Beauty & the Brush: Make-up lifespan

Maria Saadat May 06, 2010

KARACHI: For most women, childhood memories include a picture of our mothers seated at their dressing tables carefully adorning themselves.

We can all recall how they meticulously sorted through their drawers as we eagerly helped them find the perfect shade of lipstick. As we grew older, we went on to search for our own prized possession, a colour to trump all others, to give us the kind of joy that no man or chocolate cake ever could. And like our mothers, once we found our holy grail, we held onto it for dear life.

10 years later, we can still find the same tube of lipstick in our drawer simply because we are unwilling to part with it. Alongside the ancient tube of lipstick lie countless shadows, liners and foundations. Some were cast aside when the next best thing came along, some were held onto in the hopes that they will once again become en vogue.

What most women don’t realise, however, is that hoarding old products is extremely unsafe. We have also rolled our eyes when others have schooled us on the subject. However, the peril of using stale make-up is very real. From the moment the wrapper comes off, a product’s degeneration process begins. Each time a cap is opened, bacteria from the air and your fingers fights its way into the bottle and multiplies.

Mixed-in preservatives that make products safe for long-term use begin to wear immediately. This is especially true in warm weather; so Pakistani women need to be all the more cautious of product shelf life. Think of it this way, you wouldn’t voluntarily ingest expired medicine, would you? Remember, skin is porous and quickly absorbs makeup and skin treatments. So, how long can you actually hold onto products? Here’s a basic breakdown.

Mascara lasts no longer than three to four months. We don’t care how much you paid for it - your eyes are precious. The same goes for liquid eyeliner - into the trash after six months. Eye and lip pencils allow a little freedom - keep them for up to two years, but sharpen them frequently to stave off accumulated bacteria. Lipsticks and glosses are a little trickier as most women rarely throw these away. However, the preservatives break down between one to two years. And if they have a strong or unusual smell, get rid of them immediately.

Cream blushes and eye shadows should be tossed after one to two years. Powders (face, blush, eye shadows) last longer from the lack of water in the formula and last up to two and a half years years. Foundations and concealers? Chuck these after eight months. Finally, cleansers, lotions and creams have a six to eight month limit - they are preserved with fatty acids that turn rancid fast. Keep in mind; the timelines listed are best-case scenarios.

Follow a few simple rules to prolong the shelf life of any product. One, keep your mascara off your friends’ lashes. Sharing may be caring, but it’s also the best way to spread bacteria. Two, all lids should be screwed on tightly and kept away from sunlight. Lastly, don’t leave any products in the bathroom. Moisture breeds bacteria. We understand throwing out makeup can be hard on the heart and on the wallet. But, in the long run your body will thank you for it.

We have no idea what we’ll discover 10 years down the line about the product we use now. Unlike food products, most cosmetics companies are not required to issue an expiration date, so it’s up to you to fend for yourself.

Maria Saadat is author of the popular desi beauty site Lipstick Masala.


Do you have a question about make-up? Can’t figure out a hairstyle for an upcoming wedding? Do your attempts at smoky eye make-up leave you looking like a raccoon? Have no fear! E-mail your questions and issues to and Maria Saadat will respond to them in an upcoming column.


Lorraine Emerick | 13 years ago | Reply I use the Once Opened Beauty Expiration Kit to date my cosmetics. I found out that common permanent markers smudge off because of the oils in creams and makeup -the kit's self laminating labels solve this problem. Kit comes with self laminating labels in a pretty pink pouch, ultra fine point mini permanent marker and a cosmetic life expectancy guide in a nice keepsake box. Check it out.
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