There are no regulations or requirements under current United States law that require cosmetic manufacturers to print expiration dates on the labels of cosmetic products. Manufacturers have the responsibility to determine shelf life for products, as part of their responsibility to substantiate product safety. FDA believes that failure to do so may cause a product to be adulterated or misbranded.
Voluntary shelf-life guidelines developed by the cosmetic industry vary, depending on the product and its intended use. For instance, a 1980 article by David Pope in Drug and Cosmetic Industry suggested a minimum shelf life of 18 to 24 months "to maximize cost efficiency in warehousing, distribution, and marketing."
The 1984 text Cosmetic and Drug Preservation: Principles and Practice, edited by Jon J. Kabara, recommends testing product stability by evaluating samples at regular intervals for 3 years or longer, depending upon the product.
The European Union's Cosmetic Directive, as amended in 1993, requires expiration dating only for products whose "minimum durability" is less than 30 months.
The shelf life for eye-area cosmetics is more limited than for other products. Because of repeated microbial exposure during use by the consumer and the risk of eye infections, manufacturers usually recommend discarding mascara two to four months after purchase. If mascara becomes dry, discard it. Do not add water or, even worse, saliva to moisten it, because that will introduce bacteria into the product. If you have an eye infection, consult a physician immediately, stop using all eye-area cosmetics, and discard those you were using when the infection occurred.
Among other cosmetics that are likely to have an unusually short shelf life are certain "all natural" products that may contain plant-derived substances conducive to microbial growth. It also is important for consumers and manufacturers to consider the increased risk of contamination in products that contain non-traditional preservatives, or no preservatives at all.
Consumers should be aware that expiration dates are simply "rules of thumb," and that a product's safety may expire long before the expiration date if the product has not been properly stored. Cosmetics that have been improperly stored - for example, exposed to high temperatures or sunlight, or opened and examined by consumers prior to final sale - may deteriorate substantially before the expiration date. On the other hand, products stored under ideal conditions may be acceptable long after the expiration date has been reached.
Sharing makeup increases the risk of contamination. "Testers" commonly found at department store cosmetic counters are even more likely to become contaminated than the same products in an individual's home. If you feel you must test a cosmetic before purchasing it, apply it with a new, unused applicator, such as a fresh cotton swab.
March 9, 2000; Updated August 15, 2002. This information is current. It is updated only when necessary.