When To Throw Away Makeup

I so often see TikTok and Instagram memes joking about how products get kept wayyyy after their expiration date (like … years sometimes). It’s so easy to just leave things in your makeup drawer, especially if they still seem to be performing just fine! Trust me, no judgment here, but I do want to share some ways you can know for sure that it’s time to toss those products.

Check out the PAO symbol on the package

PAO is short for period-after-opening, and it’s represented by a little symbol you can find on a lot of product packaging. Check out the photo above, you’ll see it circled in white. The cool thing about the PAO is it tells you exactly how long the shelf life is on a product once it’s been opened for the first time.

Mascara and eyeliner

Some mascaras will have a PAO symbol or share an expiration date, but a good rule of thumb (if you don’t see any guidance) is to throw it out three to six months after you first open it. Because of the low moisture content of mascara, it’s not as much of a breeding ground for bacteria that it has long been rumored to be, but you’ll still get dirt and oils accumulating on your brush and in your product which isn’t great since mascara is used near such a sensitive area.

Foundation and concealer

Complexion products typically have a lifespan of a year or so, but there are some definite ways to know when it’s time to say goodbye. For compact/cake foundations and concealers, once they start to crack. For liquid products, once they start to separate, congeal. And for ANY product: if/when they start to smell weird.

Powders (eyeshadow, blush, setting powder)

Properly sanitized (I spritz mine with a little alcohol) powder products can last up to two years.

Lip products

Lipsticks and chapsticks should be tossed after about a year. I really like to stick to this one because of how bacteria can build up, especially in things like tubed lip glosses and liquid lipsticks. You *can* sanitize lipstick. Just take a paper towel and spritz it with alcohol and gently clean off the lipstick.

Beauty Blenders and makeup sponges

Makeup sponges like Beauty Blenders are typically good to go for about three to six months, depending on how you care for them. An easy way to clean your Beauty Blender or makeup sponge is with a solid cleaner; we have a DIY for one here. If your sponge is stained to the point that no amount of cleaning can help it or you start to see little holes forming, go ahead and toss it.

Makeup brushes

This one is a little less straightforward and has a lot to do with how well you take care of your brushes. It’s widely recommended to wash your brushes at least once a week. Here is a great tutorial to help you out. Also, the way you store your brushes is also pretty crucial—try storing them in a clean, dry place, bristles up, and not touching too many other brushes to where they’re crowded (they can lose their shape that way). It’s especially important to keep an eye on natural hair brushes as they are susceptible to wearing out more quickly. If you notice your brush starting to lose a lot of bristles or that it won’t return to its original shape after washing, that’s a good sign that it’s time to retire that brush.

If you haven’t cleaned out in a while, maybe this is your sign to just take an hour and go through your beauty products to see what needs to go and what can stay. I know it can be sad to throw things away, but here’s what I always think when I do big purges on makeup: I’m reminded that I need a lot less than I think I do, and it gives me the opportunity to repurchase my favorites from small businesses I love and even try some new ones. 🙂 Hope this has been helpful for you!

Check out our tips to get the most out of your foundation!

Credits//Author and Photography: Keely Rust. Photos edited with A Color Story Desktop.
  • i realize that limits are on there for a reason – but for sustainability reasons, i will keep makeup until it is gone. think of all the waste this mentality promotes. and all that plastic in landfills. not for me.

  • I had no idea makeup has little symbols on it. I just went through my drawer and…couldn’t bear to throw anything away. But I will try again! The lipsticks are hardest to part with. I have big dreams when I buy them (am I a person who wears teal lipstick?? Maybe!!!), and then I only wear them a handful of times.

    Also, you inspired me to wash my brushes for the first time in foreeever. It was easy and they’re so soft now. Thank you!

  • Oh! I’ve been using the same beauty blender for, like, two years?? I clean it with my oil cleanser every day to get the makeup out and then follow up with an antibacterial soap. But I’ll definitely be ordering a new one pronto.

  • I just bought new mascara (hi ILIA!) and even though I was over my old one, I couldn’t bear to throw it away while it still had product in it. This is definitely the push I needed. And honestly, I’ll probably be tossing out a lot more once I open my make-up bag. I’m definitely not tossing out my mom’s gold eyeshadow I stole though that must be at least from the 90s!

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