How to Tell When a Product’s Past Its Prime

Rachel Nussbaum

expired makeup

Sometimes we don’t always do what we’re supposed to do. No shame, there are days when we just need the double-fudge cupcake and the brownie bite and the ultra-sugary cereal, and we call those days Monday. Likewise understandable, we’ve all held onto our beauty products past the recommended number of months on the label. Sometimes long past. But hey, we want to get our money’s worth when we spend the big bucks on pricey products, and we’re not about to throw away half a bottle of moisturizer just because the directions told us to.  Instead, we see most directions as open to interpretation–suggestions, so to speak. Though this attitude may not make us the best at assembling IKEA furniture, it’s helped us excel in other areas: we’re now experts at telling when a product’s got to go (bacteria’s one thing, but stretching its life a little is another). Here, some tried and true signs to look out for.

Lip Products

Lip products are the easiest to tell when truly expired, because they take on the unmistakable scent of an old crayon. Lip glosses, lipsticks and tints alike, once the scent changes, it’s time to get that thing out of here. Texture changes are also easy to spot, with lipsticks drying up and noticeably dragging (could be hard to tell with those long-lasting ones, but still). Hot tip: if you’ve scored the most perfect lipstick in the land and find it’s been discontinued or something equally as tragic, keep it in the fridge to extend its life as long as possible.

MORE: Beauty 101: When to Toss, Keep and Splurge on Makeup


Keep an eye on the color to tell when foundation’s reached its lifespan, as colors will oxidize after being exposed to air for too long. Most colors will start turning a little orange, so unless you’re going for the Snooki look, it’s time to restock. Also look out if you see layers separating; once some ingredients start stratifying, toss it. If you’re in love with your pricey foundation and short on funds, try keeping it in a dark area–some foundations and skin products come in dark bottles to minimize oxidation, but they’re obviously not the best for color matching.


If you’re anything like us, you’re constantly bouncing around from skin product to product, looking for the next best thing. But there’s a downside: If you come back to something and find the texture’s slightly off, may it rest in peace. It usually goes one of two ways, either getting much runnier or (ick) congealing. Fragrances are another helpful giveaway, especially because your nose is pretty good at picking up scents that smell a bit off. In self-tanning skincare, DHA doesn’t like to hide: When it’s time to go, the rancid smell will let you know.

MORE: How to Clean Every Tool in your Makeup Bag


It’s sometimes hard to tell with mascara because it only comes into contact with your lashes, but we’ve found that you can usually detect dryness by how many coats it takes you to get your normal level of impact. The logic: fresh mascara is ready to leap into action, while its dried-out comrades cling to the brush and transfer less easily. If you notice that it’s taking you four coats to reach what you used to get with two, it’s time for a new tube. Plus, mascara’s one of the worst places to risk bacteria (what with eye infections and all), so it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Nail Polish

We like to think we had pretty great taste in nail polish in elementary school–holographic finishes were all the rage, and we were connoisseurs of the genre. Sally Hansen’s Nail Prisms still get our hearts aflutter (and were ahead of their time), yet sadly when we recently tried them out on a visit home, we found the polish came out in globs and it was difficult to spread evenly. It was time. Such characteristics are trademark of polish that’s ready to go. Doesn’t make it any easier, though. We’ll never forget them.

Image via Istock