Josette Shelton of Northwest wanted to look good for dinner out, so she put on a layer of foundation and got dressed, but before she could finish applying her makeup, she had a rash and bumpy, itchy skin.
Ms. Shelton washed her face and decided to bypass the makeup after realizing the foundation was 2 years old. That was six years ago, and she has not worn foundation since.
“I very rarely use it to begin with. I just didn’t need to have it after that reaction,” Ms. Shelton says, adding that her skin cleared up within two days. “I believe it was a reaction to the age, to whatever happened to the makeup over [that] period of time.”
Such drastic measures might not be necessary for most makeup wearers, but a little spring cleaning of older products might be in order. Bacteria that can cause infections can grow in ill-cared-for and older makeup products. Several manufacturers put preservatives into makeup and skin products to help prevent contamination and to lengthen the products’ shelf life, but at the end of that shelf life, dermatologists recommend throwing out the makeup.
“The ingredients in almost anything you use on your skin are going to have an expiration date. It ages. It spoils. Sometimes you can see it or smell it,” says Dr. Lynn McKinley-Grant, a dermatologist for the Washington Hospital Center in the District. “Some companies have expiration dates. Some don’t. It’s very important to know.”
Makeup that is contaminated or aged can become a culture medium for bacterium, a single-cell microorganism, to divide and multiply. Bacteria need an environment that is moist and at the right temperature, which varies according to the type, Dr. McKinley-Grant says.
“There is bacteria everywhere — on the skin, on hands, on a doorknob — but it doesn’t get to be a problem until there is a critical mass of it. That’s when you get infections,” she says. “Critical mass varies for every infection and every type of bacteria. You need a different amount before you create an infection.”
“That’s why makeups have preservatives in them. … It’s not that they are going to act like a culture for bacteria, but they can harbor bacteria,” says Dr. Catherine Orentreich, dermatologist and consultant for Clinique through Orentreich Medical Group in New York City.
For instance, if a makeup user who has bacteria or an infection on her face first touches her skin and then the makeup, bacteria could be introduced into the product, she says. She recommends that makeup users apply foundation and cover-up to a neutral area of skin, such as the wrist, then transfer it from there to the face.
Some manufacturers package moisturizers, creams and makeup in pump bottles, allowing the user to avoid touching the product inside the container. Others put the product in containers with smaller openings to lessen exposure.
Makeup is not a “usual source of infection,” Dr. Orentreich says. “Makeup is rarely that dirty.”
Instead, “It’s the things we introduce into makeup after repeated use,” Dr. McKinley-Grant says.
Different forms of bacterium can cause infections that are manifested in various ways, Dr. McKinley-Grant says. Bacteria in contaminated makeup can cause acne, worsen existing acne and cause follicullitis, an infection around the hair follicles that appears red with pustules, which are inflamed areas of the skin filled with pus. If an opening is in the skin, bacteria can cause infections on the skin surface that appear red, tender, warm and pustulated.
Bacteria in contaminated makeup also can spread infections, such as conjunctivitis, or pink eye, and herpes, but the makeup does not cause the infections, Dr. McKinley-Grant says. Reactions to contaminated makeup differ from an allergic reaction, which usually occurs where the makeup is applied and is red, itchy and with small bumps. An infection typically is painful, red in color and pustulated.
If infections do occur, Dr. McKinley-Grant recommends discontinuing using the makeup and buying fresh products to use after the infection clears up. She recommends that makeup users wash their hands and face before applying makeup, change their application sponges daily, wash applicators three to four times a week and keep the product in a cool place, especially in the summer. A sponge typically is used for applying foundation, while an applicator, which can have a sponge or brush on one end, is for eye and lip products.
“Usually the product has an expiration date. Whatever is beyond that, you shouldn’t use [the product], especially for something that is liquid,” says Dr. Duyen Faria, owner of Excel Dermatology in Tysons Corner, an affiliate of Inova Fairfax Hospital. “Cream liquids and lotions you may be able to use [for three months] beyond the expiration date. If it smells bad, is separated out, has changed color or is dried up, you shouldn’t use it at all.”
Mary Kay products, which include an expiration date on the packaging, generally have a shelf life of three to five years for skin care, foundations and other facial makeup. Mascara has the shortest shelf life of any of the company’s products, four months. That is because mascara and other eye products have fewer preservatives to avoid eye irritation from the chemicals.
“Something that close to your eye after four months ought to be tossed,” says Susan Wight of Leesburg, Va., senior director with Mary Kay Inc.
Ms. Wight recommends avoiding pumping mascara applicators into the tube, which may introduce air and bacteria into the product, and instead twirling them to grab mascara onto the bristles. She recommends throwing out makeup that has been left out in hot or cold weather, keeping makeup caps tightly sealed and washing makeup brushes with gentle soap and water, the frequency depending on how often they are used.
“Probably the most important thing with any line is to find a line you like, stick with it and don’t mix them,” Ms. Wight says. “The companies make the products to work together.”
Clinique has a different set of expiration dates and recommends a shelf life of six months for mascara and eye makeup and two years for lipsticks, blushes and skin-care products.
“That’s what shelf life means; at a certain point, they are more likely to get contaminated,” Dr. Orentreich says.
“I think we’re all in the mood to spring clean. It’s spring cleaning for the face,” Ms. Wight says.