Genius Tips to Rescue Makeup That’s Past its Prime

A mother puts makeup on her daughter's face as they play dress up.
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Is your makeup drawer full of stuff you bought five years ago? And are you still using any of it?

Well, news flash: Makeup can go bad. It might mean it loses its pigment or the moisture that lets it spread easily but it can also become contaminated and cause infections, especially around your eyes.

But do you have to toss an entire unused bag of old makeup even if those cosmetics are essentially new? We have some tips on what to do with old makeup.

Since makeup traps bacteria, its shelf life is relatively short – especially for products containing creams, and anything you put on your eyes or lips. We learned how to get more life out of old makeup – and we also have tips on what cosmetics you truly need to throw out stat.

The use-by date on makeup products depends on the day you first used each beauty product, so if you haven’t opened a bottle yet, then consider the shelf life extended unless you notice it already looks like the texture has separated or if there’s a foul smell. Even unopened products should never be kept for more than three years, as the preservatives in the makeup expire over time, says Toby Dash, a blogger with Five Star Skin Care.

“To be sure your makeup will be used longer, wash your hands before applying, clean your makeup brushes regularly and avoid sharing,” Dash says.

Makeup Has an Expiration Date

Not all makeup is created equal. Some will do its job for years but other makeup starts to fade in a mere three months. Use it or lose it?

Check out the back of your makeup container and you might see a small symbol that looks like a jar of old-school night cream. The lid will be slightly open and there’s a number followed by an m, like 6m or 3m. Next to it is a swooshing arrow symbol. This means that the makeup inside is good for 6 months or 3 months after you open it. For pencils or smaller containers, the information may be on the box they come in. Check on this before you chuck the box, and if you’re a true Penny Hoarder, you’ll jot the date you opened the container on it with a permanent marker.

If that’s too much organization for you, our handy makeup shelf life guide will help you get the most from your everyday makeup.


Shelf life: 3 to 6 months

What to do with old beauty products: Since eyeshadow is used around your eyes, you need to be careful. If bacteria builds and gets into your eye, you could have a real problem (pink eye is a biggie). But you can scrape off the top layer and spray with 70 percent alcohol to sanitize the rest, says Felicia Graham, of Felicia Graham Beauty in New York. If your eye shadow has cracked, crush it, put the dust in a small jar and use it as loose powder, Graham suggests. Loose powders tend to last longer than pressed powder, and that’s really what eyeshadow is.


Shelf life: 3 months

What to do with old beauty products: Make sure the lid is closed tightly to help any air from escaping, Graham says. This will keep the mascara from drying out prematurely. But you should stick with the expiration date on this one, as mascara can easily spread eye infections. If you spot clumps in your mascara or if you notice a funny smell, get rid of it immediately.

Foundation and concealer

Shelf life: Liquid foundation will last about a year

What to do with old beauty products: Add a few drops of beauty oil (Vitamin C or rosehip oil) to your foundation to get a little more life out of it, Graham says. “It will actually give you a beautiful, dewy finish,” she says. Also keep your fingers away from the bottle’s lips to prevent bacteria from getting inside the products. Pour the foundation directly onto the back of your hand instead. Keep it out of direct sunlight, away from humidity (this means out of the bathroom) and in a dry, cool area. When you purchase a new foundation, look for one with a pump, as it’ll be more difficult to contaminate so you’ll be able to extend the life of the product.

Lipstick/lip gloss

Shelf life: 1 year

What to do with old beauty products: You can keep lipstick and lip gloss a little longer than a year, but if these start to smell rancid or if they have a change in texture (get drier or clumpy), they’ve expired, Graham says. Keep these beauty products in a cool place that’s not your bathroom.

Gel Eyeliner

Shelf life: 2 months

What to do with old beauty products: These trap bacteria easily, hence the short lifespan. But you can bring them back to life by sanitizing with 70 percent alcohol, and mixing medium or duraline, a liquid compound made to extend the life of makeup. This will dilute them and make them easier to apply, Graham says.

Makeup Pencils

Shelf life: 1 year

What to do with old beauty products: Since you can sharpen these products to zap bacteria, these have a relatively long shelf life. Extend it by keeping the pencils in a cool, dry area so they don’t rot prematurely.

Powdered Blush

Shelf life: 2 years

What to do with old beauty products: Powdered blush lasts the longest out of all the makeups, as it doesn’t go near your eyes or mouth. Extend the life of it even further by cleaning your brushes once a week (rinse with soap and warm water) so you’re not mixing your brush with bacteria and old makeup.


Shelf life: 10 years

What to do with old beauty products: If only all of our products lasted as long as perfume. You can extend perfume’s life even longer by keeping it out of the sun. UV light can damage the structure of the liquid and change the scent. Put the bottle in a dark, dry place that’s not the bathroom. Make sure you leave your perfume in its original packaging, as the box was designed to hold and store the perfume optimally. There’s some debate over whether perfumes should be stored in the fridge, but most experts are wary of this idea because high-end perfumes are sensitive to temperature extremes.

Danielle Braff is a contributor to the Penny Hoarder.