Do skincare products expire?

Posted by Your Skin Expert on Apr 17 , 2021

Do skincare products expire?

Simple answer, yes!

We have all been there, not ready to part ways with an old expensive moisturizer or eye cream that you purchased a year or two ago. It may seem harmless but many studies have shown that over 70% of women use products that are expired and more than likely, contaminated. As much as it hurts, it’s best to throw that fancy cream in the bin.

Like most things in life, skincare products and various beauty products won't last forever. Once opened, the clock starts ticking. Exposure to heat, bacteria and light can break down the ingredients making it not work the way it is supposed to and potentially causing more harm than good.

So if expired products can be harmful, why don’t they have expiration dates on them? That’s the tricky thing, only products regulated as over-the-counter drugs (eg. anti-acne creams) legally require official expiration dates on the packaging. This means you, as the consumer, are left to do all the detective work to figure out when to toss a product. It is also tricky because expiration dates only indicate when the active ingredients in the formula are likely to expire, meaning it’s really dependant on the particular product.

Thankfully, many products carry a PAO (period after opening) symbol which is essentially a number followed by an M in an open jar icon. Although this isn’t extremely accurate, it gives you a fair idea of hold long you should keep the product. For example, “12M” would indicate that you should throw the product away after 12 months.

All of this is especially important for skincare products because in addition to the safety of using the product, if the product contains various antioxidants or replenishing ingredients, It will eventually start to break down. Even if left unopened in the packaging, they won’t last forever.

Just like prescription drugs, a pharmacist would tell you to toss the product once the expiration date is reached because there is no guarantee that the level of activity is still present. The only way to really know whether your product is still effective for its intended use is to test it in a lab. Of course, you probably don't have a lab at your disposal, which is why I am here to help

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Many products don’t have a PAO symbol on them so if you are left completely stumped on when to throw a skincare product away. Some easy to spot signs of a product expiring is if the product appears to have a different colour, texture, or smell from when you first bought it (eg. separation of the product, lumps, strange odour, different feel on the skin). You should definitely be concerned if a product is labelled “preservative-free”, without any preservative product contamination happens extremely fast (think of how long lettuce would last in your fridge). Also, remember that the more wet a product is, the easier it will be for bacteria to grow on it. For example, a liquid toner will last you longer than a powder exfoliant.

A good cheat code to follow for your favourite skincare products:

Cleansers: 1 year

Toners: 6-12 months

Facial/body moisturisers and serums: 6-12 months

Lip balms: 1 year

Retinol: 6 months

SPF: 12-24 months

Some more DOs and DON’Ts to be extra safe:

DO wash your hands before applying your products

DO make sure the cap is tightly secure after every use

DO store your products out of direct sunlight

DON’T buy products where you need to dip your fingers in as it is at high risk for contamination

DON’T keep your products in the fridge unless the packaging says otherwise

DON’T shore your makeup or skincare products with anyone

DON’T add water or saliva to remoisten or thin out products

DON’T forget to wash a lid or cap if you drop it on the floor