When Do Cosmetic Products Expire?

Posted by Aleksandra Andrade on

Let's be honest here, we all know that cosmetic and skin care products do expire. Many of us have heard about the "rule of 6 months" (cosmetic products need to be replaced every 6 months or so). But how many of us actually DO throw away that "barely used" and "super expensive" lip gloss or concealer? Majority of women are convinced that it is a waste of money to throw away a "perfectly good" product. In reality, that product should have been replaced a long time ago.

Let me ask you this, would you take a to-go order in a restaurant and reheat and consume it 1 month later? I know I would not! Then why are you holding on to that bottle of facial cream that you purchased 2 years ago? Why do you still carry that lip gloss, you haven't used in years? It doesn't matter how much you have paid for the product. Whether it is $10 or $100, it will not last forever.

Expired skin care and make up products become a breeding ground for bacteria, yeast and mold. While some of these are visible (e.g. mold), most is invisible to the naked eye. Spoiled cosmetics can cause mild reactions, such as irritation, and more severe ones, such as blindness (e.g. from a contaminated eye product).  Food poisoning or even death are also possible (e.g. from a lip product that was contaminated with e-coli).

Just take a look at this "GMA" investigation which shows how old makeup can become a heaven for contagious bacteria:

Pretty disturbing, right? The same thing happens not only to make up but to all cosmetics, including your skin care products.

So, how can one determine when it is time to say goodbye to a cosmetic product? Is checking the expiration date enough? Unfortunately, it is not as easy as it seems.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration website states:

There are no regulations or requirements under current United States law that require cosmetic manufacturers to print expiration dates on the labels of cosmetic products.Since there is no FDA regulations for expiration date of skin care or cosmetic products. It is up to a manufacturer to determine shelf life and up to consumer to figure out what that shelf life is. Many manufacturers put the expiration dates on the packaging.

However, most companies still choose to put batch numbers and codes that are very useful to the manufacturer itself but are practically useless for a consumer.

When it comes to products made in Europe there are no regulations on expiration dates as well, but manufacturers usually provide you with a PAO (Period After Opening) date.

A number followed by an M and an open jar symbol tells you when to throw a product away after opening. Letter M stands for a month and a number tells you how many months you can use the product for after opening. For instance, 12M means that the product should be replaced in 12 months from the day you opened it.

As useful as PAO system is, it is not 100% reliable as the dates are generated randomly without testing or regulated guidelines. Also, the PAO date doesn't take into account how the consumer used the product, or how a product has been stored.

Maybe the reason behind the lack of regulation on the shelf life/expiration dating is that it is practically impossible to determine an exact moment the product goes bad. There are so many factors that affect the shelf life of a product (packaging, storage, handling etc). A product can go bad before the stated expiration date and can hold well unopened past that date.

FDA clearly says:
Consumers should be aware that expiration dates are simply "rules of thumb," and that a product's safety may expire long before the expiration date if the product has not been properly stored. So, once again, it's up to a consumer to decide when it is time to dispose of a particular product.

There are many blogs and other resources all over the internet filled with information on average storage time of cosmetic products. They can provide with a great guidelines on when to toss a product and usually recommend the following:
  • Throw away mascara (as well as liquid or gel eyeliners) after 3-4 months of use
  • Moisturizers, serums and foundations will usually last around 6-12 months
  • Lip products can be used for around 2 years
  • Powder products have a longer shelf life of around 2-3 years
Although this might seem as useful information you shouldn't rely on it solely. Always use your common sense. If at some point you notice any of the following changes in your product throw it away immediately. These are the things you should be on the look out for:
  • Change of smell
  • Change of consistency (a cream that has separated or a dry mascara are good examples)
  • Change of color (clear product may become cloudy)
  • Product feels different on the skin (or causes a reaction)
  • Remember, a product doesn't have to go old to have gone bad, so you should always pay close attention at how your product is holding up every time you use them.

To protect yourself from adverse reactions, unwanted bacteria and make your products last longer follow these simple steps:
  1. Try to opt for products that are packaged in air-tight containers. Remember that bacteria needs water and oxygen to thrive. So tubes and pumps would be you best option.
  2. Always wash your hands before using products. Especially if you happen to use products that come in a cosmetic jars. Every time you dip your fingers in that jar you introduce bacteria to the product.
  3. Store your products in a dark cool place. Ideally in a drawer away from the bathroom. High humidity can significantly shorten the shelf life of your products.
  4. Write down the date of purchase on the container (you can use a Sharpie for that). This will help you keep a track on when the product was opened and when does it need to go.
  5. Try to avoid buying cosmetic products in a jar.(See #2.)
  6. Do not store your product in the direct sunlight and don't leave them in a car on a hot summer day.
  7. Do not "pump" your mascara.
  8. Do not add water or saliva to a dry mascara or any other product.
  9. Stop using a throw away eye products if you develop an eye infection.
  10. Do NEVER EVER share you cosmetics with other people!
  11. And last, but not the least, try to resist the temptation of buying makeup, skincare or any other cosmetic product from a discount retailers. (You will never now how long did the product had to "sit" on the shelf, or what conditions had it been stored in. Moreover the chances for coming across a counterfeit product are pretty high, especially when making a purchase online.)
Treating cosmetics similarly to food in terms of shelf life has helped me tremendously. While conventional products packed with synthetically produced chemicals and preservatives can virtually last for years, the "green" cosmetics are getting spoiled pretty quickly (think of how long does boxed food last versus produce).

Be aware. Be cautious. Stay safe.



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