So listen- we know someone as fresh and fabulous as yourself may be giving little thought to all things tired or expired and we’re here for it – stay all about that vibe match, beautiful! But if you want to keep on keepin’ like only you can, you may want to, at a minimum, pay that ticking time clock some attention.
Sad but true, your skin care products may not “live” forever. And inquiring minds want to know at what point, if any, does that bodacious bottle stop doing the heavy lifting? So this week, we’re answering the tough questions related to skin care product shelf life. Are products truly only effective for as long as any potential expiration dates suggest? Do they even have expiration dates? How do you really know when to let it go?
IN A NUTSHELL
Main Takeaways: Not all skincare products last forever. In fact, very few do. And since using products that are past their prime could have unwanted consequences, it’s critical to know the shelf life of your skincare and when to say “so-long”. Always store your products in cool, dry, dark places to keep their potency.
Good to Know: There are a number of factors that influence a product’s lifespan, including the kind of product it is and how it has been stored. This affords you some control over how long it will be before a product is no longer viable. That being said, expiration dates exist for a reason and we strongly suggest adhering to a product’s given directive regarding its lifespan.
Recommended Products: All Fleur & Bee products have a shelf life of 12 months after being opened and 18 months if left unopened.
Does Skin Care Really Expire?
In short- yes.
Ugh - we know; and we hate to be the bearer of bummer news, but facts are facts, my friend. And we totally know how you feel. You ration all your (plant-based) milk money and cash it in for that pricey haute product, only to “save” it for some special occasion. Before you know it, all that saving has earned your still practically-full blue ribbon bottle a one-way nonrefundable ticket to the trash heap. You can’t possibly be expected to toss it! It would be inhumane!! Mercy, how can it be!?
But to let it hang around would in most cases literally be defying the laws of nature, chemistry, self care, you name it! Because most, if not all, skin care products do expire. Even items without formal expiration dates often have periods of suggested use… for example, the manufacturer of an item that doesn’t technically expire may still recommend that it be discarded after a specified block of time. And while there is no law against applying past-their-prime products to your magnificent mug, doing so- even if it is the most high end fancy-schmancy formula may not be without consequence.
Why Do Skin Care Products Expire?
Skin care products often consist of a number of ingredients. Each of those ingredients will likely have their own shelf life, which is defined by the FDA as the length of time for which a product is considered safe to use, while also looking and behaving as expected. So it only makes sense then that when these ingredients are combined into a skin care formula, the final product will also have its own shelf life. This is especially true where more naturalistic, unadulterated formulas with minimal chemical enhancers and stabilizers are concerned. The concept is not so dissimilar to food. Even the most pristine… apple, for example, will at some point begin to decompose and no longer be viable.
Once a product has met or exceeded its shelf life, a variety of things may begin to occur. One of the most basic developments would probably be a progressive decrease in potency. As a product ages, the active ingredients therein will become less active, rendering the product less effective than it was originally or maybe ineffective altogether. But this is likely the most benign of possible changes undergone by an aging product. Alterations in texture, color, or smell may transpire. Bacteria, fungi, and even mold can begin to grow and prosper in even the best lotions and potions. This is especially true for products in jar-like vessels where fingers are often inserted directly into the product for it to be dispensed, which can lead to contamination and accelerated degradation. Storing products in the bathroom, a place which tends to fluctuate in temperature and maintain higher levels of humidity more than other rooms in your home, can also help transform your product bottles into prime environments for the incubation of nefarious pathogens. It is easy to understand how then applying the contents of said bottles to your face could actually be dangerous, with the potential to bring about things like infection, irritation, or any number of unwanted skin issues.
Ok, ew. But how long is too long?
When Do Skin Care Products Expire?
Unopened, manufacturer sealed products can actually last a pretty long time. Say you’ve gotten wind that one of your most favorite formulas is on the outs (a fate worse than a blemish on prom night!), you can stockpile and safely stow away your dupes in a cool, dry environment for up to a whopping three years! This is because without the oxidation and degradation brought on by repeated exposure to air, a non-sterile environment, and regular use, your products won't age nearly as fast. But once a product has been opened, the game changes.
The length of time for which an open skin care product is viable depends on a lot of things, which can make it challenging for consumers. Luckily, there’s a [symbol] for that! If you’ve ever perused the packaging of your skin care to find a little icon of an open-lid jar with a number inside, or a number followed by the letter “M”, you can determine its shelf life! That tiny number indicates the PAO (i.e., period after opening) and indicates the quantity of months that it is safe to use after it has been opened! So cool, right!? But if the manufacturer hasn’t featured either of these icons, or maybe placed them on the now discarded box rather than on the bottle itself, you’ll need another way to tell.
As we mentioned earlier, if a product doesn’t feature a definitive expiration date or other directives for periods of use, any changes to color, scent, or texture are dead giveaways that a product should be tossed… like yesterday. Absent these sensory clues, many suggest that about 6 months to a year is as long as you can get out of any opened skincare product before their safety and efficacy becomes questionable. But that is all barring proper care and storage.
How to Protect the Shelf Life of Your Skin Care Products
Always store your products in cool, dry, dark places; ideally not in the bathroom where temperature and humidity levels are unstable. This will help make sure that your products last as long as they should. Handle them only with clean, dry hands to prevent contamination and mold growth - or even better, consider using sanitized applicators or spatulas rather than fingers. Lastly, be sure to close all vessels tightly and securely to keep them clean and potent for as long as possible.