Period After Opening

Cosmetic Clean Out

When good cosmetics go very, very bad.

Wendy Duren Health & Wellness

Period After Opening

111 East


Yes, cosmetics go bad. I’m not referring to the electric blue eyeliner I saw recently ringing the eyes of a woman old enough to know better. No, I mean the not-so-attractive truth that the ingredients in beauty products degrade. Textures, scents, and colors change, and, worst of all, contaminants find their way in.

Flip over your products and somewhere near the shade name, net weight, or place of origin, you’ll likely see an open jar image with a number preceding an M. That’s a PAO symbol, or Period After Opening. 12M, for example, means you have 12 months between opening the product and the suggested end of its safe usefulness. This isn’t FDA mandated. It’s manufacturer-based, so short time spans sometimes seem suspect to me. I approach PAOs the same way I approach dairy death dates: If a product smells bad, if the color or consistency has changed, I toss it whether the clock has run out or not.

If you’re now rummaging through your makeup searching for the rotten things you’ve been putting near your mouth and eyes and wondering how you’ll replace them, don’t worry. I’ve done the work for you.

Cream and liquid eye products have some of the shortest shelf lives. Mascara is good for three to six months after opening. Yes, it is criminally short. But mascara is the one product I don’t play around with due to how much I like sight. Many makeup junkies point to the short life span of mascara as the chief reason to always buy the product at the drugstore. If CoverGirl or Maybelline made a mascara that did everything I think it should, I would gladly buy them.

Unfortunately for my wallet, the budget brands don’t get the job done. Chantecaille does — its Faux Cils ($45, is simply the best mascara I’ve ever used. It makes long, full lashes that do not flake, smudge, or droop. It’s the only mascara that looks the same from the first hour of the day to the last, which makes it more than worth the cost of replacing.

If you’ve ever thought that you can’t handle liquid liner, Tom Ford’s Eye Defining Pen ($56, will make you think differently. The double-ended pen has a calligraphy tip for detail work on one end and a brush tip on the other. The blackest black liner flows easily and evenly (even over textured skin), and it stays black (is there anything worse than a black liner that’s really gray?).

Benefit Cosmetics revamped and expanded its brow products last year. Whether you’re looking for powder, pencils, or pomade to amp up your brows, they’ve got it. I immediately found ka-BROW! ($24, Sephora), a cream-gel eyebrow color, to be a standout. It’s waterproof, is claimed to have 24-hour wear, comes in six shades, and includes a handy brush that’s great for creating hairlike strokes. A little ka-BROW! goes a very long way. For best results, I find picking up a small amount of product with the brush and then patting off any excess is the way to go.

When rumors swirled recently that La Mer planned to discontinue its beloved setting powder, beauty junkies the world over panicked and rushed out to purchase backups. In actuality La Mer reformulated their entire skin color line and rereleased everything in refined packaging. I’ve fallen in love with The Treatment Fluid Foundation ($110, Saks Fifth Avenue). This base can boast all the skin care benefits of La Mer’s signature and proprietary Miracle Broth, but what I care most about is the flawless finish and weightless feel on the skin.

Dior’s new Rouge Dior Lipsticks ($35, Macy’s) come in three finishes: Shimmer, Satin, and Matte. My favorite is 999 Matte. This is the matte version of The House of Dior’s signature red. The matte formula is surprisingly comfortable. If you’ve wanted to try a matte lip without drying out your lips or feeling as though your lip product is actually dried out paint, this is for you.

Paying attention to the PAO is a good guideline, but if a color no longer has the payoff it once did, if your look has gone stale, or even if you’ve found something with a glittery new box, a change can’t hurt. I use the New Year as a reminder to clean out, take stock, and replenish where needed. New Year, new makeup, new you.