The Shelf Life of Clean Makeup Products

by Valerie Bisharat

nakedpoppy organic makeup

We all know to toss food after its expiration date, but what about makeup? Surely that stuff doesn’t last forever, and when used after it’s gone bad, makeup can create unfortunate (and sometimes dangerous) infections and irritation.

Still, most of us don’t know when it’s time to send our mascaras, lipsticks, and powders to a better place. To find out the shelf life of clean makeup, we went straight to the source: Dr. Laurence Dryer, a beauty scientist.  

Below are two easy methods for knowing how long to hold onto your clean beauty faves. Let’s dive in.

Method One: Look for the PAO symbol

Many products come bearing the PAO symbol (if yours doesn’t have one, use Method Two). The PAO or “period-after-opening” symbol indicates how many months or years your product is good for after you open it.

Here’s what it looks like:

nakedpoppy organic makeup

Companies do what’s called stability testing, or a series of experiments to make sure that products can withstand reasonable stresses like changes in temperature and light, and stay preserved when exposed to microbes.

Companies use stability testing to determine how long a product is “stable,” or safe to use after opening. The PAO symbol represents that time period.

Method Two: The Clean Makeup Shelf Life Shortlist

If you don’t see a PAO symbol, you can always refer to these guidelines from Dr. Dryer instead:

Toss after 3 months:

  • Eye products (mascara, eyeliner, eyeshadow)

Toss after a year:

  • Powders (blush, bronzer, foundation)
  • Lip products (lipstick, lipgloss)
  • Cream blush
  • Stick concealer
  • Sunscreen

Toss after two years:

  • Liquid products (foundations, concealers, tinted moisturizers)

As always, if you notice any signs that your makeup is expired – think black specks, a change in color, or a strange smell – throw it away, no questions asked.

In general, makeup that touches our eyes or we apply with our fingers has a shorter shelf life. Also, makeup that contains water as an ingredient typically doesn’t last as long as water-free formulations. This is because bacteria need water to grow.

Keep in mind that unopened makeup has a shelf life too, so don’t keep that stuff forever. Each product is a little different, but unopened makeup usually lasts about twice as long as it would opened.

Which makeup lasts longer: clean vs. conventional shelf life

These guidelines are for clean makeup, but you might be wondering how clean stacks up against conventional products. In the same way that fresh food doesn’t last as long as processed food, clean makeup generally has about half the shelf life of conventional.

Traditional makeup is often preserved with potentially harmful synthetic preservatives like parabens and BHA/BHT, which offer a longer shelf-life. Clean makeup is made with safer preservatives or alternative preservation methods, like formulating without water.

We hope this inspires you to make the most of your makeup while it lasts!

This article has been reviewed for accuracy by Dr. Laurence Dryer, a beauty scientist.

Have questions or comments about makeup shelf life? Leave them in the comments below. 

1 comment

Cassie Aug 01, 2018

So helpful! Thank you!

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