How Long Can You Keep Lipstick For?

May 26, 2020
Sarah Ferguson
By: Sarah Ferguson | by L'Oréal

I love lipstick and wear it often, and yet, I can count on one hand the number of times I have finished an entire bullet or tube. That means that I currently have lipsticks on my vanity that are old. Like more than five years old. I don’t wear all of them, but there are a select few that I just can’t part with, like the first big girl red lipstick I ever bought or the purple shade I wore every Thursday through Saturday in college. They’re like mementos of my past. 

I recently moved apartments and tasked myself with paring down my sizable beauty collection (perks of the job!) in the process. Of course when I got to the lipsticks, I could barely manage to get rid of anything and instead decided to swipe on an old favorite shade for fun. My first thought was: “This shade still looks good!” My second? “Wait, does lipstick expire?” I wiped the pigment off my lips and contacted  Roselin Rosario, L’Oréal associate principal chemist, to find out. 

Does lipstick go bad?

“Like all types of cosmetic products, lipsticks can deteriorate and change over time,” says Rosario. If a lipstick is past its prime, you may notice that the formula is dry or runny and that the pigment has lost its vibrancy. Factors that can accelerate these changes are conditions like high or low temperatures and sunlight. 

On average, how long is lipstick designed to be used for after it’s opened?

“Lipstick usage times typically vary from 12 to 24 months after opening,” says Rosario. The exact shelf life depends on formula and packaging. “The composition of a lipstick bullet is very different compared to a liquid lipstick and even within lipstick in the same category, each formula has different components,” she says. For a specific time frame, she recommends checking the PAO (period-after-opening) symbol on the packaging after opening. This symbol is usually near the barcode and looks like a small jar with a number and the letter “M” — as in months — inside of it. 

If you can’t find the PAO or you discarded the packaging without checking, Rosario recommends keeping track of how long you’ve been using a product and using it for no longer than 24 months. A tip for tracking time is to write the date you open a product on the base of the tube or bottle in permanent marker. 

Is there any harm in using a lipstick after a certain point if it still works?

“If the lipstick does not show any signs that it has changed, it has not significantly exceeded the PAO date and you feel comfortable with it, it may not be harmful to use it,” says Rosario. She notes, however, that an expired product could cause irritation. She also warns: “If the preservative system has lost activity, unwanted microbes can grow in the product and you should not continue to use it.”

Photo: Chaunte Vaughn

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