How Closely Do You Follow Makeup Expiration Guidelines?

Published in: Just For Fun

It’s easy to tell when a quart of milk goes bad, but what about a pan of cream eyeshadow?


When it comes to the shelf life of cosmetics, there are no hard and fast rules, no FDA mandated regulations or requirements. Just general guidelines.

I have to admit that I don’t follow them to a “T”. I can’t bring myself to toss a $27 tube of Diorshow Iconic Mascara just because I’ve had it open for three months.

But, sadly, all of the makeup we love so much will eventually expire. No one wants to waste expensive beauty swag, but creams and oils go rancid, preservatives break down and bacteria can breed after a product has been open too long.

Some cosmetics companies clearly have expiration in mind. Cargo just announced a line of glosses called blu_ray Lip Gloss with Timestrip that incorporates a tiny strip embedded in the cap to keep track of how long a lip gloss has been open.

Some General Makeup Expiration Guidelines

Oil-free foundation: 1 year
Cream or compact foundation: 18 months
Concealer: 12-18 months
Powder: 2 years
Blush and bronzer: 2 years
Cream blush: 12-18 months
Powder eyeshadow: 2 years
Cream eyeshadow: 12-18 months
Eyeliner: 2 years
Liquid eyeliner: 3-6 months
Mascara: 3 months
Lipstick: 2 years
Lip liner: 2 years
Lip gloss: 18-24 months
Nail color: 1 year
Fragrance: 2-5 years

How closely do you follow makeup expiration guidelines?

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  1. lesley says:

    I like to follow the mascara a little closely, just because sometimes with certain brands/formulas my eyes do get irritated upon application even though I’m not a contact lens wearer or anything. Also, my mother was an ophthalmologist, so I’m very picky about the things that come close to my eyes. Another thing I’m a stickler for is my evening creams or anything with SPF, but you can really smell it sometimes when something goes bad, so I don’t want to risk harvesting pimples over money.

    There’s a lot of money in this world, but there’s only one face like yours around. That said, I don’t usually dish out the cash to splurge on something that might not work on me, I’m pretty conservative with my buying by usually sticking to what I know I’ll use… or will at least last long enough (expiration date-wise) for me to use it up. But yeah, I have no problems throwing out nasty smelling eye shadows/blushes whether or not they’re used up.

  2. I don’t really follow them much. I do try and get new mascara’s every 4-5 months but I have had some lipsticks form MAC for over 10 years and they are just as good as they were when I got them! Same with nail polish, I have had some 10-12 years and they are fine. I think a good rule is when it looks funny or smells funny (just like milk!) it’s time to toss it!

    Vampy Varnish´s last blog post..Lack of Postings…

  3. Angelica says:

    Like Lesley, I too pay close attention to my mascara’s expiration date. What I don’t pay too much attention to is the expiration dates for my foundation, lip products, cream products, and powder products. I store my foundation, lip products, and cream products in the fridge to protect them from turning. My powder products last longer and I dont’ think I have anything that is over 2 years old (I’m a noob).

  4. Sylvie says:

    Hi Karen,

    Actually, on almost all your cosmetic packaging, there’s a picture of a little pot with numbers written in it, for example 24M which stands for 24 months. That’s the shelf life of the thing once it has been opened. Anyway, I don’t toss out my Diorshow Iconic when it’s 3 months old because I use it everyday and it dries by the debut of the 2nd month. -sigh- But anyway, I’m someone who used the last bits of my Lychee Luxe even though it started to smell off and I’m still using a 3Dglass that totally smells like that. =P I’m poooooooor.

  5. victoria says:

    i am proud to say i do not follow expiration dates. i use up my mascara and foundation fast anyway since i use them everyday. i try not to buy cream products, if i notice i don’t give them much love, i always give them to my nieces coz i know they’ll use it up faster than i do. as for powder products, i keep forever and nothing’s wrong with any of them. i have experience a rancid lipstick from a swap i made, it was horrible, color changed, tasted bitter and plasticy and it just gives a funny odd feeling to my lips so you CAN really tell if something’s gone bad. thank goodness the one i swapped with was willing take it back.

  6. Katherine says:

    Thanks so much for posting this Karen – I was just reorganizing my makeup the other day and thought to myself “Wow, some of this is so old, it should probably be thrown out…”

    I generally chuck foundations, cream blushes and lipglosses (liquidy or creamy things) after their “expiration dates.” When it comes to powders (blushes, eyeshadows, etc.) I usually don’t throw them out til there’s none left. I also throw mascara away every few months, if it lasts that long. I’ve started using Maybelline’s Full ‘N Soft ($5, yes!) instead of my Dior Show because it was just too painful to throw away the $24 tube. 🙁

  7. Anna says:

    I generally use up my makeup so quickly, especially eyeliner and mascara, that this is not an issue.

  8. Karen says:

    Hi Lesley,

    Sounds like you’ve got a good system. I am the same way with creams and SPF as well. When those turn you can really tell that something is off!

  9. Karen says:

    Hi Vampy Varnish,

    I basically follow the same rule! I have a few pans of MAC eyeshadow that I’ve had over ten years and they’re still going strong. I would probably be a bit more careful if I was using them on other people but I figure if it’s just me then it’s no big whoop.

  10. Karen says:

    Hi Angelica,

    Ah, interesting! Do you find there’s a difference in how the products perform after you’ve stored them the fridge?

  11. Karen says:

    Hi Sylvie,

    Yup, I’ve seen that symbol on packages before!

  12. Karen says:

    Hi Victoria,

    You’re nieces are so lucky! I bet they love it when you give them makeup. 🙂

  13. Karen says:

    Hi Katherine,

    I need to reorganize mine, too! It’s been a minute since I’ve done that. It sounds dorky but I’m hell bent on getting a label maker for my makeup drawers first, LOL.

    I’ve never tried Full ‘N Soft! How do you like it? Great Lash traumatized me a long time ago, so I’ve always been a little gun shy when it comes to Maybelline mascara.

  14. Karen says:

    Hi Anna,

    Yeah, those two go quick for me, too. Oh — and so does concealer!

  15. tali says:

    Apart from maybe eyeshadows (which i try to keep unbelivably clean)
    nothing lasts that long!

    My bronzer is used up within 3 months, powder and foundation run out every 3ish months.. cream shadows and liners dry up withing the time limit anyway..
    Mascara 1 week per tube (and this aint cheap at £20 a hypnose tube)
    Lipgloss.. i practically eat or throw if its not being used and taking up space…

  16. Katherine says:


    I love Full ‘N Soft! I was skeptical too, but after reading awesome reviews at Makeupalley, I decided to go for it. It’s hands down the best (affordable!) mascara I’ve ever tried. You can’t beat it for the money – volume, length, and it doesn’t dry out quickly. When it does, toss it guilt free! I was happy to find an alternative to my much-beloved Dior Show.

  17. tanya says:

    oh no, say it isn’t so, liquid eyeliner only 3-6 months? I’ve had my blacktrack MAC for at least that long–maybe it’s different for gel liners? I still have half left!

    tanya´s last blog post..craving…

  18. Jinnzor says:

    I don’t.

    I’m a chemical engineer, and my professional opinion is that those expiration dates are bull. I very much doubt that bacteria will be a problem in dry, powder products. It’s just not a good place to live for them.

    Jinnzor´s last blog post..Haultastic!

  19. Bobbie says:

    Maybe you can answer this question I had just the other day as I was reorganizing my make up. I use Bare Minerals and none of them have an expiration date with the exception of the foundation. I’m guessing it has something to do with the spf factor, what do you think?

  20. Kate says:

    The only thing I’m absolutely adamant about replacing is my mascara. I’ve had huge problems with mascara (Maybelline causes my eyes to puff and I lose all my eyelashes) so I buy a new one like clockwork every three to four months. With other cosmetics, I follow this rule: If the smell, formula or appearance changes, toss it. I admit I’ve had some of my lipsticks for years. 😀

    I don’t wear fragrance, so that one doesn’t apply. Again, hyper-sensitive skin coupled with a hyper-sensitive nose makes fragrance impossible and make-up is infinitely more complicated.

  21. Jeanne says:

    Hi Karen!

    I just had to throw out an expensive night moisturizer because it was starting to smell a little sour and my skin was freaking out (I know, bad!). It was right at the 12M label mark, too, so I pitched it (after a trip to Walgreens to get a new, cheaper, moisturizer).

    But if it’s separating out or smells off, out it goes.

  22. Indian Girl says:

    I’ve had my CLinique mascra for over a year now…and cant bring myself to throw it….I use it very very rarely so I keep telling myself that its okay…guess its not.

    Indian Girl´s last blog post..Lisa Hoffman Variations Fragrance : Review

  23. Chris says:

    I am good with mascara (plus I am easily bored and there is always a new mascara to try out) on tossing after 3 months.
    With powders I keep as long as they still work or texture changes. There are those formulas that seem to “harden” up and I will try to remove top layer before tossing.
    You can always sharpen pencils to refresh too.
    Lipsticks and glosses seem to “turn” more than other items so I go with the sniff, taste and texture test lol. If it seems wrong then toss. Nars lippies are the worst for turning weird imho.

    I don’t share m/u with others either so it hasn’t been an issue.

    Try Full N Soft mascara Karen – it is great for a drugstore mascara!

  24. Rachel says:

    Oh, I love your blog, but *please* change the nail polish guidelines. Bacteria isn’t going to be flourishing is that chemical pool at all. Worst case scenario is that it dries out/becomes tacky and even then you can just buy nail polish thinner and thin it back to life! I would hate someone to throw away nail polish because of this post!

    Rachel´s last blog post..Daisies and Hip Hop Don’t Mix

  25. Katherine says:

    Chris – I am so glad someone else has discovered the fabulousness of Full ‘N Soft! Yay! 🙂

  26. Brenda says:

    Mmm for mascara I write the date I open on the top because I don’t want the chance of an eye infection and foundation goes when there is a layer of oil (About a year) but that’s about it everything else stays. My beloved limited editions will not leave my hands…ever.
    On another note my mom told me she has lipsticks older then I am that are still good (I’m 20 this year)!

  27. Glosslizard says:

    I’m really not that good about it… I try to keep track of mascara, but I give ’em 4-6 months depending on how often I use them. I almost never toss powdered eyeshadow or blush! I do instantly throw away anything that develops a funky smell though!

  28. HoneyBrown1976 says:

    I’m close with mascara. But, for eyeshadows, liners (which I use pencils), and lip gloss, I don’t follow closely.

  29. Erica says:

    I find that Dior mascara dries out quicker than alot of the others. Here, in Canada, it costs $33 a tube and I just can’t bring myself to buy it again.

    Erica´s last blog post..Makeup Made Forever

  30. Erica says:

    I find that Dior mascara dries out quicker than alot of the others. Here, in Canada, it costs $33 a tube and I just can’t bring myself to buy it again.

    Love your blog. You seem to have fun with makeup and that’s what it’s all about!

    Erica´s last blog post..Makeup Made Forever

  31. NJ says:

    I’m really strict with my mascara use by dates and I always throw them out after 3 months. I was once told that after that 3 month period, the amount of bacteria in a mascara is equal to that of a trash can – Yikes! After that *how* could I not throw them out O_O I’m also cautious in general with lipglosses (I find that they tend to get a bit icky anyway) and I watch my lipsticks, but with things like powdered eyeshadows and blushers I’m less likely to throw them. After all it’s taken me *years* to build up a colour collection!

  32. Michelle says:

    Hi Karen!

    I’m really good at throwing my mascara away after three months. I actually use a label maker and I print an exp. date (three months from opening) and I slap that sucker on my new tube. I don’t do this with anything else though. I usually just go by how they look/smell/feel. I had my first experience ever with a lipgloss gone bad a few weeks ago. It was a CG fruit spritzer and you could see through the clear tube that there was some seperating going on. Then when I squeezed someout it came out clear first and then a little of the color came out afterwards. I threw that lippie out asap.

  33. Karen says:

    Hi Tali,

    You are my hero — I don’t think I’ve ever finished a tube of mascara! Do you reapply throughout the day?

  34. Karen says:

    Hi Katherine,

    I will have to snag it when I do another drugstore run! 🙂 I like tranny lashes (LOL!) so I will cross my fingers and hope it delivers.

    By the way, I heart Makeupalley. I could spend hours on that site!

  35. Karen says:

    Hi Tanya,

    Hmm, I don’t think you have to follow the guidelines to a t. I have Fluidline jars that are a few years old that still work great!

  36. Karen says:

    Hi Jinnzor,

    What a cool job! What industry do you work in?

    I was terrible at chemistry and barely scraped by o-chem in college. The only thing I remember from that year is “chair” and “boat” formations. The rest of it is a blur.

  37. Karen says:

    Hi Bobbie,

    Hmm, I don’t know. I am going to have lunch with a friend who works for BM soon so I’ll ask her that when I see her!

  38. Karen says:

    Hi Kate,

    I follow that rule, too. I still many MAC lipstick tubes that have been with me for years!

  39. Karen says:

    Hi Jeanne,

    Bummer about your skin freaking out. Is it better now?

    I hope you found something good at Walgreens to replace your moisturizer. 🙂

  40. Karen says:

    Hi Indian Girl,

    Hmm, I figure if you’re only using it on yourself and it doesn’t smell or look funny it still is probably good.

  41. Karen says:

    Hi Chris,

    I will! 🙂 It sounds great so I hope it delivers the fake, tranny lashes I desire!

  42. Karen says:

    Hi Rachel,

    That’s good to know. That list is a general guideline, not a set of hard/fast rules. 🙂 I usually keep stuff way longer, and only throw out products when they start looking and smelling weird.

  43. Karen says:

    Hi Brenda,

    That’s awesome! Do you know what brand your mom’s lipsticks are? I want mine to last that long, too!

  44. Karen says:

    Hi Glosslizard,

    Yeah, I hear that! I’ve noticed that it usually takes *years* for stuff to get funky, and then it’s mostly cream or liquid.

  45. Karen says:

    Hi HoneyBrown1976,

    I hear ya. I love pencil liners because they seem to last forever!

  46. Karen says:

    Hi Erica,

    Thank you! I love trying new things and experimenting with looks. How about you? Are you adventurous when it comes to makeup.

    That’s too bad about your Dior mascara. Good thing there are lots of other great mascara options! Have you ever tried L’Oreal Carbon Black? It’s a pretty good, and doesn’t cost an arm and a leg!

  47. Karen says:

    Hi NJ,

    I hear ya. I dunno if I could ever part with my LEs… my heart would break, I tell ya!

  48. Karen says:

    Hi Michelle,

    Funny you should mention a label maker — I’m kinda obsessed with getting one. I keep meaning to buy one but just haven’t gotten around to it. I am convinced that having one will help me organize my makeup AND organize my life, LOL! We shall see. 🙂

    I’ve had separation happen with old lipglosses before and it’s sooo gross…

  49. Marisol says:

    To be honest, I really don’t follow them. I tend to keep my mascara more than 3 months. I usually throw something out if it’s texture changes or it’s scent.

    Marisol´s last blog post..Currently, I am…

  50. Diva Style says:

    I do not follow these at all…a WHOLE lot of money would be going to waste!! If something smells funny, or is dried out, it’s one thing…but I mainly only follow these requirements for mascara, if that. I cannot imagine throwing any of my unused MAC, or other makeup, products away when I know nothing is actually wrong with them.

    Diva Style´s last blog post..Designers Extraordinaire~Woodson and Rummerfield

  51. Diva Style says:

    I do not follow these at all…a WHOLE lot of money would be going to waste!! If something smells funny, or is dried out, it’s one thing…but I mainly only follow these requirements for mascara, if that. I cannot imagine throwing any of my unused MAC, or other makeup, products away when I know nothing is actually wrong with them.

  52. Vivian says:

    Makeup rules are created by companies so they could receive more profits. I don’t follow it, but

    1. a mascara that’s drying out/doesn’t work well anymore
    2. certain products smell funny or bad or simply I don’t like them and they don’t cost much.

    other than those, nada. I really do not think fragrance should be expired in 2-5 years. My mom has one Dior Poison for 15+ years now and if you compare it to depatment store’s “fresh” one, you wouldn’t notice a difference.

  53. Brenda says:

    Hi Karen, just replying here.

    My mom mainly has Estee Lauder, they have the blue packaging they used to be in and they smell like they’re new! But then again she keeps them in a nice cool dry place, my aunts have told me to keep my lipsticks in the fridge to help them last longer also.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Brenda,

      Now that is a testament to longevity. I hope my lipsticks last that long.

      I’ve read that the fridge is also a good place to store nail polish, go figure!

      I hope you’re having a nice weekend so far. Got any exciting plans?

  54. Amanda says:

    Skincare products I tend to use up, without worrying about expiration. Powder eyeshadwows and powder blushes, they last forever. I’ve had products for years. I normally only throw something out if it’s been untouched for 2+ years and the color is unflattering on me. Mascara toss it when it gets clumpy and smells funny.

  55. kris says:

    real mineral makeup does not expire. they are basically crushed rocks and minerals

  56. Lynnd says:

    I suspect companies are using cheaper preservatives than they once did. ELF seems to be among the worst offenders. They recommend throwing out some of their lip products in just six months. But paying more doesn’t always guarantee better, either, because the emphasis on natural and less toxic ingredients seems to also be responsible for shortening shelf life. A Burt’s Bees lip gloss product I bought last year smelled rancid right out of the tube, brand new. I contacted the manufacturer, since I lost my receipt the day I bought the product, and they replaced it. The product consisted of a recently-launched lip gloss with wand applicator, featuring all-natural ingredients and yet to my nose the replacement clearly seemed to be rancid, too.

    The issue nobody can account for is the warehouse or delivery conditions. Some of these products are shipped clear across the country by ground freight in the height of the summer before they reach store shelves and/or your home. If the delivery trucks or warehouses for retail or wholesale are not temperature controlled, it might already be in the process of turning.

    In general, however, I have had good success keeping products that are supposedly expired long after the fact. I have lipsticks that are about 10 years, which I stocked up on because the manufacturer discontinued a color I loved. In that time I’ve encountered maybe three that smelled really bad maybe three to four years in. Some lipsticks, like Estee Lauder, start out with a very strong, “off” fragrance to begin with so I try to stay clear of brands that have a scent that “muddies the waters” for my nose. However, generally if you know how the fresh version is supposed to smell, you will notice that eventually it doesn’t smell like that at all — almost a fragrance-free scent. I continue to use lip products that no longer have much of their original fragrance. At some point after that, however, you can detect a strong crayon-like smell. However, if it smells just vaguely crayon-like — with no other visible changes to the color or texture — I continue to use it. Doing this with lipsticks seems to work for me but I get a considerably more nervous about lip glosses. Just the same, I’ve had some lip glosses, even that have lasted more than five years (smelled like vanilla sugar cookie to begin with and still smells that way with no odd separation so I continue to use it). Beyond 5-10 years I get concerned, however. My MIL is a retired nurse and I question how she goes on using a 20+-year-old bottle of Prescriptives liquid foundation and L’Oreal lipsticks in the ridged white tube, which the company hasn’t manufactured for more than 20 years. Now that’s gross, IMHO. But I guess if you are storing your cosmetics in a cool, shaded area and you don’t share your cosmetics with anybody else you’re only going to end up with your own germs to contend with, anyhow. That being said, I would never keep swapped products or shared products in the same way.

    As for nail color, in closing, I want to add that nail polishes literally do not go bad at all. They can separate and become too thick but the many toxic chemicals that comprise paints/varnish remain inhospitable to microbes even in a salon environment. There’s a blog post from a nail polish manufacturer rep who states that the “open jar” symbols we’re seeing on cosmetics and nail color are mandated by the European Union, whereas the FDA (U.S.) does not have any such requirement. The only type of product I’ve personally had an issue with is mascara. But I go through my mascara so fast that by the time it starts to dry out I’m on to a new one in the first place. Still, I would say to the gals out there — just don’t buy expensive mascara. There’s really no department store brand that can justify the cost over your basic drugstore brands that you can replace more frequently. Paying too much for a cosmetic adds up to the temptation to hold on to it too long and so it’s not worth the cost or risk, IMHO, when it comes to mascara.

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