Makeup Expiration Dates Explained: The Dirty Truth About Expired Cosmetics

makeup expiration dates

As a *professional* beauty product hoarder, I’m the first to admit that I may hold onto products a little longer than I should. But the truth is, makeup expiration dates are a very real thing—and your expired products could be effecting your skin in ways that you don’t even realize.

In an effort to figure out what I should keep and what I should toss from my own stash, I decided to enlist the help of an expert.

A few months ago I had my makeup done by Kelli J. Bartlett, a professional artist who is also the Artistic Director of Glamsquad. (Scroll to the bottom of this article for my $25 off Glamsquad promo code.) We chatted about the shelf life of my favorite products, and she told me that the longer you wait to replace certain things, the more likely they are to become breeding grounds for bacteria—even if they’re unopened. Gross. 

makeup expiration dates chart

But how can you tell if makeup is expired? That part can be tricky. Luckily, Kelli broke everything down for me, from how long foundation is good for to when you know it’s time to ditch your mascara. So, if you have a major makeup stash like I do, please read on to avoid growing gross germs in your products. 

Pro tip: Most makeup products have a secret code on the back indicating their shelf life. Here’s what the symbol looks like.

makeup expiration dates symbol

This number refers to the amount of months you should wait until you toss and restock. But don’t worry if you can’t find that secret number, because I’ve compiled a master list below.



Shelf life: 2-3 months

Trust me when I say you should replace your mascara every two to three months. Between removing the wand from the tube, applying the product onto your lashes and dipping the wand back in, the brush collects more bacteria and dust than you would like to believe. So…yes, I know this shelf life is pretty short, but nobody has time for an eye infection. 

If your mascara gets clumpy or dry, do not try to revitalize it with eye drops or water. Or if you notice a gasoline-like smell coming from the tube, please do yourself a favor: toss and replace. 

You can find amazing drugstore options that won’t break the bank, so implementing this 2-3 month expiration date into your beauty buying routine is definitely doable. This drugstore mascara is a personal favorite of mine—or if you don’t mind spending a little extra, I’ve been OBSESSED with this new one from Sephora.


Shelf life: 2-3 months

Just like mascara, liquid and gel liners should be replaced every two to three months. Because these products are being applied to a sensitive area prone to infections, it is crucial to follow this rule.

Perfect for trapping bacteria, a pot of gel eyeliner should probably be tossed on the earlier side of this shelf life ratio. If you don’t, you could experience redness, itchiness, or even conjunctivitis. I’m not trying to scare you, but THIS. IS. A. REAL. THING.


Shelf life: 1 year

You can hold onto your pencil eyeliner and lipliner for a little bit longer. But only if you’re a responsible sharpener. Constant sharpening will prevent bacteria from growing. 

You’ll know it’s time for a new pencil when white film starts to develop on the tip. This can’t be sharpened off, so you’ll have no choice but to replace it.


Shelf life: 6-12 months

Bacteria can grow more easily in liquid products, especially if they are kept in hot, moist environments. So, Kelli recommends storing your foundation somewhere other than your bathroom. (Read about my all-time favorite foundation here.)

I know, I know. It’s super annoying to move your makeup from one room to another if you usually get ready in the bathroom. But, remember the bacteria breeding grounds? Listen to Kelli—don’t keep cosmetics in the bathroom.

Besides this six to 12 month timeline, a change in color, consistency or smell is another indication your foundation has expired. Unopened foundation can last up to two years though, so feel free to stock up!


Shelf life: 1 year

Liquid concealer has a pretty good shelf life compared to other products. Opt for a powder concealer (like Bare Minerals) to expand the product’s shelf life to two years. Bacteria will not grow easily in powder products because they have a dry texture.

Whether you use liquid or powder concealer, make sure to avoid applying the product directly to a blemish. Spot concealing with a wand will transfer open pimples and bacteria back to the container. Given that bacteria thrive in liquid products, Kelli says, “If you are spot concealing, wipe it on a sanitized hand first—and then apply with a brush or your finger—rather than using the wand to do it.”


Shelf life: 2 years

Generally speaking, powder substances are least likely to transfer or grow bacteria, so you can keep them in your makeup bag the longest. But always remember to close lids tightly after use. Powder products exposed to air increase the chances of bacterial contamination.

For cream blush gals, play it safe and replace the product after a year—that is, if you haven’t already finished it.


Shelf life: 6-12 months

While powder eyeshadows have a shelf life of two or more years, cream shadows expire after a short six months. Watch out for discoloration, waxy buildup, and funky smells.

Just as you would never double dip a french fry in ketchup on a date, you shouldn’t double dip a dirty makeup brush into eyeshadow because…well, germs. This six to 12 month expiration date can easily shorten if you don’t wash your brushes enough. More on that later.


Shelf life: 1-2 years

Next up is lipgloss and lipstick, which will last one year and two years, respectively. You have to replace lipgloss more often than lipstick because repeatedly dipping and re-dipping the wand means you’re probably transferring bacteria. 

Bonus points if you occasionally clean the top of your lipstick with a makeup wipe to prevent bacteria growth. If you’re sick or have a cold sore, Kelli says to spray and sanitize it with alcohol after use, let it dry, then shave it.


Let’s be real. I definitely keep up with the Kardashians more than I keep up with washing my makeup brushes. If you don’t think you need to wash your brushes, wash them once and see how much stuff comes out of it. When you don’t wash your brushes, the bristles will start to fray, and you will have to invest in a new set. (I personally think these are the best makeup brushes.)

Everyone says washing your brushes once a week will result in brushes that last for years. But because washing brushes once a week seems kind of unrealistic, aim to wash your brushes and beauty blenders every two weeks. As a rule of thumb, you should wash your foundation and concealer brushes more often than your powder eyeshadow brushes.

Also, if you’re lazy about washing your brushes like me, I highly recommend this product

GLAMSQUAD PROMO CODE: You can use the promo code “lindsaysilb” for $25 off of a Glamsquad appt if you’ve never tried it before; and if you’re a repeat user, “lindsaysilb15” will always get you $15 off.


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how to tell if makeup is expired


  • Allison
    October 16, 2019 at 8:02 pm

    What about serums and cleansers? Eye/face masks in individual packets? I’m a sample hoarder so trying to decide what I should part with!

    • Lindsay Silberman
      October 23, 2019 at 12:38 am

      Ohh that’s a great point!! Will have to ask a makeup artist!

  • Kristen Wissmar
    October 4, 2021 at 6:43 am

    What are the best ways to clean makeup brushes?

  • Annette Cimato
    October 4, 2021 at 7:31 pm

    Hi There’s also a website to check the date the item was manufactured. It’s
    It’s an excellent tool to have bookmark when purchasing items!


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