Meg bringing you some PRICELESS INFO! Here’s a familiar scenario: You’re hitting the after-Christmas sales, and some of your favorite cosmetics and skincare products are marked down to make room for the new spring lines. You’re tempted to snag a few of each to use throughout the year, but then the little nagging voice in your head asks, “Isn’t this stuff only good for, like, six months or something?”
Let’s face it. We’ve become so indoctrinated by the beauty industry hype that it’s hard to distinguish fact from fiction. So, I’ve asked Lindsay and Jill, seasoned beauty industry veterans and owners of BeautyTicket.com, to help me navigate the endless sea of information.
So, what is the average shelf life of cosmetics?
The shelf life of unopened, properly stored cosmetics is anywhere from 2 to 5 years, depending on the product. (Higher end products formulated with premium ingredients tend to last longer than drugstore brands, making them more of a bargain in the long run.) Because beauty products generally have such a long shelf life, there is currently no U.S. law that requires cosmetic manufacturers to print expiration dates on the labels of cosmetic products. The Food & Drug Administration (FDA)  only reports that “voluntary shelf-life guidelines developed by the cosmetic industry vary, depending on the product and its intended use.” In Europe, the Cosmetics Directive does require a “use by” date, but only on products that have a shelf life of less than 2 ½ years.
So, if a brand is discontinuing my favorite mascara or lipstick, it’s okay to buy a few and hold on to them?
Sure. It makes sense that beauty companies would prefer that you to toss out products every three to six months. (After all, that’s how they sell in new collections. Can you blame them?) But it should really be choice, not fear of impending doom, that drives each of us to spend more money on a new lipstick or eye shadow. That being said, keep them sealed and store them properly to ensure that they last. Otherwise, you’re just wasting your money.
So should I be worried about using a product I bought from last season?
According to Dr. Patrick Bowler, the founder of The British Association of Cosmetic Doctors, there isn’t really an issue. “All products have a length of time during which they are most effective,” says Dr. Bowler, a leading dermatologist who practices in London and the founder of The British Association of Cosmetic Doctors. “Most products are packed with preservatives – in some cases as many as five or six – to ensure that they don’t allow bacteria to breed easily,” says Dr. Bowler.
So why all the hype surrounding product safety and shelf life?
Good question. Serious injury from makeup is a “pretty rare event,” says John E. Bailey, Ph.D., director of FDA’s Office of Colors and Cosmetics. “We don’t see it happen that often. Preservatives have time — usually a whole day — to kill the bacteria that is inevitably introduced after each use,” says Bailey. Dr. Bowler adds, that “in most cases, once a product is past its use-by date you’ll simply end up with something that looks and smells “off,” is unpleasant to use and/or is no longer effective.”
Of course, bacteria can become an issue when people share makeup, improperly store products, or forego cleaning brushes and applicators. So, don’t be gross about your beauty products or you could be asking for trouble.
If injury from outdated cosmetics isn’t the issue, what IS being reported to the FDA?
FDA reports are almost always attributed to ingredient allergies, not overall safety or shelf life. There are over 30,000 reported cases of cosmetic-related allergies yearly. This is why all U.S. cosmetic manufacturers have been required to list their product’s ingredients on the package since 1977.
So when should I toss makeup?
“It depends on the ingredients and the preservatives in a product”, says Dr. Bowler, “but as a rule of thumb most products without a use-by date should be used within three years of leaving the factory.”
What if I just can’t part with a crusty old product I’ve had in my makeup drawer forever?
“The worst case scenario is that you could develop a nasty rash or skin infection if the product has become contaminated with bacteria, says Dr. Bowler. “However, the chances of this happening are extremely rare, because most cosmetics these days are packed with such large doses of preservatives.”
What about natural and organic products?
You may need to be extra scrupulous about hygiene with natural or organic cosmetics. These tend to contain fewer preservatives and have earlier use-by dates that do, in fact, need to be stated by law on the label. If you continue to use this kind of product after the expiry date it’s more susceptible to bacteria overgrowth, which can cause skin irritation.
What about products that I’m using now?
In an interview with Good Housekeeping, cosmetic chemist Ni’Kita Wilson of Cosmetech said, “the clock starts once you bring a product home and open it. When air hits the formula, certain ingredients start to oxidize and degrade.” So, with that in mind, here are some general guidelines to follow once you’ve broken the seal on a beauty product:
Mascara: 3-6 months
Moisturizer: 6-12 months
Liquid Foundation: 12 months
Cream Concealers and Blushes: 12-18 months
Eye Shadow: 12-18 months
Lip gloss: 18-24 months
Pressed Powders: 24 months
Eye liner: 24 months
Lipstick: 24 months
Of course, if a product smells bad or doesn’t perform as well as it used to, listen to your senses and toss it. After all, it’s not exactly a beauty product if it doesn’t make you feel beautiful, right?
THANKS SO MUCH for filling us in Jill & Lindsay! I will be sure to let our ladies know about Beautyticket!