Did you know that your skincare products come with an expiration date, kind of like groceries? However, skincare product expiration dates are a bit more complicated than simply reading off a date. We will explain how to check skincare expiration dates, what happens when a skincare product expires, and how to prolong the shelf life of your skincare products.
Understanding skincare expiration dates
If you’ve had a skincare travel kit sitting in your cabinet for ages, and you’re wondering if the products are still good enough to use, there are several different types of skincare expiration dates that you should familiarize yourself with before you open the products. The first one is the Period After Opening (PAO) date. This number indicates how long a product will remain stable after opening. Most skincare products last between 6 and 12 months after opening, but some have a PAO as short as three months. The PAO should print on both the product itself as well as the packaging with a symbol that looks like a tub of moisturizer with the lid lifted off. Inside the tub icon will be a number follow by the letter M to indicate how long the product will last after opening.
The other date that you need to know is how long the skincare product will last unopened, a.k.a. its shelf life. If a skincare product has a shelf life of less than 30 months, then the brand must print the expiry date direction on the bottle, tube, or packaging. The date will typically be printed as “exp.” followed by numerals that indicate the month and date.
You should aim to use up a product before the expiration date passes. If the expiration date isn’t listed on the product, you can figure it out by identifying the batch code and contacting the company to inquire about the expiration date. The batch number will be printed on the bottom of the tub or bottle or at the top seam of the tube. The batch code is typically six numbers and letters long but it may be different. The company can use the batch code to look up when the product manufacture and tell you when it will expire.
What happens when a skincare product expires?
At this point, you are probably wondering what happens when a product from your 3-step skincare routine expires. Is there a risk to using a product past its PAO or expiration date? In the best case scenario, a skincare product becomes less effective after it passes its expiration date, since ingredients can lose potency over time. If you feel like your products aren’t working like they normally would, check the labels to see if they are expired. You might notice changes in the smell, consistency, and/or texture of the product. Not only can this make the product unpleasant to use, but it also compromises the function of the product. This is especially true for products like sunscreen and mascara where having the proper texture is very important to the product function.
In particular, you might notice a product oxidizing or turning a darker color; this is especially common with vitamin C products. While the color change doesn’t alway mean something, it can signify that ingredients have begun breaking down due to the exposure to oxygen, reducing the efficacy of the product. You might also notice oils in the product going rancid and producing a smell, which, again, is a result of exposure to oxygen. Products can also grow mold and bacteria over time, especially when they are left sitting undisturb for a long period of time. This is of particular concern with creams, balms, and any products that you have to directly touch with your fingers. If this happens, the product can irritate your skin and even cause an allergic reaction.
How to prolong the life of your skincare products
No one wants to throw out an expensive eye cream or face wash. Thankfully, there are some practical steps that you can take to prolong the life of your skincare products. The first is to take care not to compromise the packaging by cracking, breaking, or puncturing it, which will let in air and bacteria. Always make sure to replace the lid properly and completely screw it shut every time you use a product.
You should also wash your hands thoroughly before you use a skincare product to reduce the odds of transferring bacteria. If the product comes with a dropper, do not let the end touch your face or hands to avoid contamination. If the product comes with a spatula to scoop it out, use that instead of your fingers to help preserve the integrity of the product. You can also buy skincare spatulas if your product didn’t come with one.
Skincare products should always stay stored in a cool, dry place to prolong shelf life. Put products in a cabinet to protect them from sun exposure; the heat and light can cause a product to break down prematurely. This is especially important with vitamin C products, sunscreens, and other items with sensitive formulations. If you leave certain products in your shower, such as your face wash, try to put them in a location where they will not sit in a puddle of water, which can cause mold to grow. If your shower doesn’t have good ventilation, you might want to set the products out on the bathroom counter afterward to let them dry out.
Have you ever had to throw out a skincare product that has expired? What are your tips for using up products before they can expire? Let us know in the comments below!