blog ..Vanishing Models… it’s not what you think My ComLuv Profile


6 Sonja January 11, 2010 at 2:44 pm

I’ve been tossing stuff left and right. It’s amazing how much stuff we squirrel away!


7 Dulce January 11, 2010 at 1:38 pm

Love this info….but I am so cheap I don’t want to toss anything away. LOL


8 Sonja January 11, 2010 at 2:45 pm

Yeah, this info inspired me to rethink what I buy. I don’t want to waste anything!


9 Nadine January 11, 2010 at 2:42 pm

I have a clinique red lipstick pencil I have kept that is down to the nub… just a memory from my 20’s. But yah I believe in less is more- and keep my cosmetic-drawer-clean and organized at all times. almost-anal I know.


10 Sonja January 11, 2010 at 2:47 pm

I have sentimental attachments to things too. I felt so sad throwing away some perfume I bought when I lived in NY. I had happy memories of hitting the Saks beauty department on my lunch break. :)
Sonja´s last blog ..Snow Boots My ComLuv Profile


11 Jennifer M January 11, 2010 at 3:04 pm

Yeah, apparently buying in bulk is not always a good idea, especially when it comes to makeup! I had heard about makeup/fragrance expiration dates before, and I found as I started promoting L’Bel Paris that they sold bottles of perfume on the smaller side. I hate having to throw away my makeup and fragrances, so it’s nice to actually be able to use all of my Delyr before the two-year mark.


12 Sonja January 11, 2010 at 4:22 pm

Yeah, I’m not buying anything unless I know I have plans to use it soon. I’m also glad smaller sizes are available. I hate to waste anything. :)


13 jennine January 11, 2010 at 3:18 pm

I had a Chanel cake eyeliner that lasted daily from 1998-2008. I threw it out not because it was done, because I could have used it for another 10 years, but thought it might be a health hazard. That said, nothing happened to my eyes!


14 Sonja January 11, 2010 at 4:23 pm

Yeah, I’ve had my fair share of stuff that I used way past the expiration date. Trying to be better about that nowadays.


15 Tami January 11, 2010 at 5:17 pm

I’m pretty good about using up my perfumes so no worries there. I do need to be careful about the liquid eyeliners though.
Tami´s last blog ..I Love Macarons My ComLuv Profile


16 Sonja January 11, 2010 at 5:36 pm

Yeah, it hadn’t occurred to me that liquid liners would go bad so quickly. Now I feel like they’re practically a waste of money!


17 miss sophie January 11, 2010 at 5:28 pm

i’m not really a makeup girl for the most part, but i do think the carcinogenic thing is something we all need to be more cautious about (especially women!), given that makeup and all the products we use on a daily basis are basically being absorbed in some way directly into our bodies. this was such a useful and informative post, i’m going to clean out my old mascara from three years ago now and re-organize my small makeup collection!
miss sophie´s last blog ..50% off all rachel nasvik bags My ComLuv Profile


18 Sonja January 11, 2010 at 5:37 pm

So glad you found it helpful! I’m trying to be better about using safer products. Have fun cleaning! :)


19 hanako66 January 12, 2010 at 9:20 pm

wow, this is a great post because it forces me to think about it! i go through my usual stuff pretty regularly, but i sure have some oldies i should toss!
hanako66´s last blog ..a dash of whimsy My ComLuv Profile


20 Mallory @ MissMalaprop January 13, 2010 at 7:10 am

I don’t usually wear any makeup more than maybe once a week (although lately I’ve started wearing a neutral eyeshadow most days), so it takes me forever to go through something. I should really start marking when I get things though, because I know I’ve had some makeup waaaaay too long.


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