Expired makeup? Watch out for bacteria

skin lotion
Written by Alexis Dobranowski

With bleary eyes the other morning, I noticed a teeny tiny date on my skin cover-up. And it was a teeny tiny date that had long passed. (Though, I just bought the cover-up a couple months ago, I swear!)

I knew you shouldn’t hang on to mascara for too long, but I didn’t realize other skin products have an expiration date. Did you?

Dr. Kucy Pon, dermatologist at Sunnybrook, says that not all skin care products are required to have an expiration date. Many do, though. And you should look for it.

“Generally, cosmetic products — make-up, lotions, creams and sunscreens — can become contaminated over time with bacteria and/or other microorganisms,” she explained. “That is because when we dip our fingers into the creams we introduce contaminants into the products.”

Over time, the preservatives in the products can expire and allow bacteria and microorganisms to grow, she added.

“The ingredients in products can degrade over time, so preservatives may not work as well at preventing bacteria and microorganisms from growing in the creams or make-up,” Dr. Pon said.

Keep a particular eye on the date on your sunscreen, she said.

“Sunscreen ingredients also lose efficacy over time and may not protect your skin from sun damage as well as it should. Active ingredients like vitamin C, glycolic acid or vitamin A acid can also degrade so you are not getting the benefits of these products.”

So, should we toss the expired products from our shelves? Yes.

“Firstly, you may not get the benefits of the active ingredients as they may have broken down and become less effective. Secondly, the preservatives in the products may not work as effectively and the product may be contaminated with bacteria, fungi or other microorganisms. These could potentially lead to a skin infection, or eye infection (in the case of mascaras or other eye make-up).”

If your makeup, creams or mascaras don’t have an expiry date listed, check for a little symbol on the packaging that looks like a little open jar with a number inside, Dr. Pon said.

makeup symbol

The little open jar symbol with a number inside indicates how long you should keep the product around after opening it.

“It might say 6M or 12M or 24M — and that indicates how many months you can keep it around after opening it,” she explained.

(Author’s note: I’ve seen this symbol but haven’t ever paid attention to it. I might pay more attention now that I’ll imagine bacteria or microorganisms inside.)

How you dispose of old or expired products depends on where you live and what is it.

“Things like nail polish, nail polish remover, hair sprays contain chemicals that may be classified as hazardous household waste so best to check with your city’s waste management policies.”

Better clean out my make-up bag!


About the author

Alexis Dobranowski

Alexis Dobranowski is a Communications Advisor at Sunnybrook.