Expiry dates are required on some over-the-counter personal care products that have therapeutic properties - think antiperspirants, dandruff shampoo, and sunscreen - because their therapeutic effects diminish over time.
Cosmetics, on the other hand, don't require an expiry date. But even though that powder compact doesn't bear a best-by date like a cup of yogurt, that doesn't mean it will last forever!
Sometimes makeup will bear a date stamp, but most of the time it won't. You can usually use your senses - including your common sense - to tell if a cosmetic product needs to be tossed out. Dispose of products with dark spots, fuzzy patches, colour changes, or a change in texture or scent. These sorts of changes often just mean a product won't work as well, but using outdated cosmetics may sometimes lead to skin irritations and eye infections.
Mascara is a special case. Since it's a water-based product, it is especially prone to bacteria growth. And since you use it so close to your vulnerable eyes, mascara should be thrown out after 3 months. Toss the tube sooner if you notice a change in smell or colour or if you've had an eye infection. To keep it safe for longer use, keep air out of the tube. Seal it up tight and avoid pumping the wand up and down in the tube. But you should continue to replace mascara every 3 months, no matter how many times you've used the tube.
In general, be careful about any products you use near your eyes. Keep eye pencils sharpened and clean, and they should stay hygienic, but treat liquid eyeliner the same way you would mascara.
One type of liquid cosmetic you don't need to worry about is nail polish. Sure, nail polish can dry up and become unusable, but it would take a long time for nail polish to "go bad." Bacteria stand no chance in the chemical stew of nail polish - isopropyl alcohol, formaldehyde resin, and butyl acetate, to name a few of the ingredients.
You could also contact cosmetics manufacturers and ask about when a product was made. To do this, you'll need the company's contact information and the product lot number, usually found as an alphanumeric code on the container. A law in Europe requires its cosmetic products to be labelled with a period after opening (PAO) symbol that can tell you how many months the product is good after you first start using it.
It is best to never share make-up, especially those used near the eyes, as it is easy to transmit bacteria and infection. If you happen to share cosmetic tools, wash them down following the simple steps listed in "Do a big brush-off."
Still unsure about a product? Better to be safe than sorry and throw it out! Avoid future cosmetic confusion by marking product containers with your date of purchase. And then follow the cosmetic scientists' guideline to toss most makeup after a year.
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