How To Tell When Your Makeup Is Going Bad

With so much makeup on the market, a lot of us tend to overbuy, and we often don't end up using the products up before they expire. Yes, makeup does have an expiration date, which means that you can hold onto it for years. "That colored mascara that you bought for Halloween three years ago will not perform the same anymore. The ease of application, longevity of wear, and risk of irritation will all be impacted when you keep products past their prime," celebrity stylist and Ulta Beauty senior vice president Nick Stenson tells Shondaland.

However, some makeup products become bad before their expiration date, which is why you need to keep a close eye on them. If you notice that a makeup product is changing in any way, stop using it immediately. To ensure you know just what signs to look for, we made sure to cover the most common ways makeup can go bad before its expiration date, as well as how you can find a product's expiration date and keep track of it.

It starts to smell different

To make sure you don't use any expired makeup products, make a habit of smelling them every now and then. Of course, the most common makeup product whose smell we notice changing is lipstick. "It's so apparent as soon as you take the top off and put it under your nose," the director of product and packaging development for Bliss, Damiana Zullo, tells The Seattle Times. "If there's a strong, waxy smell, get rid of it." But apart from lip products, try to remember to smell mascara, eyeliners, and face products, too! Natural cosmetics formulator and the founder of Enessa Skincare Michelle Ornstein explains that you can "use your nose to detect any foul smells or rancidity — that's how you can easily mark anything as unusable" (via Women's Health).

Of course, dry products like eyeshadows or powders might not develop a bad smell even when they expire, which is why you should be extra careful with those. Concealers, mascaras, lipglosses, and any other liquid makeup products are more likely to develop a foul smell as they often have applicators that touch your skin and potentially pick up bacteria that end up in the packaging. Because of this, liquid products tend to have a shorter expiration date than powders. If your makeup begins smelling like gasoline or vinegar, it's definitely time to throw it out!

The consistency has changed

Another important thing you need to pay attention to is the consistency of your makeup. "The consistency of the product is going to change over time," Hadley King, M.D., a dermatologist at Skinney Medspa, tells Women's Health. "They're going to dry out, get clumpy, and not apply as smoothly. That's true for everything from mascara to lipstick and foundation."

As soon as you notice it has changed, it's time to throw the product out. "The pigment and the actual formula [of the foundation] will separate," Rosie Jane Johnston, a makeup artist and the founder of the cosmetics line By Rosie Jane, explains to Women's Health. While the change in consistency is easier to notice in liquid products like your foundation, which might separate or become thicker, powders can also give you signs they've expired. If your powder product is crumbling (more than it did when you first got it), it's time to say goodbye to it. If your creamy products aren't applying and blending nicely anymore, that's also a sign they have expired.

The color is off

Apart from smell and consistency, a change of color is also a big sign your makeup has gone bad. Per MasterClass, makeup is prone to oxidation just like, for instance, an apple would once cut, which is why the color change occurs. The longer you have the products, the higher the chance they oxidize. Of course, because of this, it's essential that you always close your makeup products so that they aren't exposed to air all the time, just as it's important to eat your apple as quickly as possible once you cut it.

The most common products that noticeably change color because of oxidation are foundation and concealer. Often, even a newly opened one can become a bit more orange once you apply it to your skin. However, this doesn't mean that it has gone bad. Instead, it's oxidizing on your skin and reacting with your skin's excess oils (via L'Oréal Paris). On the other hand, if the foundation/concealer changed color in the bottle, it's time to toss it!

It was unopened for over two years

If you're someone who likes to stock up on your favorite makeup product while it's on sale, you might need to reconsider that, especially if you end up keeping it unopened for too long. Yes, even unopened makeup can go bad, which might surprise many, but it's an unfortunate truth about these products.

According to Healthline, if you store unopened makeup properly, which means putting it in a cold and dry place, it can last two to three years. However, since it's hard to know just when a product was packaged, it's best not to let it sit unopened at your home for more than a year. This is particularly true for cream or liquid products containing butter and oils, as those can end up separating and going rancid. Even if the makeup product looks fine, it's best to replace it with a new one if you've had it unopened for over three years.

It started breaking you out

If a makeup product you've been using for months (or years) suddenly starts making you break out, it might be another sign that it has expired even though it might still look fine. If your skin is looking very irritated, "it's always best to see a dermatologist immediately if you experience any kind of reaction," makeup artist Ashely Rebecca tells Byrdie. One common reason a makeup product will break you out after you've used it for a while is mold. Yes, you read that right: mold can grow within the packaging, and you often don't see it. 

Apart from mold, the separation of oil in a foundation or concealer can cause breakouts. "The oil ingredients (the spreading agents) will always rise to the top, so, if you continue to use it, you may be applying a higher concentration of potentially pore-clogging oil to your skin," celebrity esthetician Renée Rouleau tells Byrdie. "It's a condition called acne cosmetica, which is essentially comedones, pustules, and papules caused from a blockage in the pores, resulting in bacteria growth. It's a combination of foundation makeup, cream blushes, and increased oil secretion exacerbated from the heat and humidity." 

To ensure you avoid this, Rouleau suggests you always shake your liquid products before applying them, regardless of how old they are. Still, if you notice any separation, it's time to toss the product out. Kelli Bartlett, the director of makeup artistry at Glamsquad, also notes that "expired cream products can irritate your skin, exacerbate rosacea and clog pores. The same ingredients that give a product 'glow' or moisture can cause big problems when allowed to spoil" (via Byrdie).

The number of months on the packaging has passed

Many people tend to be confused with makeup expiration dates and where they would find them. Every time you get a new makeup product, look for a tiny symbol known as the Period After Opening symbol (via Healthline). The symbol shows you the number of months you can use the product after opening it. "If you're ever stuck wondering, all products have a small symbol that look like a jar with a number/letter on the inside, ex: 12M. This means, usually, that a product has a 12-month shelf life upon opening," celebrity makeup artist Britty Whitfield tells Byrdie. "For makeup, I always follow what the time frame is in the symbol. The worst possible thing would be to use an old, oxidized foundation."

According to Insider, the symbol was introduced in 2005 by the European Commission, and all cosmetic products today should have one. If you're worried you won't remember when you opened something, it's wise to create a list on your phone/computer (or on paper, if you prefer) to which you will add all the new products and the dates you've opened them. This way, you can revisit the list every month and check which of your makeup products you might need to say goodbye to. Alternatively, celebrity stylist and Ulta Beauty senior vice president Nick Stenson suggests that you "place a small sticker with the date you opened a product [somewhere on the product] to ensure it doesn't stick around in your makeup bag for too long" (via Shondaland).

It's begun irritating your skin/eyes

The makeup category you should be the most cautious with is eye products. Because of that, products like liner and mascara tend to expire much sooner than lip or face products. "Generally speaking, if you are regularly using your mascara, it should be replaced every three to six months," the director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, Joshua Zeichner, M.D., tells Allure

If you're someone with sensitive eyes, make sure you keep your eye makeup as clean as possible and don't use the same mascara for more than three months. "Your eyelashes are meant to protect your eyes and prevent contaminants and particles from the air and environment from getting in. So when you apply mascara, and the wand is dipped back into the tube, anything collected on the lashes (bacteria included) will get in. This is where possible problems can be created," celebrity esthetician Renée Rouleau explains to Byrdie.

Besides mascara, eyeliner is often another makeup product that goes bad quickly. "Eyeliners are the biggest culprits when it comes spreading infection, so if your liner begins to lose its color, dry out, or become ineffective, toss it," Kelli Bartlett notes (via Byrdie). The makeup expert adds that puffiness, redness, and swelling can all be side effects of eye makeup that has expired or gone bad.

You don't keep it clean (or your tools)

Preventing bacteria from developing in your makeup products can help you use them safely for longer. The first step you should always do when applying makeup is to wash your hands. If you handle your makeup products with clean hands, you immediately lower the chances of bacteria spreading. "Products, where you dip your finger to apply on the skin, are more susceptible to bacterial contamination," Margarita Lolis, M.D., of Schweiger Dermatology Group tells Byrdie. "Lotions with a pump are generally safer and less likely to be contaminated.

Apart from clean hands, washing your makeup tools regularly is crucial. And if you're sharing your makeup with anyone, you should consider stopping that. "The best practice is to not share your makeup or brushes with anyone else. The process of sanitizing your makeup with alcohol might ruin it if you're not careful (like powder products and eyeshadows), so the main focus should be on the brushes, sponges, and applicators," skin expert Dr. Robb Akridge, co-founder of Clarisonic, tells Byrdie

While you can sanitize powder makeup products with 70% isopropyl alcohol in a spray bottle, be aware that this can also damage the product and change its texture and color. According to celebrity makeup artist Britty Whitfield, if you use dirty brushes with powder products, you can easily put "old makeup, germs, and skin cells into that powder product" (via Byrdie).

You haven't been storing it as recommended

Storing makeup as recommended is another way you can get the most out of it. Always ensure you close all the makeup products tightly and put them away in a cold and dark place. Warmer temperatures will accelerate the degradation of your makeup products (via Marie Claire) so consider investing in a mini skincare/makeup fridge if the area you're currently storing it in gets too warm. "I totally recommend keeping your makeup in a mini skincare fridge," celebrity makeup artist Priscilla DiStasio tells "Forget fruits and vegetables! Keeping mascara and lipstick in the fridge will keep your product fresh, keep the longevity and keep the consistency."

If you keep your makeup in the bathroom, consider storing it elsewhere. The humidity from your shower can encourage mold, especially in products that aren't firmly sealed, such as eyeshadows, sponges, powders, etc. (via Marie Claire). Jennifer L. MacGregor, M.D., of Union Square Laser Dermatology in New York, explains to Byrdie that "some products are indeed unstable when exposed to warm and/or moist environments, especially when they aren't packaged appropriately." Storing makeup in a dry place will prolong its life. 

You use preservative-free makeup

Eco-friendly and all-natural makeup options are very popular, but even though you might think it's better, that doesn't always have to be the case. In particular, preservative-free makeup can cause you more harm than good. "Preservative systems are extremely important to make sure a product is safe for use," Krupa Koestline, a cosmetic chemist, tells Allure. "A good preservative is broad-spectrum, which means it acts against bacteria and yeast, as well as mold."

Cosmetic chemist Javon Ford explains that preservatives have a bad rep, but not using them just creates more waste as products will go bad much quicker. "[People want to avoid preservatives,] but in modern conventions, products are shelf stable for over a year. And keeping something shelf stable for years, especially natural ingredients and botanicals, is actually not natural," he tells MindBodyGreen. Luckily, some preservatives are eco-certified, including benzoic acid, benzyl alcohol, dehydroacetic acid, salicylic acid, and sorbic acid (via Iscaguard).

The label has worn off

If you're about to look for the Period After Opening symbol on the makeup you're currently using, there is a high chance some products might have a worn-off label. Unless you can remember when exactly you opened them, in which case you can look up their Period After Opening symbol online, it's best to throw them out no matter how much it pains you to do so.

A worn-off label may also indicate that you have used the product frequently and for a while, which means you're probably running low on it, and it's time to replace it. After all, the Mayo Clinic notes that expired makeup can cause skin irritations, so it's better to be safe than sorry. If you, for whatever reason, insist on keeping the makeup item, make sure you inspect its smell, consistency, and color for any changes. If any of those are off, you should really avoid using it, as skin irritation will be inevitable.

Different categories of makeup have different expiration dates

Even though you should keep an eye on the Period After Opening symbol, it's good to have a general idea of when you should throw out makeup products. Different categories have different expiration dates, which usually depend on their consistencies. Powder products tend to last much longer than liquid makeup, which needs to be replaced more frequently. Being aware of how long you can use different makeup products will also help your bank account, as you're less likely to impulse buy a new mascara now that you know the one you already have can only be used for six months.

According to Healthline, the makeup product that usually has the longest expiration date is lipstick, which generally has a Period After Opening of 18 to 24 months. However, lip products are more susceptible to spreading bacteria as you apply them directly to your lips. "The skin on your lips is the thinnest on the body and susceptible to bacteria. Lipstick is full of natural, hydrating ingredients, which, when exposed to air, can dry out," Kelli Bartlett tells Byrdie. "When sources of bacteria or viruses are introduced into lip gloss — from a skin infection or cold sore, for example — the gloss wand can transfer bacteria into the ampule, contaminating the entire product."

Now, it might be time to dig into your makeup items!