Beauty School: When Should You Ditch Your Old Products?

How often should I refresh my cosmetics stash? I never know when to throw away things like face cream or mascara. Without expiration dates on the packaging, I’m at a total loss!

Makeup and skincare products past their use-by date can harbor bacteria that put your health and beauty at risk. In addition, the type of products you wear, as well as the colors you choose, will alter from summer to winter. Many women need no persuading to try out new colors and textures, but they are less willing to throw away a favorite lipstick that’s been nesting at the bottom of their makeup bag for years or an eyeshadow bought for a party on New Year’s Eve. Cosmetics are expensive, and while we readily throw away food that’s past its use-by date, many of us hang onto makeup for years, often sharing it and applying in ways that can make us vulnerable to infections. Throwing away half-used products may hurt, but detoxing your makeup bag is the perfect excuse to discover new favorites.

It should make us pause for thought when we realize that foundation and skincare products are absorbed by the skin, while lipstick is ingested when we eat and drink. A mascara wand can foster bacteria that cause conjunctivitis, and the pumping action pushes them deep into the product — if mascara is shared the spread of infection is inevitable. If you do get an eye infection or coldsore, throw away any product that’s been used on the offending area, and wash the brush every time you apply concealer to a spot. Avoid using sponges that come with foundation or powder compacts, as these transfer bacteria directly between the face and the product.

Here’s my step-by-step guide to clearing the clutter:

1. Empty your makeup bag. If it’s in good condition, put it through the washing machine; if it’s seen better days. throw it out and buy a new one.
2. Wash brushes with a mild shampoo, and clean your tweezers, lash curlers, and pencil sharpeners by wiping them with a few drops of tea tree essential oil.
3. Replace mascara every three months or so. Regularly clean the wand to prevent it from becoming clogged with product.
4. Throw away dried-up makeup products or any that smell or taste bad. Wax-based cosmetics are less likely to harbor bacteria than liquid or oil-based products. Be ruthless about any products you never wear.
5. Sharpen all eye and lip pencils and make sure they have a lid that fits. Sharpening not only ensures precise application, but also removes the top layer which may be dirty.
6. Reward yourself with a new lip or eye color so that you don’t get stuck in a style rut. At the start of each season, highlight the new colors and products that look set to make a stir.

As for makeup expiration? While there is no definition of how long a product remains usable, here is a guide to recommended shelf life:

• 3-6 months: mascara
• 6-8 months: cream foundation, liquid foundation, concealer, cleanser, moisturizer
• 1 year: loose powder, pressed powder, blush, shimmer powder, eyeshadow, lipstick, lipgloss, toner
• 18 months: eye and lip pencils

And a last bit of advice: keep lids on tightly and store products away from heat!

Jemma Kidd is a world-renowned makeup artist who has painted the faces of Naomi Campbell and Jerry Hall, and now she’s here to solve all of your beauty dilemmas. Not only does she have two makeup lines of her own — Jemma Kidd Make Up School and JK Jemma Kidd — she’s also worked with Max Factor, Rimmel, and Stila. Yes, she’s a total beauty guru. Have a question for Jemma? Email it to!

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