Makeup and Beauty Products – Advice on Shelf-Life & Expiration, Hygiene Considerations, and Cleaning Spills and Stains

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We asked our resident MUA Saffron Hughes to share her tips and tricks around beauty product shelf-life and expiration, as well as overall makeup hygiene. As well as sharing Saffron’s advice, we also collaborated with various dermatology and cleaning experts to give some further insight into the topics of proper makeup hygiene and sanitisation, and the products and processes to use if you make accidently make a mess during your makeup or beauty routine. Read on to find out more…

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Shelf-life and expiration

Expiry dates

The first thing you should always do before opening any new beauty product is check the label. On the label you will find a small jar symbol with a number followed by the letter M inside. The number followed by the letter M determines how long the product will work best and how long it should be used once opened and exposed to air. After this timeframe, the products will decline in quality and can become a breeding ground for bacteria. So if it's a product that you’re less likely to finish using during the timeframe, make a note of when you opened it to avoid disappointment.

How to tell if your beauty products have expired

One way of determining if your product has expired is by the smell. If the product now has a new distinctive odour that it didn’t have before, then it’s time for it to go. Another way you can determine if your product has expired is if the texture has changed. If your liquid products have thickened or become clumpy, then they need to be disposed of. Cosmetics also begin to separate, and this becomes very visible. You can also tell if a product has expired by the colour of it. Cosmetics oxidize when exposed to air. The longer they are sat for, the more likely they are to oxidize. So if your makeup is looking more orange than usual, then it’s most likely expired.

Generally, if stored properly in a cool and dry place, most unopened and completely sealed makeup should last for 1 year. All preservatives in makeup do break down over time, even if the product is unopened, so you should never keep any product for more than 1 year.

What is the shelf life of my beauty products?

For this section, we looked at 20 popular skincare, makeup, and beauty products. Ordered from shortest potential shelf life to longest potential shelf life, our advice includes:

  • Sponges, or products with sponge applicators

Makeup sponges/beauty blenders have a shelf life of about 3 to 6 months, depending on how well they are looked after. Makeup sponges should be stored in a breathable mesh bag/pouch.

  • Mascaras

Mascaras have a shelf life of up to 6 months. If the formula starts to appear clumpy and there is an unpleasant smell, it should be disposed of sooner than 6 months. Mascaras should be kept in a cool, dark place.

  • False eyelashes

False eyelashes have a shelf life of 6 months. However most can be reused from 10-15 times when looked after carefully. The easiest place to store your lashes is in the tray they came in, as this helps them to keep their curved shape. Alternatively you can purchase a lash case to store all of your favourite lashes.

  • Spray makeup products

Cosmetic setting sprays have a shelf life of 6 months. They are best cool or room temperature to avoid a warm spritz to the face. They can also be stored in the fridge for refreshment.

  • Skincare serums

Serums have a shelf life of 6 months. They don’t necessarily turn bad they just lose their effectiveness. Serums containing Niacinamide should be stored at room temperature, whereas Retinol should be stored in a cool environment or even the fridge. You must check the packaging for storage instructions and information as it is ingredient dependent.

  • Lash glue

Eyelash glue has a varying shelf life from 6 to 12 to 24 months. Always remember to check the packaging. You should never store your eyelash glue in extremely low temperatures as this can cause the glue to separate. It should be stored in a dark place at room temperature.

  • Moisturisers

Moisturisers have a shelf life of 6 months up to 1 year. They should be stored somewhere dry/cool. If you want that cool refreshing feeling once applied, then your gel moisturiser can be stored in the fridge. However, your oil-based moisturisers should not be stored in the fridge.

  • Cleansers

Facial cleansers/washes will last up to 1 year. Cleansers should be stored at room temperature to avoid them separating or solidifying at extreme (high or low) temperatures.

  • Fake tan

Fake tan has a shelf life of up to 12 months. Fake tan should be stored at room temperature in a dark place. Sunlight and extreme temperatures will compromise the tanning solution.

  • Toners

Toners have a shelf life of up to 1 year. They should be stored in a cool, dry place or for an extra refreshing application, the fridge.

  • Liquid makeup products

Liquid makeup cosmetics have a shelf life of 12 to 18 months. This will vary depending on if they are water or oil based. They should be stored in a cool, dark place as exposure to heat and sunlight can dry out products and cause natural oils to separate.

  • Cream makeup products

Cream makeup products have a shelf life of 12 to 18 months. Cream-based products should also be stored in a cool, dry place.

  • Face wipes

Unopened, facial wipes will remain usable for 1-2 years. Once opened, they will last for weeks until they dry out. Face wipes need to be sealed and stored in a cool place to help prevent them from losing moisture allowing them to last longer.

  • Powder makeup products

Cosmetic powders have a shelf life of 12 to 24 months. They can be stored anywhere that is cool and dry. Storing them in a humid area can cause powders to turn saturated and cakey, so avoid keeping them near radiators and heaters and do not store them in the bathroom.

  • Pencil makeup products

Cosmetic pencils have a shelf life of up to 2 years, but you will probably have sharpened them down and used them before that. They should be stored in a cool/dry environment to avoid them melting in the heat. They should be disposed of when they become dry and chalky.

  • Lipsticks and lip gloss

Lipstick and lip gloss have a shelf life of up to 2 years or can be used until the texture turns dry (lipstick) or turns gloopy (lip gloss). They should be stored in a cool, dry place avoiding the bathroom as the excess moisture in the air can break down the pigment.

  • Sun cream

Sun cream has a shelf life of 2 to 3 years. Sun cream should be stored at room temperature, in a dark space to avoid the ingredients separating.

  • Makeup brushes

Makeup brushes have a shelf life of 1 to 5 years. It all depends on how well they are looked after and how often they are cleaned. It’s best to store your makeup brushes upright in a brush holder/jar/container in order to preserve their shape. You can also fill the bottom of your containers with rice, or pebbles to avoid your brush heads touching and cross contaminating.

  • Nail varnishes

Nail varnish has a shelf life of up to 3 years. Once the texture dries out and looks thick and clumpy making it hard to apply, it’s time to throw it away. Nail varnishes should be kept away from light and moisture to prolong its shelf life. Store in a dark, dry place.

  • Perfumes

Perfumes and fragrances have a shelf life of 3 to 5 years but always remember to check to see if there is a change in colour or smell. Perfumes should be stored in their original packing or a dark drawer/cupboard. Exposure to sunlight will cause the fragrance to deteriorate over time.

Health risks of using expired beauty products

If you are to use expired makeup and beauty products, you are putting your skin at risk. Using expired products can cause skin irritation and redness which can lead to you having a bad reaction. This can then cause breakouts on the skin, premature ageing, and even bacterial infections.

Using expired skin care products can increase skin sensitivity and cause rashes from bacteria growth. When a skin care product has expired it is less effective, so using it is essentially useless and not worth the hassle it can cause.

Makeup hygiene

Makeup hygiene

By not cleaning your beauty products and brushes can lead to skin irritation and blocked pores and even infection. By using dirty beauty products and brushes you are spreading dirt and bacteria around your face.

Dermatology specialist Mehmet Göker comments “from dead skin cells and bacteria to dirt, dust, and product build-up, these can all accumulate on your beauty products and brushes. Through using beauty products daily dead skin cells, dirt, oil, pollution, and bacteria accumulate on your brushes and products. These include staphylococcus, e-coli, and fungus. Staphylococcus aureus is commonly found on around 30% of people’s skin and causes skin infections therefore it is important to prioritise washing your beauty products regularly”.

Mehmet continued “these viruses can last anywhere from a few seconds to a few days on common surfaces. Flu viruses can survive in the air for several hours, especially at lower temperatures, and on hard surfaces such as beauty products or even where you store your makeup can survive and remain infectious for 24 hours.

For this section, we looked at 9 aspects of popular skincare, makeup, and beauty products in particular:

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Clean regularly -

  • Fake tan mitt

Fake tan mitts should be cleaned after each use. This can be done by hand by soaking and handwashing with washing powder and softener or alternatively it can be thrown in the washing machine with your regular load.

  • Makeup brushes

For people who use their makeup brushes regularly, it would be beneficial to clean your brushes at least once a week, ideally twice. Even if you don’t use them that often, I wouldn’t leave it any longer than two weeks. The quickest and most effective way to clean your makeup brushes is with Isopropyl Alcohol. Remember to leave your brushes to fully dry before use and, if necessary, rinse away excess alcohol.

  • Makeup sponges

Like makeup brushes, cosmetic sponges should definitely be cleaned regularly regardless of how often they are used. This can be done with a sponge cleanser or even a bar of soap or baby shampoo/oil.

  • False eyelashes

You should regularly clean your false eyelashes after use otherwise you can end up with a build-up of lash glue which then when you try to remove will pull and damage the lashes. You also want to make sure that your lashes are fresh before each application as they are going on your eyes which are more sensitive. Use a false eyelash cleaning kit for the best results.

  • Makeup packaging

This depends on how often you use your makeup. For regular users, I would suggest giving your makeup product packaging a wipe with a disinfectant wipe every month to give it a little clean and to make sure it's sanitary.

Some maintenance -

  • Pencil makeup products

The best way to clean your cosmetic pencils is by giving them a good sharpen. Always remember to clean the excess product out of your sharpener. Again, you can give the pencil itself a wipe to sanitise.

  • Lipstick bullet

Your lipstick doesn’t usually require sanitising as it’s kept in its packaging and is protected by its lid. It is also another single person who uses the item to avoid cross contamination. You can definitely give the packaging a clean if it’s a little messy. You can do this with a disinfectant wipe.

Shouldn’t need cleaning -

  • Powder makeup products

I wouldn't suggest using a cleaning product on powder products and this would ruin the consistency of the product and affect how the product applies afterwards. You’re perfectly fine to give the packaging a sanitise, but not the powder itself.

  • Mascara wand

You shouldn't be using mascara for long enough to need to clean the wand, if you feel the wand needs cleaning then you should most likely throw the mascara away. Mascara especially as it’s for single person use only to avoid contamination. Try not to pump the mascara wand in and out of the tube as this pushes air into the tube which causes the mascara to dry out quicker and become flaky.

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Out of the 9 aspects mentioned so far, your makeup brushes and sponges are definitely the most likely to harbour germs, dirt, and bacteria. This is because they store a combination of your leftover makeup, skin cells, skin oils and any other dirt which can lead them to harbour bacteria.

Mehmet added that “if you are only using your brushes on yourself then give them a good clean twice a week. If you suffer from skin breakouts, have any cuts or grazes, or have an eye infection then you must clean your brushes every day.’

Stains and spills

Makeup stains

As well as sharing Saffron’s advice, we also collaborated with various cleaning experts to give some further insight into the products and processes to use if you make accidently make a mess during your makeup or beauty routine.

Cleaning expert Heather Barrigan commented that “makeup stains should be treated as soon as possible. However, before attacking the stain, check the sewn-in care label on your item to determine the proper cleaning method for the fabric”.

Cleaning expert Henry Paterson added that “there are some golden rules to cleaning up any stains – regardless of what’s caused them. When removing stains always dab, rather than wiping, as this can spread a stain. And make sure to work from the outside of the stain to the centre – again, to avoid spreading the stain. If you’re using products or chemicals, test on a discreet area first, to ensure that you won’t damage or discolour the surface or material. When trying to remove stains yourself, there’s always a risk that you could spread the stain or set it further, so for any valuable or sentimental items of clothing, call your local laundry and dry-cleaning specialist immediately to get their advice. For floor spillages, you can contact a local floor or carpet cleaning company for professional help”.

Seven scenarios were discussed, including water-based cosmetics, oil-based cosmetics, powders, sun cream, lash glue, nail varnish, and fake tan. Here is the expert advice:

  • Water-based cosmetics

Heather shared that “water-based cosmetics absorb quickly and easily, leaving your skin feeling revitalised in an instant. Many foundations, such as the MAC Studio Waterweight Liquid Foundation, are water-based”. Henry added that “it’s worth remembering that water will be listed as the first ingredient in almost all liquid cosmetics, but this alone doesn’t guarantee it’s ‘water-based’”.

If you get any water-based makeup on your clothes, bedding, or any other fabric, Heather recommends that you:

  • Blot away any excess makeup with a paper towel, be careful not to spread the stain or push it deeper into the fabric
  • Rinse the area with warm water
  • Pre-treat the stain with detergent by massaging it in
  • Allow the detergent or dish soap to work for 20 minutes on the stain
  • If the stained garment is machine washable, wash it on the warmest setting permitted by the label
  • If the garment cannot be washed in the washing machine, hand wash it in warm water
  • Air-dry the clothing because the heat from the dryer can cause the stain to set

Henry added that “stains caused by water-based makeup and cosmetics can be cleaned using shaving foam. Just apply the foam directly to the stain, allow it to sit for a minute & rub it in with a cloth or your finger, making sure to work the foam into the stain. Once you’ve worked the foam in, rinse it away using cold water. Then blot the area with a clean, dry cloth. Clothes should then be put into the laundry as usual”.

  • Oil-based cosmetics

Henry shared that “oil-based products will often contain decyl oleate, lanolin, isodecyl oleate, or an oil - such as coconut oil, olive oil or avocado oil - in the ingredients”.

Both experts suggested that a quick response, cleaning with liquid dish soap and laundry detergent, is your best chance with a stain caused by an oil-based cosmetic, such as foundation:

  • Dampen the stained area of your clothes with cold water. This enables the solvent to spread quickly and loosen the stain
  • Add a few drops of liquid dish soap to sit on the stained area for a few minutes. Dishwashing hand soap is preferable to dishwater detergent because it is gentler on your clothes
  • Rub it gently with your finger to break up the oils within the makeup
  • Gently blot the stained area with a clean cloth or a paper towel. Do not rub it on the stained area because you'll end up spreading the stain

 Henry added that “clothes, bedding, or other items that can go in the laundry should then be washed as usual. For carpets, allow the area to dry before vacuuming”.

  • Powders

Heather mentioned that “unfortunately, when powder causes a stain, its presence becomes too apparent. These stain removal tips will ensure that your makeup powder remains undetectable wherever it goes”.

Henry suggests that “if it’s on an item of clothing or bedding that you’ve spilled makeup on, you can simply shake it off over the sink. Spillages on hard floors can be brushed or vacuumed, and the vacuum should also work on carpets and rugs too”.

Otherwise, Heather’s advice is to:

  • Blow the excess powder away. If you rub or brush it off, you will spread the stain and make it more difficult to remove
  • Dampen a clean cloth or sponge and gently rub it over the stain. Rinse the cloth or sponge and repeat until there are no traces of soap
  • Blot the treated area gently with a dry towel to remove excess water. If you rub the area, you will damage the fabric and spread the strain
  • Wash the garment as usual
  • Sun cream

“Sunscreen lotion frequently contains oils that can cause grease stains. Likewise, sun cream that gets on your clothes can leave yellow or orange stains”, says Heather. She suggests to:

  • Use soft household soap and hot water. Allow it to soak for a few hours. Scrub the stains with your hands or a brush
  • Apply washing up liquid to the sun cream stains. Allow the garment to absorb for a few minutes before placing it in the washing machine

For spillages on clothes, Henry suggests to “begin by running cold water through from spillage from the back to flush it out”.

  • Lash glue

To remove lash glue from clothes or carpets, Henry recommends to “try an acetone-based product, like a nail varnish remover. But be sure to check it on a discreet area first to ensure it doesn’t fade the material. You can also try a specific adhesive removing product – designed to clean residual glue and other adhesives. Make sure to follow the instructions on the product carefully and test on a discreet area first”.

When eyelash glue gets on a piece of clothing, Heather mentioned that “household products can be a quick solution for cleaning it”.

  • Wipe the area and then use an adhesive remover
  • Wash the area with soap and water, then wipe it with a damp cloth once the stain has been removed
  • If the stain remains, go to a dry cleaner as soon as possible
  • Nail varnish

Heather shared that “as nail varnish is made up of various chemicals, it hardens into the fabric's fibres when it dries, making it difficult to remove”. The experts’ advice includes:

  • First, allow the nail varnish to dry
  • Scrape
  • Next, soak a microfiber cloth in nail polish remover with acetone
  • Dab the nail varnish stains with the cloth until the colour of the nail polish stain has faded
  • Avoid scrubbing or wiping
  • Place the clothes in the washer and on top of the washing capsule
  • Choose the appropriate wash cycle based on the fabric care labels on the garments. If your clothes are heavily stained, a higher temperature and a longer process may be necessary
  • Fake tan

Heather shared that “although fake tan can help you achieve a nice glow, improper application and drying techniques can cause fabric damage”. If split on carpet, her advice includes:

  • Remove as much product as possible from the surface with a spoon, working quickly before the stain sets. Any attempts to clean up the remaining solution will only push it deeper into the fibres
  • Make a solution of two cups of water and one teaspoon of dish soap and work it into the carpet, working from the outer edges inwards
  • Blot the stain with a clean paper towel until no tan remains
  • Rinse the affected area by blotting it with a clean towel dipped in clean water until no soap is left

If you’ve spilled fake tan on clothes, Henry suggests you “should begin by rinsing the product out with cold water from the underside – to wash the product out. Once the water’s running clear, you can tackle the stain with a mild solution of water & washing-up liquid or laundry detergent and a clean microfibre cloth. Dampen the cloth and blot the stain until it’s lifted, working from the outside into the centre. Then rinse again with cold water and launder the clothes as usual”.

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*Expert advice correct as of February 2022 

With thanks to the following experts who also provided their insight for this article: