Holding on to makeup for way too long? You're definitely not alone. "Right-sized cosmetics” brand Stowaway conducted a study with Poshly in 2015, and of the 4,052 women surveyed, 89 percent hang onto old makeup "just in case they might need it later"—even though 87 percent of them know that makeup has expiration dates.
To find out what exactly those expiration dates are, The Lookbook called up Randy Schueller, a cosmetic chemist and a former senior director of hair and skincare research and development for Alberto Culver and Unilever. He’s the co-founder of The Beauty Brains, a blog and podcast where cosmetic chemists answer beauty consumers’ burning questions.
Turns out there are plenty of caveats as to how long makeup can be expected to last. First, he laid some knowledge on us: in Europe, beauty brands are required to put an expiration date on products. It's called Period After Opening, and it's a little icon of a jar showing the initials PAO and how many months the product is good for after you crack it open. The PAO icon is optional in the US, but look for it on your products, especially brands that are sold in Europe.
In the US, true expiration dates are only required for cosmetics that are over-the-counter drugs, like sunscreen. The figures in the chart are rules of thumb, because so much depends on how the product is stored after opening. To extend the life of your products, make sure they aren't exposed to water, any sources of bacteria, very high or low temperatures, or direct sunlight.
If you clean brushes and applicators more frequently and make sure that you wash your hands before applying them, since that can help extend the product's expiration date too.
"Even beyond a product's 'good by' period, it does not necessarily 'rot' or 'go bad,' unless there has been a microbial contamination. Check for separation or a major change in color or texture, or a rancid smell,"says Dr. Vermén Verallo-Rowell, dermatologist-dermatopathologist and creator of skincare and cosmetics brand VMV Hypoallergenics. "Contamination can occur with the introduction of water or bacteria from applicators or fingers, by putting product that has spilled out back into the container, or by being stored improperly. In short, the less water it has, the longer it lasts, and if there are no signs of contamination, it’s usually still ok to use."
Here are some helpful hints on how to keep your cosmetics going strong for longer.
- If you want to keep your perfume pristine for years, Randy recommends storing it in the fridge covered in aluminum foil. It might look pretty on your dresser, but perfume is very sensitive to light and temperature and it might not smell the same within a year or two.
- Lip gloss has a shorter lifespan than lipstick because it has more water in it.
- Products with active ingredients (like anti-aging serums) may not last as long as run-of-the-mill moisturizers.
- Foundation in a pump where you don't touch the product has a longer expiration date that foundation that is in a jar and exposed to the air.
- "Some people shake with a product having its cover off. Don’t. Always shake the product before opening," says Dr. Vermén.
- Eyeliner pencils that you can sharpen are easy to keep around for a while, because there is no water in the formulation and it can be sharpened to remove bacteria.
- Err on the side of replacing mascaras often, since it's exposed to the air when you pump it, and we need to be careful with products used near the eyes, nose or lips.
Too bad mascara is one cosmetic we're all guilty of keeping around forever. Stowaway and Poshly found that less than one in five consumers discard their mascara in the recommended three-month time frame. It's a good reminder for makeup hoarders out there that it isn't helpful in the long run to save products for special occasions, try to use it up!
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