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When to toss your makeup and sunscreen

How often do you replace your makeup and sunscreen? If you wait until you’ve used the entire product, keep reading. Dermatologists say that to protect your health, you sometimes need to toss these products before you empty the container.

To find out how long you should keep makeup and sunscreen, we asked two board-certified dermatologists to share their expertise. Here’s the lowdown.

Makeup doesn’t last forever

While it may seem like you can keep using makeup until it’s all gone, the fact is that cosmetics break down over time. With use, germs can build up on the product. Once either happens, your makeup is past its prime. It’s old makeup.

Board-certified dermatologist Cynthia Bailey, MD, FAAD, says, “You cannot trust old makeup to perform the way you expect. Old makeup can also cause skin problems.”

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What skin problems can old makeup cause?

Cynthia Bailey, MD, FAAD

Skin infection is the biggest problem. Over time, bacteria and mold often contaminate makeup. These germs can cause an eye infection or a common skin infection like impetigo or folliculitis.

─ Cynthia Bailey, MD, FAAD

Dara Spearman, MD, FAAD

Instead of having the desired effect, old makeup may irritate your skin. Developing a skin infection is another problem because over time, bacteria and mold tend to grow in makeup. That’s why I don’t recommend using old or expired makeup.

─ Dara Spearman, MD, FAAD

Does makeup have an expiration date?

You probably won’t find an expiration date. However, “on some cosmetics, you’ll see a Period After Opening symbol on the container. It’s the little graphic icon that shows a jar with an open lid and a number next to the letter ‘M.’ The number tells you how many months the product should last after you open it,” says Dr. Bailey.

This Period After Opening symbol tells you that the product should last 9 months after you open it

So that you know when to toss makeup, dermatologists recommend keeping track of when you open each product.

This Period After Opening symbol tells you the makeup should last 9 months after you open it

Dr. Bailey adds, “In the United States, the Period After Opening information isn’t required on cosmetics.” If you don’t see this symbol on a product, dermatologists recommend that you use the following information to figure out how long to keep makeup.

How long does makeup last?

While there are no set rules and you may see slightly different times elsewhere, this infographic gives you general guidelines to follow, so you know when to throw out makeup.

American Academy of Dermatology | When to throw away your makeup infographic
Following these guidelines can help you protect the health of your skin and eyes. If you use makeup for longer than recommended, you might develop an eye infection like pink eye, acne-like breakouts, or irritated skin. Click the image above to download.

The lifespan for some cosmetics like mascara may seem short. “Even if you haven’t used all the product, it’s important to toss it as recommended,” cautions board-certified dermatologist Dara Spearman, MD, FAAD.

“The lifespan of mascara is three months for good reason,” Dr. Spearman adds. “A study published in a medical journal reported that staph aureus bacteria are found in mascara after three months of use,” she says. Staph aureus is one of the leading causes of skin and soft-tissue infections.

Signs you should toss makeup

If you don’t remember when you started using a cosmetic, it can be difficult to know when to toss it. And sometimes, we keep makeup for a while before opening it. In these instances, you should look for signs that the makeup has spoiled.

Dr. Spearman offers these guidelines. You should toss products that:

  • Start to clump like mascara or eyeliner

  • Change in consistency like a foundation that separates

  • Crumble or fall apart like powder eyeshadow or blush

  • Smell bad

  • Look dry and flaky or runny

  • Have changed color

  • Feel different on your skin

5 habits that can help you use makeup for as long as recommended

How you store and use your cosmetics also affect how long you should keep them. To use your makeup for its intended lifespan, dermatologists recommend that you:

  • Store your cosmetics in a dry, clean space, keeping them at room temperature and out of direct sunlight.

  • Wash your hands and face before applying makeup.

  • Never share makeup that you place directly on your skin or eyelashes or apply with a brush or sponge.

  • Replace all caps and lids securely after each use.

  • Use clean makeup brushes and sponges.

How often do you need to clean makeup brushes and sponges?

Dirty brushes and sponges can cause acne breakouts, rashes, and skin infections.

“Sponges should be cleaned after every use,” Dr. Bailey says. After using a makeup sponge:

  • Fill a bowl with warm water, adding a few drops of liquid cleanser or soap as the bowl fills.

  • Place your sponge in the bowl, and massage the soapy water into the sponge for 15 seconds.

  • Remove the sponge and hold it under warm running water, keeping it there until the water runs clear.

  • Squeeze out the excess water, and let the sponge air dry on a clean paper towel.

Dr. Spearman says, “Studies show that you need to clean your makeup brushes every 7 to 10 days.” This short video shows you: How to clean your makeup brushes.

Sunscreen has an expiration date

Unlike makeup, sunscreen has an expiration date. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires sunscreen to maintain its original strength for three years, and manufacturers often put the expiration date on the container.

“Dermatologists recommend that you toss sunscreen when it expires because the active ingredients that protect your skin break down and no longer protect you,” says Dr. Bailey.

She and her husband know firsthand what happens when you use expired sunscreen.

“Many years ago on a beautiful spring day, my husband grabbed a tube of the prior year’s sunscreen that he found in our kitchen drawer. Before stepping outside, he applied this sunscreen, and he reapplied it as recommended by his dermatologist wife while he worked in the garden all day. The next day he was beet red. The sunscreen didn’t work as expected because it had expired,” Dr. Bailey recounted.

To reduce her family’s risk of sunburn, early skin aging, and skin cancer, Dr. Bailey now keeps track of the expiration dates of every sunscreen product in her home so that she is sure to replace expired sunscreen before someone in her household uses it. She recommends that you do the same.

Dr. Spearman shares more great reasons to throw out expired sunscreen. She says, “Expired sunscreens may break down and cause irritated skin or even an allergic skin reaction. It’s also possible to develop a skin infection because over time, mold or bacteria can grow inside the container.”

If your sunscreen doesn’t have an expiration date, write the date you bought the sunscreen on the container. That way, you’ll know when to throw it out.

It’s also possible for sunscreen to spoil before it expires. You know it’s time to buy more sunscreen – even if it hasn’t expired — if your sunscreen shows any of the following signs:

  • Obvious change in color

  • Different or foul odor

  • Signs of separation (i.e., you see different layers like an oil and a solid)

  • Dry and flaky consistency

One reason sunscreen can go bad before its expiration date is heat. If it’s left in direct sunlight or inside a hot, enclosed space like a car, the ingredients can break down more quickly.

Check your makeup and sunscreen today

Now that you know the problems that expired or spoiled products can cause, it’s time to check your products. “Tossing old makeup and expired sunscreen can keep your skin looking its best today and throughout your life,” says Dr. Bailey.


  • Images 1,2: Courtesy of Drs. Bailey and Spearman

  • Image 3: Getty Images

  • Image 4: Property of the American Academy of Dermatology

Written by:
Paula Ludmann, MS

Reviewed by:
Cynthia Bailey, MD, FAAD
Dana Spearman, MD, FAAD
Kesha Buster, MD, FAAD
Sandy Marchese Johnson, MD, FAAD
Desmond Shipp, MD, FAAD

Last updated: 5/15/24