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How long does makeup last? Your guide to expiration, contamination and curation

January 1 | 6 minute read

Beauty Expiration Date Guide Hero 16x9

Words by Kerri Gordon

Originally published on | March 2

‘Does skincare expire?’ and ‘How long does foundation last?’ have got to be two of our most-asked questions – and we absolutely get it.

When you're beauty obsessed, doing a seasonal purge of your makeup drawers, fragrance wardrobe and skincare shelves can be hard. But it's extremely necessary, and here's why…

Once a product is opened and dipped into, the clock begins to tick on its efficacy, performance and general safety. But knowing if, or when, to dispose of something can be a little tricky, as products come in so many forms and formulas.

We also know the excitement of new product drops and launches, which quickly take precedence in your regimen, bumping those tried-and-trusted favourites so that they lose their spot in your rotation, and you sometimes even forget you have them (it happens).

If you’re ready to cull your collection, or make the most of what you have, keep reading. We’re dishing the dirt on cleaning up!

Your first port of call: the ‘PAO’

That cute little open jar symbol found on almost every beauty product? That’s called a PAO, short for ‘period after opening’. It will always feature a number in its centre – usually 6, 12, 18 or 24 – indicating how many months after opening that the preservative system in the product will be able to fight off bacteria (with maximum strength). Once that time is up, the preservative system doesn’t become immediately ineffective, but it might start to become a little bit less effective.

So if you’re asking how long makeup lasts, or wondering whether or not makeup expires, flip your product over and check the PAO.

Also, as a general guide, any products that come in close and direct contact with your eyes (think: eyeliners and mascaras) shouldn’t be used for longer than three to six months. Powders, like blush, bronzer and eyeshadow are generally good to go for one to two years, and cream products, like foundation and lipstick, tend to stay strong for up to two years (but that all depends on how they're packaged and whether they're in a pot, pump or stick – more on that later). Natural products have minimal preservatives, and therefore will typically have a shorter shelf-life.

For all skincare, so any cleansers, serums and creams, a blanket rule of six to 12 months from opening is your safest bet.

And when it comes to cologne and fragrance, you have some wiggle room. Once opened, a bottle will usually last between one to three years, provided you store the bottle correctly (away from direct light and high temperatures, both of which can cut a fragrance's lifespan to just a few months). As for those unopened bottles you've been gifted or collected over the years? There is no definitive answer – some bottles can last up to 10 years! – so you'll just have to rely on your nose and eyes to tell you if the scent has oxidised (the juice might smell off or have some discolouration).

When actives become... not so active

If acids and active ingredients like vitamin C, retinol and glycolic acid play a part in your skincare regime, then paying attention to packaging and PAO is more important than ever.

These ingredients are sensitive to both light and oxygen, so they need to be housed in air and light-proof packaging to stay active and effective. Brands like Kiehl’s, Dr. Dennis Gross and Perricone MD make this easy with dark amber-tinted glass bottles. Using these products after their PAO might not affect your skin negatively, but they do start losing potency which might make them a redundant (and potentially time-wasting) part of your regimen. Our advice: if they’ve been lingering on your bathroom shelf a little too long, ditch them for a fresh batch.

How to make your makeup and skincare last longer

Human hands are renowned for spreading dirt and germs like wildfire, and we’ve all dipped our fingers directly into a pot of moisturiser or blush. But here's the thing: as soon as you’ve made that first contact, your product begins to change and becomes less effective.

Avoiding the double dip is easier than ever, with brands like Tatcha, Drunk Elephant, Cosmetics 27 and more supplying scoops and applicators with their potted skincare. This ensures that their formulas can stick to their claims for their full lifespan, avoid contamination, and look great on your face, always. If your favourite product doesn’t come with an applicator, you can use one from any product you've finished (just be sure to clean it!), or from your local pharmacy or beauty supply store. Alternatively, get thrifty and upcycle: those small plastic ice cream spoons are perfect for scooping up a detoxifying mud mask or luxurious night cream.

And don't forget your brushes, which are very good at carrying germs and bacteria from your face, to your products, and back to your face again. Regular brush-cleaning is a task that none of us truly love, but it is one that will save your products from unsanitary bacteria and early degradation, and your face from unwanted breakouts (no thanks).

Wash all your brushes, recycle the ones that are looking a little too loved (they've obviously served you well), and set in place a regular brush-washing routine, at least once a week, so it becomes a habit rather than a chore. As an added beauty bonus: using clean brushes can help make your makeup appear more seamless, reduce the risk of reaction or inflammation on your skin, and extend the life and hygiene of your favourite products. Win win.

Still confused? Use your senses

If you’re unsure whether a product has expired or gone ‘off’, you have all the tools you need to make a call: your five senses. Most, if not all, beauty products will change smell, texture, colour or overall appearance when past their prime, so if something’s looking or smelling a bit suspicious, bin it. Products like mascara tend to give off a dramatically different scent, and facial creams will usually separate or turn a bit yellow. Waste is not the aim of the game, but if your products are starting to show these signs, and have been opened for longer than their PAO, they will do you absolutely no favours, so it’s best to say goodbye.

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