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Clean up Your Cosmetics

Apr 6 2021
5 min read
A gold container of makeup brushes.

Take a look in your makeup bag: Somewhere among that newly-purchased compact and mascara maybe a few products that have been hanging out for a while.

While it’s certainly not easy to part with a high-priced foundation, discontinued lip color, or go-to eye shadow (even if it has started collecting dust), tossing past-their-prime cosmetics can help keep up your look and protect you from bacteria growth that can cause breakouts and infection. With that in mind, these tips may be helpful in determining if you truly need to clean out all of the old in favor of the new.

Note: Paraben-free cosmetics have shorter lifespans than those that contain the common preservative. Check labels for expiration dates.


A lipstick (or a gloss, stain, or balm) can last up to 18 months. But because these products are applied where they are, they are very susceptible to picking up all sorts of germs. Wipe your mouth with a napkin before reapplying after a meal, and be sure to immediately replace anything you’ve used during, or just before coming down with a cold or the flu. Certain ingredients in lipsticks can spoil over time, so dispose of anything that smells even the slightest bit rancid. To extend the use of your lip wear, don’t store products in hot places (anything above 85 degrees) — that includes your car and your pants pocket.

Pressed Powders and Blush

As long as it doesn’t clump together or take on a shiny appearance (which typically happens when an excessive amount of oil from your skin mixes with the product), you can hang on to your favorite pressed powder or powder blush for as long as two years. Cream versions don’t have the same lasting power, however. If you regularly apply them with fresh cosmetic sponges, they can stick around for a year and a half. Finger application reduces that shelf life to about a year, though, since bacteria from your hands can transfer to the pot every time you dip in (and moist, dark places like these are breeding grounds for growth). Be sure to wash your hands before use to limit the risk.

Eye Makeup

Eye shadow powders and creams follow the same set of rules as pressed powders and blushes, although powder lid colors may last a year or two extra if you apply them with fresh applicators each time. Eye pencils are usually good for two to three years — just be sure to regularly sharpen them so the tips are fresh. If there is one product to be extra vigilant about throwing away, it’s mascara: Bacteria lives on your eyelashes, is picked up with every swipe, and can quickly multiply on your wand. So, replace this eyelash enhancer every two to three months (dry, flaky lashes are a sign it’s time). And, of course, get rid of products immediately if you have used them before experiencing any sort of eye infection.

Foundation and Concealer

As a general rule, oil-based foundations and concealers should be thrown away after a year, while water-based varieties should go after around six months. But your senses may be your best judge: Changes in scent, color and texture, or fluid separation, means that it’s time for a replacement. If the make-up comes in a pump container, check it after about six to nine months; those in pots and tubes should be assessed at four to six months. You can extend the life of your foundation and concealer by storing them someplace dry (not your moist bathroom), and washing your hands before use.

Care for Your Tools

You may have some brushes that you bought years ago — and that’s just fine, as long as you clean them regularly. Wash your tools weekly with warm water and mild, unscented hand soap or baby shampoo (a drop or two should do). Caked-on creams, like foundation, may be more easily rinsed away if you use antibacterial dish soap. Then, simply place your brushes on a towel to air dry — patting or wringing them may cause damage — and store them upright. Eye makeup applicators can be cleaned the same way, but it’s best to replace them every two months, as their spongy material quickly degrades.