Just like food, skin care and beauty products have a shelf life—especially when they’re packed with natural ingredients. While “use by” dates aren’t too common on these items, a good rule of thumb is to throw away anything that looks different than when you bought it, has changed texture or smells off.
But other variables come into play, too, like how much water is in the product or if it’s applied with your fingers. Here’s what you need to know about what should stay and what should go.
Soaps & Cleansers: 1 year after opening
You would think cleansing products would be good for a long time, but it turns out that the bacteria from our hands can grow on bar soap and liquid cleanser containers.
When it’s time to toss: Bar soap is cracked or has been sitting in water and has a slimy film (which bacteria thrive in!). Liquid cleansers look runny or the pump is dirty or moldy.
Moisturizers: 1 year
When it comes to the longevity of your moisturizers, what’s important is how much contact your lotion or cream has with your fingers. The more you dip into a container, the more likely you are to introduce bacteria into the moisturizer. Using a little scoop or a pump container will help prevent contamination.
When it’s time to toss: Moisturizers have become watery or off-color.
Facial Serums: 9 months–1 year
Serums are full of powerful skin-saving ingredients, but some, like vitamin C, quickly become less potent when exposed to light and heat. Look for vitamin C serums combined with ferulic acid, another antioxidant, which stabilizes vitamin C and makes it last longer.
When it’s time to toss: Serums have oxidized and turned dark brown or orange.
Foundations: 9 months–2 years
If your foundation is a liquid and you touch the bottle to apply it, toss after 9 months (in case bacteria have been introduced into the bottle). This is especially important for preservative-free or water-based formulations, since bacteria grow faster in these environments. Powder foundations last a lot longer, up to 2 years, but be sure to clean your application brush once a week.
When it’s time to toss: Liquid foundations have become runny or have an odor; powder foundations have formed an oily film or hard layer on the surface.
Eye Shadow: 1–2 years
Gel or cream shadows don’t last as long as powders, especially if you apply them with your fingers. Powder shadows last the longest as long as you’re using a clean brush to apply.
When it’s time to toss: Shadows have changed color or developed a hard film on the top of the powder.
Mascara: 3–6 months
Eye infections from contaminated mascara can be serious, and dipping the wand into the container after every use allows bacteria to enter the tube. If you use mascara every day, toss it after three months. For special-event mascaras that you use only occasionally, throw them out after 6 months.
When it’s time to toss: Mascara looks dry or flaky, or the brush is clumpy. If you’ve had an eye infection, don’t use the product again.
Blush: 1–2 years
Cream or gel blushes have more moisture in them so there’s more likelihood bacteria can enter the product; they tend to dry out after a year anyway. Powder blushes last at least 2 years if applied with a clean brush.
When it’s time to toss: Cream blushes that separate, or powders that have changed color should go.
Lipstick & Lip Balm: 1 year
Applying lipstick or balm directly from the tube to your lips introduces bacteria on the surface of the product. This happens when you dip your finger into little lip balm pots, too.
When it’s time to toss: Viruses can live on the surface of lipstick, so immediately throw it out if you’ve had a cold sore or a bad cold.
Sunscreen: Up to 3 years
The FDA requires expiration dates on sunscreen unless it’s made to last over three years, so anything less should be stamped on the bottle. Since sunscreen should be used every day a container most likely won’t last more than a few months anyway.
When it’s time to toss: Throw it out before the expiration date if it becomes watery or separated, or you’ve stored it in a hot car.
Shampoo: 2 years
Opened bottles of shampoo can last a few years, unopened ones up to 3 years.
When it’s time to toss: Warm, steamy showers are ideal for mold and bacteria growth that can contaminate opened shampoo containers. Toss if the texture, color or smell changes.