When Should You Replace Your Eyeliner?

How do you know you need to buy new eyeliner? Here's our guide. Learn how to keep your eyes safe and your look clean, perfect, and amazing.

Eyeliner: How Do You Know You Need a New One?

Whether you're a master of the liquid eyeliner cat-eye or you're still trying to figure out where exactly the "waterline" is, if you wear makeup, eyeliner is probably one of your daily go-to's. Makeup can be expensive to collect—especially the high-quality, waterproof, or organic types—but like most products, it still has an expiration date.

Expired makeup can be downright dangerous to use. Over time, even the highest quality makeup collects bacteria from our skin, its storage containers, and the environment around it. This is one of the reasons beauticians recommend so strongly against sharing makeup with friends—unfortunately, you're also sharing your bacteria. When this bacteria is allowed to grow free, it can result in sties, breakouts, and painful infections like pinkeye or conjunctivitis. Luckily, clean brushes, new applicators, and regular makeup replacements will all prevent these conditions.

Because it comes into close contact with your eyes, eyeliner is a product to pay careful attention to. While some makeup products can last a year or longer after opening, some types of eyeliner can attract dangerous bacteria faster than others, requiring more frequent replacements.

In general, you should replace your eyeliner every few months depending on its type:

  • Liquid eyeliner should be replaced every three months. Like mascara, liquid eyeliner sits in a container and is pulled out with an applicator. Bacteria from your eyes, the air around you, or other people borrowing your makeup can stick to the applicator. When the applicator gets put back in the container, that bacteria can transfer to your liquid eyeliner. Especially when we use a "pumping" action to get more liner on the wand, that bacteria can get pushed further and further down the tube, where it can grow and eventually become dangerous.
  • Eyeliner sticks and pencils should be replaced every one to two years. Because they are solids, sticks and pencils tend to attract less bacteria than their liquid counterparts. Sharpening the ends before use removes bacterial hangers-on, so pencils and sticks can last as long as two years. (In general, though, one year is a good benchmark to use.)

How do I know if my eyeliner has expired?

Cream- and oil-based makeup products like foundations and lipsticks can be very obvious about their aging complaints. They can crack, curdle, or separate, leaving a gooey, foul-smelling residue behind that makes it clear it's time for a replacement. However, eyeliner does not give off similarly obvious signs.

In general, if eyeliner starts to smell or not work properly, that's a good sign that you're overdue for a replacement. You may also need to throw out an eyeliner if:

  • It has changed color. This can be a sign that the chemical components are starting to separate, or could be the first signs of mold.
  • It's dried out. If your liquid eyeliner is stuck to its tube or your pencil feels chalky and dry, you shouldn't try to wear it.
  • The texture is wrong. Eyeliner that smears or breaks off is likely too old to use properly.
  • It gets clumpy. Eyeliner should never leave clumps. This is a sure sign that you're ready for a replacement.
  • You drop your applicator on the ground or floor. The "five second rule" does NOT apply for anything that comes this close to your eyes!
  • The eyeliner gets left out overnight, or in severe weather. Melty, dried out, or misshapen eyeliner sticks and pencils can result in an uneven application.
  • There is a white spot on the tip of the pencil or stick. If that white spot doesn't go away with sharpening or chipping, it could be a sign that the makeup is starting to break down.
  • Liquid eyeliner starts to separate. When liquid eyeliner starts to separate into its oils and pigments, that's a clear sign it's ready for the garbage. Separated eyeliner will not apply correctly, and the oils can be a breeding ground for dangerous bacteria.

Bacterial infections and breakouts are no joke. A painful sty on your eyelid can derail an entire weekend—which is why it's worth it to replace that expensive liner, even if you only bought it a few months ago. If you're not sure, follow the adage, "When in doubt, throw it out!" Your eyes, skin, and weekend plans will thank you.

Resources—Bustle, Byrdie, Shape

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