The Disgusting Reason to Toss That Old Tube of Mascara

November 25, 2015

Ever fall into a makeup tutorial hole on YouTube? Some vloggers are racking up millions of views and those videos of flawless beauties detailing their bubble-gum pink lipstick and shimmery tangerine blush scores are proof positive that collecting cosmetics is a real obsession.

Hopefully, though, beauty enthusiasts are paying attention to how long they’ve held on to those tubes of mascara and “it” eyeshadows from years past. Though you might not think makeup can go bad, it really does. As soon as a product’s seal is broken it starts to oxidize, and it’s only a matter of time before the color fades and the texture changes. Even makeup packed with preservatives is prone to degradation, so opting for chemical-laden cosmetics isn’t a smarter choice (for more reasons than just pigment quality).

Certain types of makeup can also attract and breed bacteria. The worst offender: mascara. One study published in the Journal of Cosmetic Science found that 98 percent of the study’s participants use expired makeup, and 79 percent of their collected tubes of mascara contained staph bacteria.

The dark, moist environment of a tube of mascara is a prime habitat for germs—and the fact that the wand is constantly exposed to air and the eye, and then continually re-inserted and contained in that space, heightens the chances of bacterial contamination. Habitually pumping the wand makes it even worse, by forcing more air and bacteria deeper into the tube. These issues may apply to liquid eyeliner as well. The germs are, of course, the worst part, but putting on dried-out mascara or eyeliner also leads to clumpy application—not a great look.

Lip gloss and lipsticks can also harbor bacteria due to their moisture, although traditional tube lipsticks make it easy to wipe off the top layer that could be most affected. Similarly, pencil eyeliner may have a longer shelf life since sharpening typically replenishes the surface of the pigment and scrapes off any existing bacteria.

Cream foundations and blushes can also be problematic if their packaging allows for regular contact with fingers. Makeup brushes can help minimize contamination, but they should be washed regularly—at least once a week—to keep things as hygienic as possible. Powder makeup is relatively safe since it doesn’t contain moisture, but regular brush maintenance is crucial.

Heat, especially combined with moisture, promotes mold and yeast growth—so keep cosmetics out of extreme temperatures, and especially out of the bathroom. As we’ve learned about toothbrushes, airborne bacteria in the bathroom can also contaminate beauty products.

Luckily, a relatively healthy person with a strong immune system can withstand the small amount of bacteria on a mascara wand or lipstick. The idea of applying staph bacteria onto your skin and eyes is still unsettling, though. To best avoid irritation and infection, here are some guidelines from various experts about the maximum shelf life of different types of products.

Mascara: 3 months
Liquid eyeliner: 3 months
Powder eye shadow: 2 years
Pencil eyeliner: 2 years
Lipstick: 18 months to 2 years
Blush: 18 months
Concealer: 12 to 18 months
Powder: 18 months to 2 years
Cream-based foundation: 1 to 2 years
Nail polish: 1 year

Is it about time to replace any of these items? Thrive Market offers some of the best clean and safe cosmetics in natural, classic shades that are perfect for everyday—meaning you’ll wear them a lot and help prevent future hoards of makeup landing in the trash bin.

Photo credit: Alicia Cho

This article is related to:

Beauty, Educational, Skin Care, Tips

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Dana Poblete

Dana's love for all creatures under the sun (bugs, too) drives her in her advocacy for ethical eating, environmental sustainability, and cruelty-free living. A natural born islander, she surfs when she can, and writes, always.

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