You know the scene all too well. You have a vanity top, cabinets and drawers filled with tubes, creams and makeup in every palette imaginable. The problem is that you actually only use about a tenth of what is there, and the rest of it sits there. You probably have well-meaning intentions of using them, or you hold on to them “just in case.” The problem with this is that skin care products and cosmetics have a shelf life, and chances are it is not nearly as long as you might think. Once your products go past their expiration date, they lose effectiveness and can become contaminated with microorganisms that you do not want anywhere near your skin. The beginning of the New Year is a time that many of us resolve to be a better version of ourselves. This year, why not start with a thorough cleaning up and clearing out of your beauty products. Not quite sure where to start? Read through this quick guide to get you started.
What to Pitch and When
The first rule of cleaning out your beauty products is to be honest about what you actually use. You may have spent a small fortune on that luxurious cream, but if you have only used it twice in two years it is time to let it go. You might love a color of an eye shadow in the pot, but if it doesn’t flatter you when you wear it then there really is no point in holding onto it. If you have a hard time letting go, you can start by setting aside everything that you haven’t used in at least six months. This is enough time for two seasons to have passed, meaning that your skin has endured seasonal changes and also changes in seasonal makeup trends. And even more important is the fact that the six month mark is a point when it is time to discard many products simply because they are past their prime. If you haven’t used it in half a year, it needs to go.
The next thing to consider is the packaging of your products. Many beauty and skin care products contain ingredients such as retinol, antioxidants and vitamin C. These valuable ingredients are very susceptible to the elements and if they are packaged or stored incorrectly, they are likely to lose their effectiveness prematurely. Any product that contains these ingredients should be kept in containers that limit exposure to the air and provide for a method of application that limits the potential for bacterial contamination. Jars are bad because they allow in too much air and you are likely to dip your fingertips into them, therefore increasing the risk of contamination. Tubes, air pumps and dropper bottles are the best packaging options. Also, if the container is not dark or opaque then it needs to be stored out of direct sunlight. Discard any products that are packaged or stored improperly.
Next, check for changes or inconsistency in the scent, color or texture of your products. If the product looks, smells or feels different from when you first purchased it, then that is a sure sign that it needs to be pitched.
Finally, get rid of all of the products that are past their prime and replace the ones you use regularly with fresh versions. Here is a quick reference for the standard shelf life of different products, starting from the first time you open them.
- Samples and ampoules: These are good for one day from the time they are opened. Do not hold onto samples, which are not packaged to protect the product long term, beyond that point.
- Mascara: 3-6 months. Discard sooner if it becomes thick and clumpy or takes on a strange odor. Never add water or any other liquid to your mascara to extend its life. Discard immediately if you have had a recent eye infection.
- Liquid and gel eye liner: 3-6 months. The same suggestions and precautions that apply to mascara apply to liquid and gel eyeliners as well.
- Eyeliner pencils and brow pencils: 1 year, if stored properly and sharpened regularly. If your pencils change color or become dry and cakey, replace them immediately. Also replace any pencil that comes into contact with the eye area while infected.
- Eye shadow: Cream eye shadow should be discarded after 6 months, while powdered eye shadow can be kept for up to 2 years. Use clean tools with each application and never use your fingertips to extend the life of your eye shadow.
- Liquid face makeup: 6-12 months. Use a sponge or brush to apply and avoid putting your fingers to the container. If the makeup separates or becomes streaky when applied, discard it.
- Powder face makeup and powdered blush: Up to 2 years. Powdered products contain the least amount of water and “wet” ingredients which are breeding grounds for bacteria. As long as powdered products are stored and used properly they can last for 2 years.
- Sunscreen: 1-2 years, but keep a close eye on the expiration date noted on the packaging. What the expiration date doesn’t take into account is that many sunscreens begin to degrade and lose effectiveness about six months after the first time they are opened due to exposure to air and heat. Don’t be tempted to use sunscreen past its expiration date as you can no longer be sure of its effectiveness and how well it will protect you.
- Retinoid Creams: 9-12 months maximum
- Acne Treatment products: 6 months
- Moisturizing Creams: 1 year unless they contain specialized ingredients which may lose their effectiveness earlier.
Ten Tips for Keeping It Clean
While there isn’t much you can do to extend the natural shelf life of your beauty and skin care products, there are steps you can take to preserve the integrity of your products by preventing them from degrading prematurely and protecting them from bacterial contamination.
- Clean tools are the best tools, but how often do you stop to wash your hands right before applying any type of product to your face? Always wash your hands before you begin your beauty routine and wash them throughout if you are using multiple products that are applied via fingertip.
- Read the recommendations for proper storage and then follow them. Beauty products sometimes come in gorgeous packaging that looks nice on your countertop or vanity, but remember that the purpose of these products is to help you look your most beautiful self rather than being used as a décor statement. Most products do best when kept at a moderate temperature, away from sunlight and other harsh elements. The best place to keep your products to ensure the longest life is either in a cabinet or drawer, away from sunlight and moisture.
- Be familiar with the scent of your skin care products and cosmetics. Each time you open a fresh product take the chance to sniff it while it is still fresh so that you know what it is supposed to smell like. One of the key signs that a product has gone bad is a change in smell. If you know what the scent is supposed to be you can pick up on early changes and avoid potential contamination or infection.
- If your product comes with an actual expiration date, then make sure you note what it is, even write it on your calendar. You can also go by the amount of time that a product is expected to maintain its integrity after it is opened. In this case, try using a permanent marker and writing the discard date on all of your products as a reminder that it is time to replace them. One way to remember this is by having a ritual four times a year in which you discard your old products and treat yourself to something new. Why four times a year? Some products, such as mascara should be replaced seasonally, or every two to three months. Others products can be replaced every other season or only once a year.
- Whenever possible, avoid purchasing products that come in a jar. First, when you open a jar the product is instantly exposed to a great deal of oxygen which can cause active ingredients to degrade prematurely. Additionally, you are more likely to stick your fingertips into a jarred product and risk contaminating the contents with bacteria. These bacteria will sit in there and fester during the time that you use the product, which means that there is the potential for developing serious skin issues from the bacteria contamination. If you must use a jarred product, pay special attention to the expected shelf life and plan on discarding it, or having it lose its effectiveness, before that date. Also, use disposable tools such as cotton swabs or cosmetic spatulas with each application to avoid the risk of contamination.
- Even if you have a set of well loved make up brushes and other beauty tools, it is a good idea to keep some disposable applicators on hand; even cotton swabs or cotton balls can be used in a pinch. You never know when your favorite applicator will come up missing, show signs of wear or will be in need of an emergency cleaning. If you have disposables on hand then you are less likely to use dirty or broken tools. If you do not have a set of devoted beauty tools, then disposable applicators should be a regular part of your beauty arsenal.
- Do not add anything, especially water, to your beauty products in an effort to extend their shelf life. Each product is formulated to contain preservative ingredients that will help keep that individual formula fresh for as long as possible. When you introduce foreign substances into your products, you are compromising this formula and increasing the risk of spoilage or bacterial growth. Water is especially dangerous to add to your products since bacteria can grow easily in it.
- If you have any type of infection, such as an eye infection or a cold sore, you should discard all cosmetics and skin care products that may have been in contact with, or at risk of cross contamination from, the infected area.
- Do not share your products with other people and do not use those belong to others. The reasons for this are simple. When you share, you risk contaminating the products with bacteria. Your body might be able to fight off the bacteria that it is familiar with, but products infected by someone else are more likely to cause problems for you. There really isn’t a single beauty emergency that is worth the possibility of a nasty infection.
- How many times have you dropped a lid or brush on the floor or even the countertop and picked up while thinking nothing of it? Many of us do it all the time. The problem is that floors, countertops and sinks can be breeding grounds for bacteria, which can be transferred to your beauty and skin care products via contaminated lids. Whenever you drop a lid or tool, take a minute to wash with soapy water or rubbing alcohol, and then dry it thoroughly.
The better you treat your skin care products and cosmetics, the more you will get out of them. In this case, taking care of them also means knowing when to discard them and replace with new products that you will use. It is tempting to have a collection of beauty gems, but if they are used improperly or are stored past their prime, they are not providing you with any benefit at all. We all know the saying that less is more. When it comes to your beauty products and tools, there is no other statement that sums it up better. Keeping only what you use and making sure that your products are always at their peak will ensure the best possible performance. You will benefit more from just a few things that you actually use than that cluttered drawer full of outdated products. Cleaning out your beauty products gives you the chance to both simplify and beautify at the same time, which is a great way to start the New Year.