Everyone knows you can’t keep makeup forever (although I am testing the outer limits of this rule with a tube of Bonne Bell LipSmacker bought in the seventh grade). It’s a health hazard (germs love makeup) and clumpy mascara looks good on absolutely no one. But did you know there’s actually a sneaky symbol on your tube of primer that tells you how long you can use it before you’re due for a replacement? Now you do.
The symbol looks like an open jar, and it’s known as the PAO, or “Period After Opening” symbol. It includes the number of months a product is safe and sanitary to use after it has been opened. And an even bigger surprise: This symbol isn’t even new.
The PAO was installed on cosmetics labels 10 years ago when the European Commission implemented a rule that requires all cosmetics with a shelf life of 30 months or longer to feature the symbol. Products that have a shelf life that is shorter than 30 months have to include the minimum lifespan or “best before” date on the label.
Technically, the U.S. doesn’t require makeup to have an expiration date. But the U.S. Food & Drug Administration holds manufacturers responsible for making sure products are safe to use. The shelf life of a product falls squarely under this safety regulation, so establishing the lifespan of a cosmetic is considered part of a manufacturer’s duty to consumers.
Face products like blush, foundation and primer typically last for 24 months after they’ve been opened. After that time, bacteria can collect, efficacy can decrease, and you won’t even want to use it anyway. Other products, like lipsticks, glosses and pencils should be pitched after a year. Mascara and eye products should be disposed of even faster. Though the PAO often says up to 12 months, the FDA recommends ditching mascara as soon as it becomes dry to avoid irritating your eyes.
Is it time to take a spin through your own makeup bag? Maybe I’ll toss that Bonne Bell after all…