Makeup Expiration Date Rules To Know

Use it up or toss it out? Check these guidelines first.
Publish date:
February 19, 2015
Lipstick Queen, mascara, expiration dates

Like bratty children and sour milk, your makeup can get spoiled, too. It’s important to be able to recognize the signs of makeup that has gone bad, so you can take care of it and yourself appropriately.

The problem: Not all cosmetic companies list expiration dates on their products. To figure out the rules of what to keep and what to toss, I enlisted the help of a cosmetic chemist (Kevin!).

General "Best If Used By Points" For Mascara, Nail Polish, Eyeliner & Lipstick

Not all makeup lasts for the same amount of time, but all makeup does have a "Best If Used By" point. Kevin says that formulators tend to shoot for a two-year shelf life.


Shelf Life: 12-18 monthsWhy: Kevin says mascara has a “volatile compound of ingredients that help them dry quickly,” and after the product is open and in use this combination “will slowly escape over the lifetime of the product.” This chemical release affects the drying and setting of the product.


Shelf Life: 12-18 monthsWhy: Same as with mascara. The same compounds that aid in the setting and drying for the application of the product are what slowly cause its demise.


Shelf Life: 1-3 yearsWhy: Kevin reports that eyeliners do not normally contain water and will thereby last longer than the above mascara.


Shelf Life: 1-3 yearsWhy: Same reason as eyeliners.

"Period After Opening" Rules To Live By

Even though there are no FDA guidelines on cosmetic expirations, there is typically a PAO (Period After Opening) notification. The PAO looks like this.

The list below is a good reference (thanks, Kevin) for the length of term in which products are good after you've opened them.

  • Nail polish: 1 year
  • Mascara: 3-6 months
  • Pencil eyeliner: 1 year
  • Liquid eyeliner: 3-5 months
  • Foundation: 1-2 years. Be mindful of foundation in jars, as they may contaminate quicker due to exposure to fingers; pump dispensers may contaminate at a lower rate.
  • Powders: 1-3 years
  • Lipsticks: 1 year

The Secret To Product Longevity

Take care to store your products in areas that are not exposed to a large amount of light or heat. Opt for a cool, dry environment. Refrigeration can sometimes be an option.

And finally, use your senses. If a product's odor, color, or consistency changes, it's better to be safe than sorry and toss it.

  • Are you holding onto any expired products?
  • Do you follow the PAO codes?