What You Don't Know About Cosmetics' Expiration Dates

Make up open and spread out on a white table.

Carol Yepes / Getty Images

All cosmetics and skin care products have an expiration date, which means that many old containers hang around bathroom cupboards far longer than they should. While slathering oneself with expired moisturizer doesn’t seem nearly as bad as drinking a glass of spoiled milk, the ingredients still get absorbed by your skin. Natural products have an even shorter shelf life than mainstream, drugstore products, which are full of preservatives.

Here’s the problem. According to the FDA, “There are no regulations or requirements under current United States law that require cosmetic manufacturers to print expiration dates on the labels of cosmetic products.” If you’re lucky, a conscientious manufacturer might choose to put a date or a picture of a tiny jar with a number of months beside it, i.e. 12M or 24M. Products from the European Union must have an expiration date for anything lasting less than 30 months. (I’m not sure what happens after that magical date.)

Here’s a quick list, compiled from LifeHacker, with the usual expiration dates for products that contain preservatives. Organic Authority has a similar list for all-natural products.

3-7 weeks: loofahs and sponges

Loofah and sponge hanging from a tap of a bathtub.

Grace Cary / Getty Images

No one I know throws out a loofah after 3 weeks, but apparently all those water-filled holes are a playground for bacteria. Opt for a reusable washcloth instead, or a bar of soap.

3 months: mascara, liquid eyeliner

A woman in a pink hijab applies black eyeliner in the mirror.

Katrin Streicher / Getty Images

Always throw these out after an eye infection and avoid testers at cosmetic counters.

6 months-1 year: skin creams, moisturizers, sunscreen, anti-aging/anti-acne products, liquid foundation, liquid concealer

White hands pump moisturizer out of a bottle.

Mariakray / Getty Images

Products with a pump are less likely to introduce bacteria than open containers, which should be tossed in 6-9 months.

2 years: shampoo, conditioner, hair styling products, shaving cream, toothpaste, perfume, cologne, nail polish

A woman paints her toenails in a white terry robe.

RunPhoto / Getty Images

Trust your sense of smell. Always store perfume and cologne away from sunlight.

3 years: deodorant, anti-perspirant, mouthwash, soap, powder-based makeup, lipsticks and glosses, eye and lip pencils (can last up to 5 years)

A senior woman with silver curly hair applies red lipstick in the mirror.

Tara Moore / Getty Images

Keep your fingers clean when you dip into containers of gloss.

There’s a bigger problem, however. It’s easy to talk about tossing expired cosmetics, but if you haven’t detoxified your beauty routine and still use products that contain the Dirty Dozen (and countless other carcinogens, pesticides, reproductive toxins, hormone disruptors, plasticizers, degreasers, and surfactants), it’s not safe simply to toss them into household garbage. David Suzuki’s website suggests the following option for getting rid of toxic cosmetics:

The first step is don’t buy any more chemical-laden cosmetics and stick to those deemed safe by the SkinDeep Cosmetics Database. Second, use up the products and recycle the containers. Third, if you don’t want to keep using them, find out if your city considers cosmetics to be household hazardous waste. Fourth – this is more extreme, but I like it – consider mailing your expired product back to the manufacturer, asking them to dispose of it safely and urging them to sign the Compact for Safe Cosmetics.