In a previous life, I was a cosmetics junkie. As a sales representative and a makeup artist for companies like Hard Candy, Prescriptives, Estée Lauder, Benefit, and Lancôme, I brought home more free makeup and skincare products than I could possibly use. Every available drawer and cabinet in my apartment was brimming with travel-size mascaras, lip glosses, lipsticks, day creams, night creams, cleansers, full-size bottles of perfume … the amount was staggering. My fiancé used to get upset because I had taken over every last space (though he was secretly hooked on the plethora of foaming washes and mud masks he had at his fingertips). Even if a color wasn’t a GREat shade for me, I’d mix it with something until it was perfect. Anything I didn’t use, I gave to family and friends.
Like most women, I tend to hold on to products as long as I can, saving that last nub of lipstick or those few remaining crumbles of bronzer left shaking around inside the compact because “I really might use it someday.” I’ve always had a hard time throwing products out, and apparently, I’m not alone. Sara Stern, the director of cosmetics at Debenhams department store in London, conducted a survey in February 2010 and found that more than 68 percent of the women reported replacing makeup only when they’re about to run out. Makeup does have a shelf life, and if you’re brave enough to use something that’s past its prime, you may be putting your skin―or, worse, your health―at risk. Here’s a rundown of when to let it go, how to make it last, and what can stick around for a long while. (Yes, there’s at least one item that really may last forever.)
Eye Products: On the Lookout
Eye products are the one type of cosmetic that needs to be replaced most often. A spoiled shadow or bacteria-laden mascara can cause conjunctivitis, better known as pinkeye. According to the Food and Drug Administration Web site, mascara has a short shelf life and should be replaced often “because of repeated microbial exposure during use by the consumer and the risk of eye infections.” While many beauty guides and Web sites advise replacing mascara every six months, most industry experts recommend replacing it every three months.
Mascara: 3–6 months
Eye pencils: 12–18 months
Eye shadow: 2 years
Face Products: Don’t Be Cheeky
Like regular powder, blush can last a good span of time. The recommended shelf life for both powder and cream blush is the same, but cream blush might not last quite as long, as every time you rub your finger in the pot, you’re also transferring germs into the product.
Powder blush, cream blush, powder, liquid foundation, and concealer: 2 years
Lip Products: goodbye Kisses
As alluring as lipstick testers may be, you should avoid them, as they could pose a serious health threat. Anything you apply to your lips goes directly into your mouth, especially once you start eating or drinking. ScienceDaily.com reminds us of the real dangers of contracting herpes through lipstick sharing: “Remember, people can harbor this particular virus on their lips without having an active cold sore, so it will not always be visible.” If this isn’t enough to make you steer clear of lipstick testers, I don’t know what is.
Lipstick, lip liner, and lip gloss: 12–18 months
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Brushes and Sponge Applicators: Tools of the Trade
Makeup brushes are the one beauty product that can last a very long time. I’ve had the same set of brushes for the past twelve years and attribute their longevity, at least in part, to my arduous care and cleaning habits. Sponges and eye shadow applicators are a different story. Face sponges tend to get grimy especially quickly, and the best remedy is to replace them. Dirty brushes and sponges can cause anything from rashes to cystic acne, which the Mayo Clinic says occurs “when oil and dead skin cells build up deep within hair follicles. The resulting rupture within your skin may form boil-like infections.”
Real Simple magazine suggests a light cleaning once a week and a deep cleaning once a month. For weekly cleanings, use a brush cleaner; mist the brush, then gently soak up any excess moisture on a paper towel. Brush cleaners are available at drugstores and beauty-supply stores. For monthly cleanings, dip the brush into a bowl of warm water, then dab baby shampoo on the brush and swirl the bristles around in the bowl until you can see that all the color or product has washed out. Then rinse the brush under warm water. Just be careful not to submerge the base of the brush head, as doing so could loosen the glue that holds the brush together. Lastly, squeeze out any remaining water and lay the brush flat on a towel to dry overnight.
Cleaning sponges: Because a sponge is, well, a sponge and traps bacteria, it’s best to just replace it before it becomes too dingy. You can purchase an entire bag of makeup sponges from WalGREens for less than $5. Unfortunately, we all know that the WalGREens sponge is nothing like the soft, velvety pad that comes with the $40 powder foundation. So, if you must, immerse the sponge in warm water and use a soap (preferably antibacterial) to clean it. Then rinse … and rinse some more. The most important steps here are getting all the soap out and letting the sponge dry completely before placing it back inside the product. The same technique goes for eye shadow applicators, which, I’ve found, can be reused again and again when cleaned like this.
In the same way an apple will start to turn brown once it’s been bitten into, makeup also starts oxidizing once it’s opened. The Food and Drug Administration does not require cosmetic companies to include an expiration date on cosmetics, but most products do have a little icon on the box indicating how long they’ll stay good after they’ve been opened. As a general rule, all cosmetics and skincare products should be kept in a dark place and never opened until you’re ready to use them. More important, keep items that you use on a daily basis in a dark, dry closet, rather than a moist, bright bathroom. You should always watch out for changed color or consistency and for foul smells. It’s best not to share products, and avoid using testers at the makeup counter. Also, never add water or saliva to products, and be sure to keep containers tightly closed. Also worth noting is that because natural products lack preservatives, they may have even less of a shelf life.
It’s ironic that we spend billions of dollars a year on beauty products to make ourselves look better, yet the same products—if not used, stored, and replaced properly—can also undo all the work by causing conditions like pinkeye or acne. That’s why, when it comes to the business of beauty, it’s always best to err on the side of caution.