Can skincare products go bad?
Deciding how long to keep that miracle serum that saved your skin back when you needed it or when to toss your go-to sunscreen can be downright confusing, and we’ve all been there.
Experts urge that hanging on to beauty products past their prime isn’t a good idea, however, how bad can it really be?
Here’s what you need to know about when to keep your skincare products and when to throw them away.
How Long Do Unopened Skin Care Products Last?
Unopened skincare products will last longer than the opened ones because they have less chance to be exposed to bacteria and thus contaminated.
Most good cosmetic manufacturers will do accelerated stability testing that includes microbial testing in order to ensure a product has a two to three years shelf life if left unopened.
When the products are sealed, it means no air or bacteria have entered and possibly contaminated the formula, so it should be just as good as the day it was made.
How Long Do Opened Skin Care Products Last?
Beauty products are much easier to be noticed when expired. Liquids and creams expire faster and they tend to change the pigment and often smell a little funny once they have expired.
Powders, on the other hand, last much longer, but nobody wants to use a powder that’s been just sitting there for the last three years.
And who doesn’t know how clumped up mascara’s get when they are clearly ready to go in the trash?
However, expiration dates are tricky when it comes to skincare products because it entirely depends on the product as well as the conditions it’s being kept.
A good indicator of when products expire would be checking the code at the back of the product and look for a round jar printed with a number which represents the number of months the product can be used once opened.
But, if you already threw the box away and can’t figure out if that product you haven’t used in a while is still good, here’s a list on exactly how long your coveted items last:
✔️ Cleanser: 6-8 Months
Though most cleansers are formulated to last over two years, the truth is there is no federal regulation or clear guidelines establishing expiration dates.
Although there will probably be signs that your cleanser has gone bad, there is no reason for you to wait until that happens. If you want to use a face wash at its most active, throw it away 6-8 months after opening.
Moreover, bugs tend to grow faster in water and water-based products are no exception, therefore, watery cleansers have more potential for bacterial growth and reproduction. Yikes!
✔️ Toners: 12 Months
Toners can last up to 12 months, especially if sealed properly and kept in a cool place.
While your regular hydrating toner can sometimes serve you longer than 12 months, toners that contain active ingredients such as AHAs and BHAs and act as exfoliating solutions shouldn’t be used longer than that.
✔️ Serums: 6-12 Months
Serums are the type of products that have a liquid consistency and spread easily.
Therefore, while a little goes a long way is almost always the case with serums, it is still not recommendable to keep trusting them with your skin after the twelve-month mark, even if that means you still have product left in your bottle.
You can never have enough hydration, therefore do not be afraid to pack on hydrating serums on your face like there’s no tomorrow, but be mindful of using the same tactic with serums that contain exfoliating ingredients.
Anyhow, getting rid of serums that have been opened for twelve months is definitely a good idea.
✔️ Moisturizer: 6-12 Months
Not only can expired moisturizers become less effective over time, they can also potentially cause irritation. The life of a moisturizer often depends on its packaging.
Product in a jar can expire in less than six months, as airtight pump product can last up to twelve months and over.
Moisturizers that are nearing expiration dates typically start to separate texture-wise and they often start to smell funny due to broken ingredients in the formula, so this is a good time to toss it.
✔️ Sunscreen: 12 Months-3 Years
Generally, facial products can last up to twelve months with a few exceptions, therefore same goes for sunscreen intended to protect the face.
Sunscreens for the body, on the other hand, can last up to three years after buying them from the store.
I am not sure what is the reason behind this, however, it looks like manufacturers might be doing this because of something to do with the chemicals they are using to create a sunscreen.
While still the same skin, facial skin is much more sensitive than the rest of the body, therefore facial sunscreens are made with using gentler and less potent ingredients that are also less durable to the test of time.
Sunscreens intended for the body, on the other hand, have longer expiration dates and are made to last from one season to the next two as people don’t use sunscreens on their bodies 365 days a year.
✔️ Self-tanners: 6-12 Months
A self-tanner in a jar usually has a shelf life of 6-9 months. If the container has a pump, 12 months is the average shelf life because it is enclosed and tightly sealed.
Aside from possible, but mild side effects of expired self-tanners, they are non-toxic even when they reach their expiration date.
Usually, they just become ineffective and won’t give you the tan you want as the pigment may be broken down and your skin won’t absorb the self-tanner.
The mild side effects, however, include temporary redness and possible blemishes.
Is It Okay To Use Expired Skin Care Products?
As we already mentioned above, unopened skincare products will last longer than opened products because of the low chance of exposure to bacteria and contamination.
Additionally, when you are using your products you are also exposing them to air and light and this can cause the products to oxidize.
Or in simple terms, oxidation means “go rancid”.
From a chemistry point of view, oxidation refers to the process in which a compound loses electrons. When it comes to skincare products, this means that the active ingredients in a product can break down and lose their potency.
This can also change the formula and consistency of the product.
At best, a product that has oxidized will simply be less effective. But the worst-case scenario is that it may actually be bad for your skin. For example, applying oxidized vitamin C can cause blackheads, which are oxidized sebum.
Additionally, vitamin C along with other beauty favorites including Retinol (vitamin A), hyaluronic acid, and glycolic acid are all relatively unstable ingredients if left exposed to oxygen.
While buying products in a tube with a pump or airtight jars can somewhat guarantee the products you buy from the store will last you slightly longer, it is still the best recommendation to get rid of expired products instead of trusting them with your skin.
Tips On Making Your Products Last.
And here are several tips on how to make your skincare products last longer:
Store products in a cabinet or drawer.
Most skincare products will be just fine at room temperatures, however, the important thing it to keep them out of direct sunlight.
Sunlight can accelerate the aging of a skincare product by heating it up, thus causing the active ingredients to break down faster and leaving the product ineffective.
By keeping your products inside cabinets and drawers, you are making them last longer.
Tighten and secure the cap after each use.
This is important because of what we discussed earlier – oxidation. Products that come in a jar are constantly being exposed to air which can make them ineffective faster than the original expiry date.
Therefore, you want to protect and secure your products after each use by tightening the cap.
Don’t touch your skin with the pipette.
Online beauty gurus and social media influencers are guilty of many things. Touching their skin with the pipette is definitely one of them.
Skincare and beauty products that come in a bottle with a pipette are also constantly exposed to oxygen with frequent use.
However, the pipette is meant to prevent product contamination and this is exactly what you will be doing if you are touching your skin with it.
The right way to do it without contaminating your products is to use the pipette to squeeze a few drops in your hand and then apply it on your face.
Trying to cope with my obnoxious acne breakouts forced me into finding a solution to my problem by pursuing a career in the beauty industry. Today, I’m a certified esthetician & I’m passionate about sharing what I know to help you achieve healthy, glowing skin. You can learn more about me here.