Is Your Lipstick Expired? 3 Tips from a Cosmetic Chemist

by | Read time: 3 minutes

Many of us are guilty of holding onto that favorite eye shadow compact for years and years. It’s easy to lose track of just how old the beauty products in your kits are. Unlike fine wine, cosmetics do not get better with time.

Old, Misshapen Red Lipstick |

While it may seem harmless to use lipstick that has been in your makeup bag for half a decade, cosmetic chemist Kelly Dobos says you’re taking a risk. Expired eye liners and eye shadows, for instance, can cause eye irritation and even infections. Past-their-prime foundations and powders can cause acne-like bumps and painful, angry-looking dry patches.

If you have a skin reaction from expired makeup, Dobos says you should stop using the product, and consult a dermatologist. If the reaction is related to the eye area, contact an optometrist.

“Be sure to provide the doctor with the product’s ingredient list, which will aid in determining whether the reaction is due to an irritant or is allergic in nature,” she says.

Dobos also encourages calling the manufacturer’s customer support number to report the incident. “Good cosmetic companies monitor and react to these instances, which are referred to as adverse events,” she says.

To help you avoid an expired makeup nightmare, Dobos has outlined expiration time frames for common cosmetic products and has some easy-to-follow tips for recognizing the signs of makeup gone bad and tracking how long a product has been in use.  

1. Know the signs of makeup turned bad

Most cosmetics have a period after opening (PAO) symbol on the label. It looks like a small jar with its lid opened. Dobos says the number within that symbol will note how many months the product is usable.

“This number usually represents the amount of testing a company has done to prove the product is stable and to indicate the amount of time the preservatives are effective,” she says.

Once the time frame given on the PAO has passed, trash the product.

Aside from following the PAO, how can you tell when a cosmetic has gone bad? Some telltale signs include separation of ingredients like oils and silicones. Powders can become dried out and cracked. In addition, exposure to heat and moisture can cause microbes to grow, and exposure to light can cause colors to change.

Changes in odor can also indicate a product is expired. “For example, many natural oils will oxidize over time and smell rancid. As these oils break down, some of the byproducts formed can be irritating to the skin,” Dobos says.

2. Make note of expiration time frames

You can hold onto lipstick, lip gloss, lip liner, foundation, concealer and brow pencils for six months to one year. Dobos says the shelf life of these formulas depends on the specific ingredients and preservatives they contain. “It’s really that PAO on the label that consumers should go by,” she advises.

While it’s safe to use eyeshadow for three to six months, eye liner and mascara have a more conservative two- to four-month life span. “Eye products have a shorter shelf life than other products because eye infections can cause serious harm,” Dobos warns.

When it comes to blush and face powder, Dobos doesn’t give a definitive expiration timeline. “Powder products like eye shadow and blush have a longer shelf life due to their dry nature,” she says. “But this doesn’t mean they aren’t susceptible to microbial growth. Be sure to use clean applicators to reduce the chance of introducing microbes,” which can cause skin irritation and infection.

3. Use technology to keep track

It isn’t easy to keep track of how old your cosmetics are. Luckily, you can download apps on your phone that help take the guesswork out of remembering when you purchased a particular cosmetic. Well-Kept Beauty and Beauty Keeper are a two options Dobos recommends.