Your Mascara Could Have Mites—Plus Other Reasons Makeup Expiry Dates Matter

Before I get started, I’d like to caveat this piece with a disclaimer: I do not believe in expiry dates. I am, if you will, an expiry-date conspiracist who believes that supermarkets stamp deliberately short shelf lives onto our fresh produce. Those best before and use by dates that appear on every plastic-wrapped apple and tomato? I genuinely don’t give them a second glance. I was raised in a household where you just give whatever is in the fridge a sniff and use your own good judgement to decide whether it’s still edible.

It probably won’t surprise you, then, to hear that when it comes to makeup expiry dates, I take a similarly laissez-faire approach. As a beauty obsessive, the number of products in my stash means it’s nearly impossible to figure out when I first opened something, and, therefore, when it needs to be chucked.

Of course, there are some products that I churn through and throw out regularly (mascaras and foundations are on my high rotation list), but there are others that have stuck around for longer than I’d care to think about. (Benefit Benetint, I’m looking at you.)

But after a quick chat in the Who What Wear office, it turns out that even those with a limited amount of beauty products were still clueless when it came to expiry dates and whether they’re actually to be adhered to. If you can even keep track of when you opened something, that is.

So I decided it was high time I put my expiry date preconceptions aside and found out exactly how long your makeup products last, what you should look out for to determine if a product is still good to use and if there are any products that are safe to hold onto long-term. Here’s what I found out…

Beauty Expiry Dates Aren't Always Their "Use By" Dates

I can’t lie: My inner expiry-date cynic felt a little vindicated at this tidbit: “Manufacturers generally put a little less time into the expiry dates of products, as they know most people continue using them after the expired date,” Ami Richardson of specialist beauty store Skinforia, told me.

“What the expiry date really means is that the manufacturer will not guarantee the product has the same quality of use after the expiry date,” she says. Although this doesn’t mean that you should go and retrieve a four-year-old mascara from the bin, it does mean that there are a little more leeway and common sense to be had with beauty expiry dates than I’d previously been led to believe.

If It Smells Weird, Don't Use It

Yes, the sniff test is real—and it works. “The first rule if [a product] smells funny is don’t use it,” Richardson advised. But the smell isn’t the only sense that we should be relying on when it comes to the contents of our makeup bags. It’s important to give everything a good look too. “If the consistency or colour changes from when you first got it, then this is an indication that it could be off,” she says.

With liquid products, you should be looking for signs of separation, which indicates that some of the ingredients might be on the turn, while cracks in powder products suggest that they are drying out and will no longer pack a punch when it comes to pigment.

Keep an Eye on Your Mascara

If there’s one beauty product that you need to be switching regularly, it’s your mascara. “We use mascaras every day, so they will harbour the most bacteria,” Richardson told me. And the grossness doesn’t stop there. “We have little mites that live in our lashes, and without a regular chance of product, they can build up within the bacteria and put our eyes at risk of infection,” she says. If the thought of little creepy crawlies in your lash line isn’t enough to have you throwing your mascara in the nearest bin, then, honestly, I’m not sure what will. Trust me—don’t Google it.

Powder Lasts for Years

Hooray—some good news! Powder formulas (mineral foundations, blushers and eye shadows) can last for up to two years. “But make sure to store them in a cool, dry place as any dampness can contaminate them,” Richardson told me. And, while they can last well if properly looked after, you need to make sure that the tools you are using to apply the product with are equally cared for. “You should make sure that any makeup brushes used with them are regularly cleaned, as oils and bacteria from the skin can contaminate your product.”

Err on the Side of Caution

There’s no doubt that once open and exposed to air, your makeup products can start accumulating bacteria that you wouldn’t want to transfer to your skin. Aside from it generally making me feel a bit squeamish, using bacteria-strewn products can exacerbate skin issues like acne and may even lead to infections in the worst case. So, to be safe, here’s a breakdown of when you should toss your makeup products once they’re open:

3 months: Mascaras and liquid eyeliners

6 months: Liquid foundations and concealers

12 months: Lip glosses, cream eye shadows and blushers, brow gels

18 months: Lipsticks and lip liners

24 months: Powder products including foundations, eye shadows and blushers

As for keeping track of exactly when you opened your product so you know when to toss it? The first tip is for me: Stop opening so many products at once. By only having one or two of each product type on the go, it’s obviously much easier to keep track of what you’ve got.

If, like me, you can’t bear the thought of only having one mascara or foundation on the go at once, then try separating your stash into separate makeup bags when storing things: one for short life products that will need to go in the next couple of months and one for products that will last the year.

Still not convinced? Here’s my pick of the beauty products that you can work your way through quickly, ergo avoiding this expiry-date conundrum all together.

If you wear mascara every day, then chances are you’ll have no problem getting through a tube within three months. If like me, you skip mascara most days, then opt for a travel-sized tube like this one. It ensures that the product won’t be going to waste when it’s time for the bin.

It might be petite, but this handbag-sized eyeliner boasts the same foolproof felt tip as the full-sized Benefit Roller Liner.

Avoid the confusion of knowing when you opened certain products by opting for a palette of your daily essentials. This set of four powders can be used to brighten, contour, blush and set your makeup so you’re covered for whatever look you want to create.

It’s rare for me to ever finish an entire lipstick. Likely because I have about 20 different reds on the go at any one time. These little versions of MAC’s classic shades mean you might actually have a chance of reaching the bottom of one within 18 months. Plus, they earn serious cute points.

You get a year out most cream blushes anyway, but the beauty of this liquid one from Suqqu is that the pump dispenser makes it harder for bacteria to get in, therefore, extending the amount of time you have to use it.