When in Doubt, Toss it Out: The Shelf Life of Cosmetics


Few things in life make me happier than an organized makeup drawer. So it’s weird that 75% of the time, mine is a disaster.

Besides clutter, my biggest challenge is knowing when to throw things out.

My frustration with the state of my stash boiled over recently, when I used a past-its-prime tinted sunscreen that made my face itch all day and, frankly, smelled a little funky.

When I got home — and after I scrubbed my face — I dumped the entire contents of my makeup and skin care collection on the floor and picked through every piece. With the help of this handy cosmetic shelf life chart,  I filled two small grocery bags with expired (or questionable) products.

I’m not going to lie: it hurt a little. It’s hard to say goodbye to the NARS ‘orgasm’ blush you dropped 30 bucks on and haven’t made a dent in over the last four years. But research shows that, after a while, cosmetics become a hotbed of microorganisms and bacteria that can exacerbate acne and lead to skin and eye infections. Ain’t nobody got time for that; throw it away!

Here are a few tips I picked up about keeping your cosmetics (and in turn, your skin) so fresh and so clean:

  • I store all my makeup and skin care in a tall vintage chest of drawers in our small master bathroom. They’re a great vertical storage solution if you’re short on space, and have the added benefit of protecting your products from sunlight and moisture, which can breakdown pigments and encourage bacterial growth. I love this mirrored chest of drawers from One Kings Lane.
  • I recently learned about the PAO, or ‘Period After Opening’ symbol, printed on the back of some cosmetics. It’s used on all products sold in Europe, but isn’t included on everything stateside. It’s a symbol of an open jar with a number inside, which represents the shelf life of the product after opening. For example, 6M means pitch it 6 months after opening; 12M, 12 months, etc.
  • Since it’s easy to lose track of time, I started writing the opening date on the back or bottom of my products with a Sharpie. This way, there’s no question about freshness.

Author: Keira Lennox

I'm a small town lady from the sunshine state with an affinity for bookstores, beauty counters and unfussy style. I spend my days running my flower shop, and my nights blogging about what I love and what I wear. (Or watching Netflix and drinking wine.)

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