Spring is a time of renewal, and the time for change. It’s also the time we clean out our closets, and get organized. It’s difficult, though, to toss out products that may (or may not!) have spoiled. Here are answers to some questions that can help you decide what to keep, and what to toss.
Do skincare products and cosmetics really expire, or is that just a marketing ploy?
Yes, like all products, they do have a limited shelf life. Natural and organic products--which don't contain preservatives--have an especially short shelf life.
Manufacturers try to be conservative--telling consumers to use products within six months. Under normal conditions, they may last much longer than that. It's the "unknowns" that cause early spoilage--was the product stored in the bathroom--and therefore exposed to heat and humidity? Was the product exposed to possible contamination or dirty fingers? The formulation of the product also can limit its shelf life.
How do I know when a skincare product or cosmetic should be thrown away?
There are two different ways that a product can expire:
- The product has reached its expiration date. If you can’t find it printed on the jar or bottle, contact customer care department of the company who produced the product. Read them the lot number that is printed on the bottom of the bottle. They should be able to tell you the manufacturing date. Two years is the generally accepted shelf life.
- The product has been opened or used for six months. To easily find out when you opened a product, write the current date when you open it directly on the packaging.
Basically there are two options:
- Expiration date will be reached first
- PAO will be reached first
What skincare ingredients are particularly prone to spoiling?
Some ingredients are less stable than others. For example, hydroquinone is notoriously unstable, and may oxidize easily and quickly. It's easy to identify; it turns a rather disgusting dark brown. Ascorbic acid, the principal natural form of vitamin C, is relatively unstable. Retinol breaks down if exposed to sunlight. You should use up products that contain these ingredients relatively quickly.
Skin care products generally last at least six months. Water-based products (which generally also include lipids, oils, and emulsifiers) may interact with the different components. Look for preservatives like diazolidinyl and imidazolydyl urea, ascorbyl palmitate, tocopherol acetate, methylisothiazolinone or disodium and tetrasodium EDTA, which should extend their useful life. Airless jars (like Lifeline Stem Cell Skin Care uses for its serums) protect the products from exposure to air—a very important consideration. Pumps and airless jars also protect the product from contamination, since the cream or lotion doesn’t come into contact with fingers until it has been dispensed.
Ni’Kita Wilson, CEO & Director of Innovation for Catalyst Cosmetic Development, said “Benzoyl peroxide and DHA are unstable preservatives that should be stored with care and tossed when the texture, color, odor of the product changes. Preservatives like ethylhexyl glycerin, phenoxyethanol, caprylyl glycol, chlorphenesin, sodium benzoate, potassium sorbate, and benzyl alcohol, to name just a few, spoil quickly. The shelf life on these products can be extended, though, if the packaging is secure, and the product is stored in cool, dry room with minimal light.”
Natural and organic skincare products and cosmetics generally have a limited life expectancy. The problem: the lack of preservatives can cause a proliferation of bacteria.
What are the problems associated with using expired products?
They may lose their effectiveness. The active ingredients may lose their potency—so you’re wasting your time and your money. Or the appearance, consistency, pH, color or smell may change. The product may separate or discolor. The viscosity of the product may slowly change.
If the product has been contaminated, it may cause skin irritation, dermatitis, allergic reactions and infection.
Why do some products have the expiration date printed on them, and not others?
In the US, only the products that the FDA considers to be drugs are required to have an expiration date; these include sunscreen, acne medications, and products that treat dandruff. But even if the expiration date does not have to be printed, the lot number (or batch number) does.
Cosmetics and most skincare products generally do not have the expiration date printed on them.
Why is the lot number printed on cosmetics and skincare products?
It allows the manufacturer to identify the batch in which the product was produced. Usually it is printed on the primary container (the jar, bottle, etc.). If there is a problem, the manufacturer can trace the origin of the product.
How long can I continue to use cosmetics?
It depends on the type of cosmetic, what ingredients it contains, how it is stored, how it is dispensed, and what preservatives it includes. “Foundations come in many formulas such as liquids, powders and cream. If kept out of the sunlight and heat, liquids and creams can last up to a year. But if your foundation starts to separate before that time, then it’s time to toss it. Powders can go bad as well. If the powder changes color and forms a hard and crusty surface…its time is done too,” said Michelle Phillips, celebrity make-up artist, best-selling author and life coach. “Another important tip is to keep your fingers out of your foundation! The oil and germs from your fingers will contaminate it. To help your foundations last longer use disposable sponges and powder puffs. Applying foundation with a sponge, brush or puff (depending on the type of foundation you wear) will give your skin a smoother, more even look and your product will last twice as long.”
- Concealers should be applied with a brush or sponge to avoid spoiling before its time. Be sure to clean your brushes weekly! Wash them with warm soap and water and air dry.
- Mascara should be tossed after you have used it for three to four months or if the product has dried. Don’t take a chance on eye products. If mascaras are old you run the risk of getting infections and sties.
- Blush and eye shadows may last from one to two years. Creams and liquids will last up to one year and powders up to two. The key to making them last is using clean eye shadow and blush brushes. Dirty brushes will contaminate your colors and can lead to more break outs. If you have any suspicion about the appearance or odor of the product, it is best to discontinue its use. Still not convinced that cosmetics and skincare products should be discarded? A trip to a dermatologist or ophthalmologist is going to cost you a whole lot more than a visit to the cosmetics counter.