Why Mascara Doesn't Expire - The Truth

Should I throw away my mascara after 3 months @ Makeup Savvy
Since March 2005 all cosmetics sold in the EU have to be labeled with a PAO Symbol or Period After Opening Symbol - representing an open cream jar with the period of months given in the symbol of the jar. Here is an example -

Now that we have the boring stuff out of the way. I want to talk mascara. If you use mascara which I am sure all of do, the wand is being continuously dipped in and out from day one, so bacteria from the air will most definitely be breeding inside the tub from day one... now this is probably where quite a lot of people think 'ergh bacteria, nasty I will have to listen to money making companies like Debenhams and throw away my 4 month old £18.00 mascara'

However this is the part they do not explain - I wonder why. Mascara actually has a built-in safeguard in the form of preservatives however it requires a period of time between applications to do it's job. So that is why it isn't great to apply your mascara then let your friend use it! But using it yourself the next day will have let the preservatives get to work.

Obviously the preservatives don't ever eliminate all bacteria as this would mean your mascara would have to be sterile and the only thing that stays sterile after use is Nail Polish with its cocktail of chemicals! But on the whole preservatives do alot.
Another thing that I want to mention is while actually researching preservatives for our little beauty science lesson! I had a look at the PAO symbol on about five of my own mascaras and they all had use by dates of 6 months except for Rimmel's Lash Maxx that actually had a 12 month use by date.

Anyway, moving on to the most interesting part - I personally really wanted to know the true about so called expired make-up and having read lots of articles and press releases that where either a bit OSD-ish about bacteria or biased in the form of 'Throw your expired makeup away and come buy it from us' way. So I decided to speak to someone that was actually educated about eyes...

Who better to talk to about eyes than an Optometrist.

Here is what the Optometrist had to say;
' The eye does a really good job of washing dirt and bacteria away by the use of your tear ducts. However I wouldn't recommend extended use of mascara - say for 2 or more days without washing it off as this will cause a increase of bacteria to form on the eyelashes, which could result in the mascara drying out and creating fall out into the eye. This is a possible way that someone could develop an eye infection. Also sharing any form of eye makeup with someone that does have an eye infection would increase your chances of catching the eye infection.
As for mascara actually expiring - Over time bacteria multiples quite rapidly on any form of liquid however this doesn't mean that it is harmful - the only thing I would advise is to throw away your current eye products; eyeliner/mascara after an eye infection to reduce the chances of developing the infection again.'

I also asked about the comparison of 'expired' make-up to mouldy or bacteria ridden food that I have read alot about recently...
' Mould that can grow on food is a totally different subject to the bacteria found in makeup. Some moulds can cause allergic reactions and mould in warm conditions can produce a poisonous substance that can make you ill. Food is also taken internally. So to answer your question;- The bacteria found in cosmetics cannot be compared to mould that it found growing on food. They are two very different things.'

So there you have it.
There is no reason to feel guilty about not throwing away mascara after 3 months and if you are one of the people actually following the PAO symbols and throwing away makeup, please stop!

Here however is a list of things that the Optometrist suggests you avoid doing;

  • Do not leave mascara out in the sun or on a windowsill as this will cause the formula to change and will increase the bacteria inside of the tube.
  • Do not add water to mascara.
  • Refrain from sharing eye makeup.
  • Always screw the lid on.
  • Throw away any eye products you have used during an eye infection.
  • Remove eye makeup before going to sleep.
Phew, that was alot of typing. But hopefully I have shown that old makeup is nothing to worry about and that there is no reason to feel guilty AT ALL.


  1. This is an amazing blog post! Thank you so much! I hope everyone reads this! x

  2. @Meowcake - Thanks so much :)

    I really wanted to just give some truth to it all!


  3. Great post, I've also heard before that the best place to keep mascara is in the fridge because it kills the bacteria? I wonder if this is also just myth. Personally I believe a little dirt won't kill you! I'm sure they're just trying to rob us of all the pennies they can get haha xxx

  4. @ m a d s - I think putting mascara in the fridge is probably a myth, extreme hot or cold is not that great for any cosmetics product. A normal temp room away from direct sunlight is always best!


  5. Thank you thank you thank you !
    I replied to a blog post about mascaras and expiry dates of makeup in general a few weeks ago, where I expressed more or less the opinion of this blog post, but didn't have the scientific backup that you have, so now I really feel good for thinking the way I think.
    Which is really a commonsense approach. Expiry date doesn't mean your product can't go off before then. But then it also means that it can last after that date. Avoid cross contamination by not sharing (you're kind of used to your own bugs, but getting bugs off of someone else can lead to infection). Avoid your own contamination by throwing away products you've been using if you had an infection. Thorough hygiene is essential.
    Health professionals keep bombarding us with info that contradicts itself. And obviously some companies use it as a marketting technique (why not scare people into buying 3 mascaras a year instead of 1).
    I work in a pharmacy. I have never seen people get eye infections from wearing makeup. I have never had an eye infection from wearing makeup, for the past 15 years, some of it being a lazy teenager not so keen on cleaning my face, brushes etc. But I got conjunctivitis from my son, who got it from other children at nursery, who got it from other children, mainly through contact. They don't wear makeup. I wasn't wearing makeup when I got it.
    Just stick to your instincts. If the mascara is still of good consistency, colour, and smell, then it's probably still ok to use.

    Thanks for this very very interesting post x

  6. Excellent post! Thank you so much! :)

  7. @MartianDelights - Firstly thank you for the comment, I totally agree with you about conjunctivitis. I actually had it when I wasn't even in my teens and didn't wear makeup. It really is just one of them things really.


    @Nikki - Thanks for the comment Nikki, it means alot as I love reading your blog.

  8. Great post! I love it. I always throw out mascara after 6 months anyway because it's like.. empty. And I nominated you for a blog award!

  9. Thank you for this great blog post :) I don't follow the "throw away in 3 months" rule anyway ;) xxx

  10. Amazing post! I never follow that rule anyway I just use it up until I'm completely done with it, which doesn't really take that long, but it's definitely not as soon as 3 months!
    Everyone should read this!

  11. What a great post; very informative! I'll be sure to pass the information.

    I''' definitely be keeping up with your blog :-)


  12. Thanks for the info on MAscara, I try to always pitch it after 3 months and buy new.

    I am letting everyone know that I have moved my blog to my new site www.itssoverycheri.com
    I need to ask you, to please go over and RE-SIGN up to follow me over there. Google won't let you take your Followers with you so you are no longer getting my info in your reader, unless you have gone over and signed up. Sorry if you have already done so, I am trying to go back and forth between both blogs as well as my new e-mail and my old e-mail.
    I have lots of fun things going on over at the new blog, so I hope you will hop on over and check it all out.

    I also have a new give-a-way starting tomorrow.
    Cheri www.itssoverycheri.com

  13. Brilliant post, thank you and very educational. In all fairness, my mascara always runs out before 3 months because I put so many coats on! x

  14. wow what a great review! really great job and I am glad you used all those reliable sources of information. I was very interesting and educational, i wish i could see more blogs with reviews like yours :)

  15. I love your way to approach various arguments...we are on the same wavelenght!very well done!

  16. I personally never throw out my makeup products if they are not finished or if they are still good. I have never got an infection caused by a makeup product, that's why I don't care.

    This is such a great article. That's so nice of you to have talked to an optometrist! Thanks for sharing =D

  17. This is a great post! I'm forever getting eye infections so I always have a never ending supply of mascaras :

  18. Amazing post, I did my own reasearch a while back, you have explained it so well! :)

    Lu xo

  19. I too throw out mascara when I feel like it's past it's lifespan, I don't feel obligated to throw it out at the 3 month mark.

    Great post!


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