As far back as Ancient Egyptian times, we've been using skincare products.
Now, as beauty regimes, "glass skin" goals, and skincare hacks trend on social media, we have more access to products and information than ever before.
Whether you're a full-blown skincare fanatic, or just dipping your toes in‚Äî it's important to know how to get the most out of your skincare product.
This includes learning how to recognise when to retire things from your beauty cabinet, how to find the expiry date on skincare packaging, how to store products, and the best ways to apply your skincare to keep it safe to use.
Skincare expiration might not be a current priority but in this article, we'll explore why happy skin also comes from keeping your skincare fresh so you know it's working as hard as possible for you.
Do skincare products expire?
Your grandma who still uses her favourite face cream from 20 years ago means well, but best not trust her on this one.
Skincare products do have an expiration date! Just like food or medicines, skincare contains ingredients that will go bad over time.
When a product is opened, its shelf life begins to decline. For some items, this might just mean they don't work as well.
For others, using them past their expiration date could lead to some nasty consequences for your skin.
What happens if you use expired skincare products?
Our skin is hugely important - aside from being the body's largest organ, it's also packed with nerves we use to make sense of the outside world.
Of course, we want to use products to preserve, beautify, and protect our skin! But we need to be careful when it comes to expired beauty products.
Skincare is prone to bacteria growth as soon as it's opened. The ingredients and chemical composition of skincare can also spoil over time.
If you use expired skincare, both of these factors could lead to harmful outcomes for your skin, such as:
- More serious reactions such as dermatitis or infections (2)
According to a survey conducted by the ACCC, 68 per cent of people only stop using their skincare products when they run out.
This might feel less wasteful, but your skin could end up being worse off if you use products past their expiry date.
How can you tell if a skincare product has expired?
So, how can you tell if your beauty product isn't up to the job anymore?
In Australia, not all products will have official expiration dates on their packaging, so you might have to do some detective work.
According to dermatologists (2) things to look out for include: changes to the smell or consistency of the product (e.g. curdling or separating), as well as differences in colour or overall appearance.
For example, if your moisturiser is looking a little yellow or more watery than usual, it might be time to get rid of it.
It doesn't all have to be guesswork, though. There are some handy hints and symbols you can look out for to make your bathroom spring clean a little easier and to ensure you're not using expired skincare.
How do you find the expiration date of skincare products?
Finding expiry dates on skincare will vary depending on their packaging.
As a general rule, you should be able to rely on the PAO date (2). PAO stands for period after opening, and refers to how long a product stays good for after you've opened it‚Äîkind of like a "best before" date.
You can find the PAO by looking for the graphic of a container with a number inside (or beside it).
The number is how long the product is useable after it's opened, 6M means it can be stored and used for up six months, 12M for twelve months, and so on.
It can be tricky to track the expiration dates of your beauty products as there is no definitive date. Instead, it relies on you having a rough idea of when you opened the product and keeping this in mind while using it.
If you can't remember when you opened the skincare or makeup product, try to rely on the look, feel and smell of the product.
If your mascara is dry and crusty, it's time to replace it. If your vitamin C serum has turned brown in colour, it's oxidised and will be less effective.
What affects a product's shelf life?
Now you're an expert on how to tell if you have a cupboard full of expired skincare, it's also important to know what can affect the shelf life of your products.
Here are some of the things to be careful of, so you can make your favourite product last longer (5):
- Dipping your fingers into your products: This can cause bacteria to grow more quickly and can lead to your skincare breaking down/becoming unsafe to use. Be sure to wash your hands before using your beauty products in jar packaging to avoid contaminating them.
- Storing products at the wrong temperature: If your skincare gets too hot (or too cold!) its quality can be compromised.
- Not cleaning applicators or brushes: Again, if you're dipping the same brush or applicator back into your product, it'll gather potentially harmful bacteria.
- Keeping products in direct sunlight: Direct sunlight or exposure to moisture is a surefire way to damage your skincare. Storing products this way can lead to changes in texture, colour, and worst of all... smell. That's a surefire way to spot an expired product.
Are certain types of products more likely to go bad sooner?
Some products will expire sooner than others, depending on their ingredients and how they're used.
Products made of natural ingredients, organic products, or products advertised as "preservative-free" will usually expire faster.
Cream formulations, like facial or body moisturisers, will expire more quickly than oil-based products.
Products in pump bottles tend to last longer, as they're less exposed to bacteria and oxygen (2)
The main products to watch are your mascara, other eye makeup, and creams. Most experts recommend replacing your mascara every two to three months (5).
Top tip: Don't try to remoisten products that go near your eyes. If your eyeshadow is drying out, you have a crusty mascara in your drawer, or your eye cream looks a bit suss‚Äî it's time to let them go.
Using expired eye products can increase your risk of eye infections and injury, so best to throw them out!
What about active ingredients, like retinol?
Active ingredients are most sensitive to the shelf life factors above, particularly exposure to light, oxygen and fluctuating temperatures.
Active skincare products include things like retinol, vitamin C, products containing acid (glycolic, hyaluronic) and should be stored with care. Make sure you pay attention to the packaging and manufacturer's instructions.
How long can you keep unopened skincare products?
According to a recent survey, lots of us keep skincare in the cupboard that we haven't used in over a year! (6). Our top unused products are face masks and moisturisers.
So, what can you do if you find a bunch of unopened products laying around?
Unopened skincare is less likely to have been exposed to bacteria, so it can be OK to keep for longer.
Timeframes still depend on the type of product and its ingredients - there's some rough guidelines online, with some resources suggesting things like moisturisers, serums and sunscreen can be kept unopened for up to three years (2).
It's important to use your best judgement though, and if something looks or smells off, it's time to throw it out.
Is it possible to extend the shelf life of a product?
Beauty fridges are on-trend, but they're not suitable for all products. Paying attention to what affects your skincare's shelf life will definitely keep it fresh and useable for longer.
Storage is really key - to get the most out of your skincare, keep it in a cool, dry, dark place (2). Don't store things on your windowsill!
And, if your bathroom gets really steamy, it might be best to keep your products in a room with a more stable temperature.
Finally, if you have a beauty fridge: do your research on which products shouldn't be stored in it.
What are good hygiene habits to have when using skincare products?
Apart from proper storage, there's more you can do to make sure your skincare lasts as long as possible (5):
- Never add water or saliva to a product‚Äî if it dries out, replace it instead.
- Don't share your skincare products
- Avoid dipping your fingers into products, or make sure you have clean hands before using
- Definitely don't double dip!
- Always keep your applicators and brushes clean
That's it from us in terms of tips and tricks to getting the most bang for your buck out of your skincare cupboard and how to keep track of your product expiration dates.
If you've done a cull and need to refresh your collection, check out our range.
- Tejal et al.,Cosmetics and health: usage, perceptions and awareness, Bangladesh Journal of Medical Science, 2013.
- CHOICE, How long should makeup and cosmetics last?, 2016.
- National Geographic, Skin information and facts, 2017.
- Bhardwaj et al., Evaluation of awareness about beauty products composition and proper utilization among college students, Integrated Journal of Social Sciences, 2019.
- U.S Food and Drug Administration, Shelf Life and Expiration Dating of Cosmetics, 2022
- Magramo, K., Beauty and price found to be skin-deep: Average of HK$3,100 spent on products, with many unused for more than a year, South China Morning Post, 2021.
- ACCC, Analytical survey of microbiological contamination of cosmetics for use around the eyes, 2015.