Cosmetics Clutter: When to toss your expired makeup

In the book I Feel Bad About My Neck, author Nora Ephron hits on what almost every woman over 40 has – a graveyard of cosmetics underneath the sink. We spent hundreds of dollars on this cream or that serum to magically turn back the clock, and when it doesn’t work – it gets relegated to the cosmetics graveyard.

But even the cosmetics we keep within reach can become “expired” – meaning it will actually cause your skin or eyes harm by keeping it in rotation, due to harmful bacteria.

So what are the expiration dates for cosmetics?

Mascara – 3 months

Seriously. Three months. During the COVID lockdown, a lot of you probably weren’t wearing much makeup, except on the days of your Zoom calls, but three months is three months.

You’ll know it’s time to toss it out when it starts smelling bad, and the mascara begins clumping on the wand.

Eyeliner (pencil) – 2 years

The saving grace for this is the eyeliner pencil sharpener, that removes the bacteria-laden surface. That said, you probably want to give that sharpener a good cleaning when you wash your makeup brushes. (See how often to clean your brushes below.)

Foundation – 1 year

Bacteria will build up inside the bottle, especially if you take a sponge or your finger right to the bottle every time you use it. Like double-dipping your chip into salsa!

A makeup artist showed me the best trick, pouring a little bit of the foundation onto the back of my left hand (I’m right-handed) and using a foundation brush to apply. You use the back of your  hand like an artist’s palette, you’ll use less of the foundation and you won’t contaminate what’s in the bottle.

Eye Shadow/Blush/Powder cosmetics – 1-2 years

Make sure you’re cleaning your brushes weekly. See below.

Lipstick – 2 years

Keep the bacteria off your lipstick by using a clean lipstick brush each time, or each time you wash your brushes, use a baby wipe to wipe off the surface of the lipstick. Throw this out when it starts to smell or gets dried up.

Nail Polish – 1 year

Best practices

Experts recommend washing your makeup brushes once a week. If you have sensitive skin, use baby shampoo. (“No more tears”) I’ve also used dishwashing soap and very warm/hot water. Let them air dry.

When you put a new cosmetic into the rotation, mark the expiration date on it using a permanent marker. This will take the guesswork out of when to toss it. You can also put a reminder on your calendar to remind you to toss it and when to purchase a replacement, so you’re not without your favorite mascara or lipstick.

Doing these steps will keep your bathroom clear of cosmetics clutter and keep your face MUCH happier, because you’re not reintroducing harmful bacteria onto it every day.

Dawn Dugle is a professional organizer. Wondering if a professional organizer is right for you? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

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