How to Tell if Your Skincare Products Are Expired

November 10, 2021
Alanna Martine Kilkeary
By: Alanna Martine Kilkeary | by L'Oréal
How to Tell if Your Skincare Products Are Expired

They say that all good things come to an end, and we’re here to break the news to you that this also goes for skincare products. We get that it’s not easy to part with that expensive eye cream you were never able to finish, but it’s still a must. If you don’t get rid of the expired products, they might start to negatively impact your skin. To find out whether a funky-smelling serum or year-old moisturizer is ready to be tossed, keep reading.

How Can You Tell if a Product Has Expired?

If you aren’t exactly sure when time is up for your products, the first thing you can do when going through your skincare collection is to smell each product and check the color and consistency. If any of your products seem different from when you first purchased them, that’s a sign they need to go. 

Another helpful hint is to try flipping products over and check the bottoms of the bottles for the lifetime of the product, whether it’s a lotion, sunscreen, moisturizer, soap or serum. You’ll often find a small icon that looks like an open jar with a number inside. The number indicates how many months a product can last after opening it. As long as you know when you first opened the product, you can use that number as a helpful guide. Certain products, like sunscreens, have more specific expiration dates to follow. A sunscreen that isn’t labelled with an expiration date is required by the FDA to stay shelf-stable for up to three years. This is also the case for active cosmetics, like acne products and anti-aging products, as well as eye creams. 

If you have not opened the skincare product and it’s past its PAO (period after opening) date, we recommend opening it up and inspecting the formula to see if there is a change in texture, color or smell. If so, we recommend tossing it and even if it looks relatively okay, you might want to dispose of it. Beauty products aren’t always handily marked with an expiration date like your bread and butter, which means it may not be so obvious when you should ditch your products. The general guideline you should know is that skincare products typically last for six months to one year. If you’re outside of that window, it may be time for some spring (or summer, or fall or winter) cleaning. 

Why Expired Skincare Products Need to Go

According to the FDA, a product’s shelf life refers to the length of time you can expect a product to look and act as expected and stay safe to use. Once your products have expired, no matter how much you may have left to use up, they might start to lose their potency and grow bacteria and fungi that have the potential to irritate your skin. Products can also dry out, start to smell (or lose the scent they had when you first bought them) and change colors. So at the very least, you’ll be applying a product that no longer works — at worst, you’re exposing yourself to acne-inducing bacteria.

How to Extend the Longevity of Your Products 

No matter how long a product should last, if you don’t handle it properly, it can impact the shelf life by causing it to break down and degrade at a faster pace. A few common culprits confirmed by the FDA are dipping your fingers directly into face cream and mask jars, using unhygienic applicators and exposing products to moisture or extreme temperature changes. 

While we can’t offer you any tips that will make a product last past its expiration date, there are a few things you can do to avoid decreasing their shelf life. First, be sure to check the product’s packaging. For example, vitamin C is an incredibly unstable ingredient that can go bad fast if it’s not contained in a dark or opaque bottle (see the SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic packaging below? That’s how dark your vitamin C packaging should be). Additionally, don’t stick your fingers into your products unless you’ve washed them first. Use clean applicators and spatulas to apply the product instead. Also, be sure to store your products properly. The bathroom or shower may seem like an obvious spot for some of your skincare products, but the heat and moisture may impact certain formulations. Instead, store products in a dry, cool space with a consistent temperature, which is a better fit. 

SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic

Photo: Chaunte Vaughn

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