Guide to Cosmetic and Personal Care Expiration

You probably take a look at the expiration date on the yogurt that’s been sitting in the fridge for a while, but do you do the same for the products you put on your body? If not, don’t worry, you’re not alone, but keep reading to find out more about why you should pay more attention to the expiration dates of your personal care products.

Why do cosmetic products expire, and how do preservatives work?

Anything water-based or exposed to moisture will inevitably begin to develop bacteria and other microbes like mold and yeast. The combination of your storage environment and temperature, the natural moisture of the product, and how often you dip your fingers and makeup brushes into your cosmetics exposes them to new microbial life, and bad bacteria can quickly begin to spread through your product.

Nowadays, most beauty products use preservatives which help slow or prevent the growth of bacteria and mold by killing microbes or creating an environment that makes it difficult for bacteria to spread. 

Some preservatives like phenoxyethanol are villainized by clean cosmetics marketing, but most are harmless, and a necessary addition to any beauty product. Without preservatives your skin care and personal hygiene products would likely need to be stored in the fridge, and even then they would quickly go bad and be unusable.

Preservatives do wear down over time so even if your products aren’t opened and in contact with air and moisture, they can still go bad. In general, unopened beauty products have a shelf life of about two to three years. So even if you’ve had unopened lotion tubes collecting dust for a year and a half, it may be time to open them up and use them.

Cosmetic Expiration Date vs Period After Opening

Not all products will have an exact expiration date printed on them, but you may see an icon that looks like a jar with a number and the letter M printed after it. This is called the Period After Opening (PAO) symbol and it indicates how many months you can use a product after opening it. For example, a lipstick with the label “12M” can be used for 12 months after it’s been opened.

Once opened and exposed to air, makeup and personal care products can become less effective or unsafe for use after time due to bacteria growth and separation.

If your cosmetics have an expiration date and a PAO length, they expire as soon as the expiration date is reached or the end of the PAO is reached.

Makeup Expiration Dates

If your foundation isn’t gliding on as smoothly, your liquid eyeliner has gotten thick and gloopy, or you just can’t remember the last time you cleared out your makeup bag, it’s probably time to replace some of your makeup must-haves.

Makeup expiration dates and PAOs are critical to abide by because these products are likely to harbor bacteria over time, which can lead to acne and rashes on the skin, and with products like mascara and eyeliner, you put yourself at risk for eye infections or sties. Things that you can sharpen like eyeliner and lipliner have longer PAO durations since you discard bacteria buildup when sharpening.

If your makeup products don’t have a printed expiration date or PAO the following can be used as a general guideline for when makeup products expire.

makeup expiration dates by type

Skin Care Expiration

Skincare products will also have the PAO jar symbol, but if it does not, 1-2 years is the standard shelf life. FYI: All Cleure products have a shelf life of 2 years.

If you are a skin care collector, try scaling back your skin care collection and using up your products before they go bad. There isn’t much consequence of using skin care products a bit past their expiration date, but they can still harvest bacteria and separate over time, and if you have sensitive skin, this can take a toll and cause breakouts and irritation.

Skin care products such as acne treatments and sunscreens that contain active ingredients (salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, retinoids, etc.) will lose some of their efficacy as time goes on and the expiration date is reached. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classifies these active ingredients as over the counter drugs so they require a printed expiration date.

Sunscreen Expiration

One skin care product that requires an exact expiration date you’ll want to pay close attention to is sunscreen. The FDA requires that sunscreen remain at its original strength for at least three years. After the three year mark, sunscreen’s active ingredients (zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, avobenzone, etc.) begin to break down and lose their strength, exposing your skin to UV rays that can cause lasting damage to your skin like premature signs of aging, sunburns, and skin cancer.

Sunscreen bottles and tubes will often have an expiration date printed somewhere on the bottle, but if you don’t see a date, use your sunscreen within three years of the time of purchase. 

If you’re using enough sunscreen (about 2 ounces to cover the body) every day, then you’ll work your way through a bottle of sunscreen far before the three year mark. So if you’ve held on to the same sunscreen for years and years, it’s probably best to a) buy a new tube and b) up your sunscreen use for the strongest possible sun protection.

Does toothpaste expire?

The American Dental Association (ADA) and the FDA both require a marked expiration date on toothpaste if it contains fluoride. Over time fluoride loses its ability to bind to tooth enamel, making it less efficient at preventing cavities and tooth decay so it is recommended that you use it within two years of manufacturing.

Fluoride free toothpaste doesn’t necessarily get a free pass though. Other ingredients in toothpaste do become less effective over time. The main bacteria fighting ingredient in Cleure's Flavor Free toothpaste is xylitol which has a shelf life of about two years before its strength begins to wear down.

Like with sunscreen, your tube of toothpaste shouldn’t last a whole two years if you are following proper oral health care and consistently brushing twice a day, but if you dig up an old tube from under the sink, and you can’t begin to fathom when your purchased it, it’s best to toss it if you want what’s optimal for your oral hygiene.

How to Tell if your Personal Care Products are Expired

Regardless of the product, there are some telltale signs that your cosmetics have expired, and it’s time to toss them. 

  • Off odor
  • Change in color
  • Different texture
  • Separation
  • Mold growth

Tips to make your makeup and skin care last

There are some steps you can take to limit bacterial growth, separation, and ingredient breakdown in your products.

  • Store in a cool, dry place 
  • Wash or sanitize your hands before touching your makeup and skin care products
  • Close all packaging tightly after use
  • Don't share makeup or skin care products with others
  • Clean your makeup brushes, sponges, and any other applicators with a gentle fragrance free soap regularly 

Like eating yogurt a day past the expiration date, using expired cosmetics and personal care products isn’t a death sentence, but if you tend to hoard your beauty products, try cutting back on buying new products and use up the ones you have first. You will cut down the risk of infection and breakouts, and you’ll get the most bang for your buck when your products are working to their full ability.

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