There’s a secret expiration date on your makeup that you probably didn’t know existed

Makeup Brushes
Old makeup can harbor gross bacteria. Dexailo/Shutterstock
  • Makeup doesn’t last forever; it can even cause irritation and infections if used past its expiration.
  • To determine how long your products are safe to use, check for tiny symbols on the packaging.
  • Specifically, the open cream jar symbol indicates how many months a product is meant to last.
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Though many beauty products are created to stay on all day, they aren’t designed to last forever.

Eventually, you’ll need to throw out your favorite makeup and skin-care items and replace them with new ones. After all, makeup loses its quality, becomes harder to apply, and can even become harmful to your skin and cause infections as a result of bacteria buildup over time.

Thankfully, figuring out when you should throw away your beauty products is simple: Just look at the packaging.

There are tiny symbols on product labels that tell you how long your products will last after you’ve opened them – but they’re so small, you might not have noticed them.

Look for the open cream jar icon, known as the PAO or ‘Period After Opening’ symbol

The icon includes the number of months a product is safe to use after it has been unsealed.

Makeup expiration date
This Smashbox primer is good to use for two years. Chloe Pantazi/Insider

The PAO was introduced on cosmetics labels in 2005 by the European Commission, which requires all cosmetic products with a shelf life of 30 months or more to feature the symbol. Products that have a shorter shelf life than 30 months must include the minimum shelf life or best before date on the label.

While the US currently doesn’t require cosmetics to have an expiration date by law, the US Food & Drug Administration holds manufacturers responsible for ensuring their products are safe to use – and determining the shelf life of a product is considered part of their duty to consumers.

That’s why, when you look through your makeup bag, you’re likely to find the symbol on nearly all of your beauty products.

The shelf life of makeup and skin care varies between different beauty products

I raided my makeup bag to demonstrate how long certain products last compared to others. Products for the face – like primer, foundation, and blush – will typically last for up to 24 months after they’ve been opened.

I’ll need to throw out my favorite Yves Saint Laurent blush in two years.

Blush
Powdered blush can crumble and gather bacteria over time. Chloe Pantazi/Insider

The same goes for my everyday Clinique foundation.

Foundation
I wear this nearly every day, so I’ll probably be throwing it away sooner than its PAO. Chloe Pantazi/Insider

Lip products should be thrown away sooner, usually after a year. This PAO icon on the bottom of my colleague’s Tarte lipstick is so tiny that you can hardly see it unless you zoom in really close.

Lipstick
Sarah will need to throw out her Tarte lipstick in 12 months from when she opened it. Chloe Pantazi/Insider

And mascara should be replaced even more regularly.

While the PAO on my Tarte mascara says it will last for up to 12 months, the FDA recommends getting rid of mascara after it becomes dry to prevent irritation to the eyes.

Mascara
This Tarte mascara has quickly become a favorite product, so I’ll buy it again when it dries up. Chloe Pantazi/Insider

My colleague’s CoverGirl mascara has a shorter life span of six months.

Mascara 2
This symbol is much easier to read, with the shelf life clearly marked outside of the tiny jar. Chloe Pantazi/Insider

In addition to your makeup, you’ll find the symbol on your skin-care products as well.

This Caudalie toner is good to use for nine months.

Toner
I use this every morning and night after cleansing, so I’ll probably need to replace it sooner. Chloe Pantazi/Insider

Unsurprisingly, my Caudalie eye cream has a shorter shelf life of just six months.

Eye cream
Most eye cosmetics and skin care products need to be replaced regularly to prevent irritation. Chloe Pantazi/Insider

Now, start digging through your makeup bag and bathroom cabinet – just as you would go through your fridge – and throw out any products you’ve been using way past their expiration date!