Time to come clean. How long have your makeup products crowded your medicine cabinet? Filled your bathroom drawer? Overflowed your makeup bag(s)? Be honest, you’re a bit of a hoarder, aren’t you? Don’t feel bad, we all do it. Nobody wants to part with their makeup stash (or the hard-earned cash that brought it into your life).
Unfortunately, though, your makeup and skincare items are like a ticking clock once you’ve opened them. They only last for so long before being contaminated with bacteria that’s harmful to your skin. And just like you wouldn't eat anything in your kitchen that smelled funny or was discolored, lumpy, or separated, you shouldn't put it on your face.
To get the most out of your products, store everything in a cool, dry place away from sunlight. As inconvenient as it is, that does mean outside of your bathroom, where there's lots of moisture and lots of bacteria is flying around. And know how to tell when it's time to say goodbye.
Here are some guidelines for when to toss what:
You’ve got two to three months with your mascara wand once opened, according to Clarissa Luna, a makeup artist whose work has appeared in ELLE, Marie Claire and Nylon. "Once the mascara has gotten thick, or starts to flake, it means its had too much contact with air, and there could be bacteria lurking inside the tube," she says. To prevent this, never pump your mascara. When pulling the applicator out of the tube, twist it around slowly to build up the product.
Liquid liner is in the same category as mascara, says Luna — toss it after three months to avoid a potential eye infection (and never, ever share... but you knew that, right?). Pencil eyeliners can have a longer shelf life, but you need to sharpen them regularly. "Most people don't do it every day, so bacteria lingers and could cause irritation. Spray alcohol on the tip before sharpening and do at least three rotations to remove germs."
Use your judgment on this. "Once opened, you've got 6 months to a year," Luna says. Check that the consistency still looks the same and apply it using a brush or sponge. "If unopened, it can last a couple of years, so don't be afraid to stock pile your favorite!"
You can get away with keeping your lipsticks for two years without spoiling, Luna explains. "If you keep them stored in a dark, cool place they can be kept longer," she says. "But once they start smelling rancid or looking fuzzy you'll know it's time to throw them away. Lipsticks shouldn't have a fur coat!"
Provided they are powders, they have the longest shelf life of any product. If you wet them, different story. "This'll create a breeding ground for bacteria which can cause nasty eye infections," she explains. "They'll have to be tossed around the six month mark."
Most come with an expiration date — heed it. Sunscreens lose their efficacy over time, so an old 50+ sunscreen won’t have anywhere near the same protection it did when you bought it.
The shelf lives of these vary depending on the product, but you’ve generally got one to two years with each product, and most products also come with an expiration date. However, like sunscreens, they lose efficacy if you are pushing the limit, and if you use your fingers to apply, the risk of contamination is higher. (Try using a spatula instead.)
"Nail polishes will also go the distance for two years, probably drying out around this mark," she says. "You can also prolong the freshness by keeping them in the refrigerator or another cool, dark place to hold the consistancy." There’s little danger in using an older nail polish, but they may not apply as smoothly onto your nail beds.
If they are good quality and you take care of them properly, your brushes should last for life. Wash after every use with a brush cleaner (baby shampoo works just as well) and lay them out flat on a tissue to completely dry before storing away.
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