Makeup basics from a makeup artist: When to throw away makeup

Updated Aug 13 2016
Guest post by Tania D. Russell
Originally posted on Makeup To Go
Originally posted on Makeup To Go

Yes, that is a trash bag filled with makeup. That bag contains everything from NYX cream blushes (which I loved back in the day) to NARS Artists Palettes. Yes, you read correctly: NARS Artists Palettes — Discontinued ones that have not been available in years and years.

Why would I commit such an atrocity? Because it was time. Sadly, all good things come to an end and for a lot of the makeup now residing in that trash bag, their end actually came and went a while ago yet I was still holding on.

I get new makeup quite often. It is the blessing of being a working artist. However, I recently had to confront the reality of the truth; I had way too much old makeup taking up too much space. So much so that my new makeup was living in my dining room. I would show you a picture of how that was, but it’s embarrassing so, no.

Why do we hold onto makeup in the first place?

My theory is that memory is a powerful thing. And memory leads to nostalgia and nostalgia leads to holding onto items well past their due date. As I was doing my purge I realized that EVERY single piece of makeup I own is attached to a memory of my life and career. Be it a career milestone or a personal treat of some kind, every piece of makeup I picked up sent me back in time to some recollection of yesteryear. Thus, it made it very difficult to purge the old makeup, but purge I did and purge you must. There comes a time when you have to let go of sentiment and face reality head-on.

3 things to consider when deciding what to keep and what to toss

1. Is it still in good condition? This is a no-brainer. It is dangerous to use makeup that has expired be it on yourself or on others. If it has a funky smell or the colors have started to change, that’s an automatic trip to the trash.

2. Do I still use it? Does it serve any purpose? I am not in the same place in my career that I was five years ago. Certain products — while I may really like them — just never get used anymore. They’ve either been replaced by new fabulosity, or I have found my Holy Grail Staple of that item type. If it is not being used, it is taking up valuable real estate and it needs to go.

3. Can someone else use it, or is it just DONE? Just because I can't/don't use it does not mean someone else cannot. Whenever possible I prefer to recycle makeup either to friends or what-have-you (women’s shelters and other charities can only accept new and unused product).

When you should throw away makeup

Generally speaking there are broad guidelines that can be followed to know when to toss a given cosmetics. To paraphrase Morpheus, some rules can be bent, some can be broken. There are some rules, however, that MUST be followed strictly (mascara!) in order to maintain makeup health. These are broad (i.e. not absolute) guidelines for once a cosmetic is opened and in use.

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Powders: 2 – 4 years
Powder eyeshadows, powder blushes, pressed powder, loose setting powder, etc. Powder FOUNDATIONS are a little different due to the pigmentation and other ingredients that may be added. I would keep powder foundations the same length of time as cream/liquid foundations.

Creams: 12 – 18 months
Cream blushes, cream eyeshadows, foundations, concealers, etc. Liquid foundations last about a year.

Lipsticks: 12 months

Pencil liners: 2 years
With good care, pencil liners can (CAN) last up to two years. Regular sharpening removes the used layer of product and keeps the product clean/sanitized so that it lasts longer. (Only if you sharpen after each use and keep your sharpening tools clean, however.)

Gel and liquid liners: 2 months

Mascara: 3 – 6 months
Please do not try to play games with gel and liquid liners and mascaras. Not only are these products creams/liquids which transfer bacteria more readily than powders do, but these items are used in one of the most sensitive and infection prone areas of your body.

Look and see what your makeup is telling you

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Nowadays, most cosmetics products feature this icon of an open cosmetics jar with a number next to it. That symbol is telling you once this product has been opened, you have X number of months to use it. So in the case of this compact, once I open it up it should be good for about 12 months.

What to do with make-up to be tossed

The reason I threw these items away was because they were not in condition to be given away. Hence they were not in condition to be used, hence they were just taking up space. Most of the time, however, I do give my overflow makeup away either to homeless/domestic abuse shelters (which is my first choice), or to students as prizes, or to my friends etc.

The point of the story is this…

One way or another you’ve got to know when to let it go. The benefits since my purge has been faster kit organization and packing for the jobs I’ve had since the purge and just an overall sense of calm whenever I walk into that room. And getting my dining room back!

  1. I was reading this and trying to think when I purchased most of the make up that I wear (on the relatively infrequent occasions I wear makeup). I do regularly buy new mascara since it's the only thing I wear on a regular basis. My foundation and powder are both about 2.5 years old, I bought them before a wedding I went to in the summer of 2013. My eye shadows and blush are over a decade old! Time passes fast I guess… but I bought them when I worked at Bath and Body Works in college and they were discontinued from there in 2006 (according to a quick internet search).

    So yeah… probably time to buy something new.

  2. I just did this, too! You're right, everything I took out of my makeup kit locked up a memory but I knew I had to get rid of the expired stuff. I also came here to say that I thought I was the only one who ever knew about Nixie cosmetics, I see the palette in your picture. I LOVED their eyeshadow palettes, and I don't know what ever happened to that company. I met the founders at a trade show back in the day and they were awesome, which is how I got introduced to their products. So, it was cool to see it in your post 🙂

  3. Wow, thanks for this. I never knew about the symbol indicating lifespan. I knew about the mascara lifespan but wasn't aware of the gel liner having such a short time span. I love my gel liner pens I usually get a year out of them…

    I don't wear make up very often so my products expire well before they are used up. I really wish manufacturers made smaller versions for people like me. The sample sizes in many products are perfect for my needs. I really love the sets that Sephora brings out around xmas that have around a dozen sample sizes. I get the mascara box every year and I never use up even an entire sample tube.

    I'm going off to the cupboard to see what make up I need to throw out and then I can go make up shopping again!

  4. Most of my makeup probably ought to get tossed, but I hate to do it because I almost never wear it (maybe 4 or 5 times a year) and thus there's still SO much of it left. Just seems like a waste :-/ I guess it's time to face reality…

    • I feel the same way. I wear makeup so seldom… It seems really wasteful (both product and money wise) to throw things out that have tons left in them unless I don't intend on wearing them anymore.

    • This is why I gave up wearing make up. Once I decided that I was going to be a grown up and stop wearing out of date make up, I realised that I also wasn't going to buy a new mascara to wear once every time I went to a wedding or dinner (a few times a year).

      • I wonder… do they make smaller tubes for single use (or a few uses)? I would do SO much better with a handful of those in a year.

        • A lot of direct sales make up companies (like Mary Kay) have single use mascaras, eye liners, eye shadows, lipsticks, etc. as samples for people to try. They aren't typically available for sale to customers, but if you know a consultant, they might be willing to sell one of the samples, or even give it away for free 🙂

        • Stowaway is a newer company that makes basic makeup staples in tiny sizes designed to be used up before they expire. Kind of pricey, but I've heard good things.

    • I almost never wear makeup, either. I've considered just going to a salon to get my makeup done on the few occasions I actually do wear it, but then there's the thrifty nagging voice in my head that reminds me I could just buy the entire set of makeup for the price of paying someone else to do it at the salon. It's like the travel size vs. economy size; per ounce, you never win.

      • Ugh, pretty much. The main thing (other than cost) that keeps me from getting it done is that I've *never* been happy with the results of anyone doing my makeup besides me (or one of my friends who is a makeup fiend who has known me for years). The few times I've had it done, I've always spent time afterwards making adjustments. I even did my own makeup when I got married because I didn't want to go through the bother of trying to find someone who would do my makeup the way I wanted it. These days I don't bother with makeup unless I'm going somewhere fancy though– I decided that lacking makeup at work is worth the extra 5 minutes of sleep, haha.

    • Same here. I wear makeup only for being on stage or really fancy parties, so maybe up to 10 times a year, so I always have a ton left.

      Plus, I can't replace a lot of the things I like because it's no longer mid-2000s. Really hard to find all the baby blue and glitter and sparkles nowadays, so if I get rid of the stuff I have, I can't replace it.

      I know I shouldn't, but I keep taking the chance. So far, nothing bad has happened. Fingers crossed I keep getting lucky until I either run out of mascara or find a new one that I like just as much and also has gold shimmer in it and is waterproof…

  5. Once a homeless trans woman asked me for makeup while I was waiting for the bus. I didn't have any to give but that night I went through my makeup case and took out the usable stuff I didn't need. I started carrying a ziplock bag of makeup but I never saw that woman again, and no one's ever asked me for makeup since.

    TLDR: someone in need might want your used makeup!

  6. Thanks for this 🙂

    I don't wear make-up on a regular basis at all. I only wear it for belly dance and cosplay (neither of which I do more than say five times a year).

    I have make-up still from college. (I graduated over 15 years ago btw).
    I *know* it needs to go. Most of it never gets used even! (I have my staple five things and the rest just fills the make-up case); but like you said: nostalgia can run deep with make-up.

    Guess it's time for a purge. Like a REAL one.
    Though I may call in a friend in so I can cry on her shoulder as it all gets chucked and we can drown our sorrows in a tall mug of hot chocolate.
    (Then go shopping for new stuff!) 😉

  7. This really helped me. I rarely wear makeup. And when I do wear it, I end up going "Umm, I guess I should throw out this mascara I used last Christmas ?"

  8. Thank you! I have such a hard time throwing away makeup because it's so expensive to buy in the first place. It's good to know that I really should throw away that 5 year old lip-liner I never wear anyway and just suck it up and buy a handful of products I use regularly. Because hygiene.

  9. Is it safe to donate used make up that's past its expiration date to a domestic violence shelter? If it's not safe to use on my face, why would it be safe for them?

    • I think they are saying to donate makeup that is still within the expiration date and "usable" that maybe you just don't ever wear. At least I hope so, heh.

    • I think she was saying that shelters only accept unopened, unused products. The used products that are still good she gives to her friends.

  10. Yikes… I wear makeup on so few occasions, that it's probably not worth even buying it. The last time I wore makeup was at my wedding, and the time before that… maybe (maybe?) a job interview? I know all my makeup is well past the expiration date, except for maybe the stuff that I haven't actually opened yet (like the stuff I bought for my wedding at the salon, in case I needed a touchup–but of course, I never actually needed, nor had the chance, to touchup my makeup on my wedding day).

    Nailpolish is a whole 'nother story. I have nailpolish I can recall getting in 2002. If it's still liquid and paints color, NBD in my book.

    I'm sure this is the oldest argument in the book, but I decided years ago that if men didn't have to wear makeup to work or to job interviews, then neither did I. I can't tell you how liberating it is not to have panic moments like being late to work because "I had to do my hair and makeup" or making extra time in my schedule because "I need to do my hair and makeup." I consider makeup more like a special occasion type thing: like buying a fancy dress for your wedding, or senior prom, or what-have-you. Of course I live in the Seattle area where it's pretty much acceptable for women to wear black yoga pants and a pony tail to work, so the whole makeup vs. no argument might be completely different in another part of the country.

    • I agree with you about nail polish. Although, I recently did a purge and got rid of everything more than 10 years old, since many had dried up even though there were sealed. I had some that I remember buying in high school in the 90s.

      I gave up on buying mascara, because I feel like I used a tube twice before it expired. I only wore is on special occasions or with stage makeup. Now, I forgo the mascara on special occasions (yay for being genetically gifted with naturally thick, dark, long lashes), and use false eyelashes for dance performances (which I replace about once a year).

      My daily makeup takes me less than two minutes, and consists of just a little eyeliner. I have a few tinted lip gloss/moisturizers that I wear sometimes, too. Powder, under-eye creams, and eyeshadow are purely for "playing dress-up" (special occasions and performances).

  11. I definitely need to do a makeup purge!

    One thing that I always wish articles like this included is advice on how to 'throw stuff away' without actually throwing it in the rubbish. What can be recycled, and how? In that photo I can see a lot of plastic tubes, covers, aerosols etc. that should be recycled, but I'm just not sure how to go about it.

    Any advice?

  12. Do all lip products fall into the 12 month expiration category? Burt's Bees lip shimmers (in Cherry and Rhubarb) are my pepperminty Holy Grails for color. Should I be replacing them once a year?

    • So my totally unscientific approach is this:
      Do not ignore expiration guidelines on lipgloss/liquid lipsticks where you've got the little application wand that goes down into the goop. That's a bacterial breeding ground.
      For lip balms and sticks? I feel like it's more flexible in practice. But it does call into question how you use it:
      First, take a look at what kind of crud your lipstick may pick up during application. For instance, do you ever apply after licking your lips? Do you ever apply with dry, cracked, flaky lips? Do you ever apply with any kind of cold/flu or cold sore (PS don't do this)? Do you ever apply when your face is kinda grimy and you haven't even brushed your teeth, but you like, can't even today so whatever?
      If you know you're putting your lipstick on a germy mouth, maybe just go ahead and heed the 12 month guideline (or whatever the packaging suggests). If there's any change in the colour, texture, taste or smell, definitely throw it out right away, no hesitation. If you have a compromised immune system/gut that's real sensitive, be safe!

  13. Wow. This is super eye opening (and eye protecting!) I never wear make-up unless I'm performing in a show or for Halloween. I don't think I've ever actually purchased any so all I have are hand me downs from my mother. I'm sure that all of mine is past it's prime but … it's never been worth my money to buy anything new just to put on for a couple of hours a few weekends per year. However, I had no idea that mascara had such a short shelf-life so maybe I will start buying a cheap tube of that for each new show!

  14. After reading this I did a makeup purge, and man did it feel good, especially after finding a eyeshadow I bought when I was 13 in 1993, Yikes! I am a eye shadow hoarder and not ashamed to admit it lol.
    I also have to say it was hard throwing out five lipsticks that were probably only used once but bought 4 years ago, but after a quick sniff test I wasn't so reluctant to ditch them. It is also awesome to know that I am not the only one with make up from my teens lurking in my make up case (phew).
    The only thing I do change on a 5 monthly basis is my mascara, but I will keep a closer eye on the rest from now on too.
    Thank you so much for this article it was the kick in the butt I needed, and its a great excuse to buy more make up right?

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