How to give your makeup drawer a Spring clean

Spring cleaning should extend to your makeup drawer but it’s not always easy to recognise what to bin. Rachel Marie Walsh knows what to hang on to and when it’s time for new buys.

How to give your makeup drawer a Spring clean

Parting with a makeup product can be very hard to do, especially if it was an expensive purchase or from a limited-edition collection that was taken off counters months ago.

Or maybe you only wear makeup a couple of times a year and feel silly replacing the scarcely-touched contents of your vanity case.

Unfortunately, all cosmetics expire and yours may do so faster than you think. Here’s how to ensure you get the most from your makeup while it is hygienic to use.

Know the PAO

The Period After Opening (PAO) symbol is an open jar displayed on both the container and outer packaging of all cosmetics sold in the EU (exemptions include single-use products and aerosols). It is accompanied by the lifespan of the product contents in months, indicated by a number followed by “M”.

This can appear either on or next to the open jar symbol. Write the date of opening on the base of the product to keep track of its age.

Warning signs and times

  • Mascara and eyeliner are the first products to go bad and should be replaced three months after opening. Bacteria can cause redness and itchiness, or even conjunctivitis and sties. To avoid hastening the demise of your mascara or liquid liner, never pump the wand.The action forces air into the tube, causing product to dry faster. Slowly draw out and twist to scrape the tube’s interior. Pencil liners last longer than liquid but a cloudy film over the tip that cannot be pared off is a sure sign of expiration.
  • If you want your foundation to last more than a year choose mineral makeup or a powder-based formula like Chantecaille Compact Foundation, €64. Cream and liquid foundations should certainly be replaced before a year after opening, especially if contained in jars. The same is true of cream-stick blush, concealer and liquid bronzer. Weird smells, a separation of pigments and oil or a change in colour tells you the formula is finished and applying it could cause irritation or blemishes.
  • Face powders and powder blush/bronzer are the most durable makeup and can last up to two years when properly stored. Powders shadows, however, work in a more moist and sensitive area. Bin them after three or four months to avoid bacterial irritation. If this sounds extravagant, choose good quality high-street shadows like Urban Decay Mood Dust Eyeshadow, €18.50, so you don’t have to skimp on hygiene.
  • Lipsticks and glosses are generally oil-based, like MAC’s new Viva Glam Miley Cyrus Lipglass, €18.50, and can stay fresh for at least a year when stored in a cool, dry place. Anything that invites finger application - potted balms, stains, etc. - has a much shorter lifespan and is a breeding ground for bacteria.
  • Nail polish that has separated and cannot be restored with a quick shake is bin-ready.

Make your products last

Proper use and storage keeps your makeup in tip-top condition. Avoid keeping products in direct sunlight or near sources of heat.

Never dilute or mix them with anything unless directed by instructions. Apply them with clean hands or an applicator that is routinely washed with detergent or a mild shampoo.

Allow applicators to dry completely before use. Jar packaging creates the greatest risk of exposure to air, light and bacteria, all of which encourage the breakdown and corruption of liquids and creams, so choose tubes and bottles whenever possible. Clean the cap or lid if you drop it on the floor. Avoid sharing products.

When it’s irreplaceable...

It is tempting to hang on to a discontinued product like it has, well, gone out of fashion. Before you break out that dodgy looking lippy, know that brands often reuse colours from makeup they no longer sell in new-season formulas.

For example, if your dated lipstick isn’t at the counter, a stain or gloss in the same shade probably will be. If a foundation you love is no more, be aware that most brands are constantly improving on the appearance of their makeup and the updated version is probably a better look.

If in doubt, write to me at  and I’ll recommend a great alternative in the same price range as your favourite product.

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