When To Throw Away Skincare Products
How much attention do you pay to use by, sell by and best before dates on foods and perishable items? Do you know the difference between all three? It’s a tricky one, granted.*
Some of us might ignore them all completely (not always advised) and eat what we like, when we like. Others might scrape off a bit of mould or chop off a soggy bit. A few of us chuck away anything that’s been in the fridge longer than a day (won’t somebody think of the food waste!).
Either way, what’s probably true, is that not many of us think about use by dates on our makeup and skin care products. Which is a shame, because they exist, and they’re important.
Have you ever noticed an expiration date printed on your makeup and skincare? Do you know when it's time to throw away your skin care products? What happens if you use a product like a water-based facial moisturiser or a fancy vitamin C serum that's past its expiration date? Do they lose their effectiveness? Or could they also cause skin health concerns?
What about products with natural ingredients? Which products have a longer shelf life? What about an unopened product? Do products remain safe and effective before they've been exposed to oxygen?
The whole topic of how to know when to throw away or keep your skincare products is a minefield! Not least because of the waste element.
So before you toss anything away, here’s the truth on what's safe to use and when it's time to throw it away.
Expiration Dates and Shelf Life on Skincare and Makeup? Really?
In days gone by, when perhaps our grandmas were using their Ponds Cold Cream and precious little else aside from water in their skin care regime, not much thought was given to when skin care products might expire. After all, if we were only using one or two products, then they’re likely to have run out in a number of months before anything untoward happened to them anyway.
Fast forward a few decades and we saw the introduction of a strange little symbol on our makeup and skin care products. In 2005, it became European law that such products needed to feature what’s called the Period After Opening, or PAO, date.
The PAO is symbolised by an open jar of cream (or any other product) with a number and the letter M, underneath or next to it. The number relates to how many months after opening a product it should be kept before throwing it out.
For example, the tube of hand cream I have on my desk next to me as I type this article, has the little open pot symbol and ‘12M’ next to it. This means that I should throw it away after 12 months has passed since I first started using it. Most products have a shelf life of 6, 12, 18 or 24 months. (Thankfully, I’m a hand cream addict and it’ll no doubt all be gone after a couple of months.)
Why Do Beauty Products Expire and Need a PAO Date?
But why? Why do I need to throw it away after a year?
(At this point, it’s important to remember that this means 12 months after opening, not after buying. When we buy skin care products, they normally have a small foil seal that we need to remove before we use it. It’s from this date that the clock starts ticking once the contents have been exposed to the air and they begin to oxidise.)
When makeup and skin care products are opened (as in, the foil seal is removed), they immediately become exposed to the air. This means that they’re also exposed to the natural airborne spores and bacteria over time.
Bacteria and moulds can also enter our skin care products during normal use, too. When we touch them or apply them directly to our skin, or we use unclean makeup brushes and applicators, we can transfer dirt and bugs. These bugs can then cause spoilage and subsequently be bad for our skin.
Therefore, regardless of shelf life, always make sure you've washed your hands before you poke your finger in a jar of eye cream or moisturiser.
Most product formulations contain preservatives (natural or otherwise) and these help to preserve the integrity of the product and stop it from spoiling due to the presence of bugs and microorganisms. The use of preservatives is to keep a product fresher longer.
But these preservatives will only work to a certain lifespan. And that’s generally what’s depicted by the PAO date. It means that the preservatives in the product will become ineffective at killing bacteria and moulds that enter the products after this time.
Active ingredients and their lifespan are also taken into account when a manufacturer is developing a product and deciding on its expiry date. Some products can become ineffective after a certain period of time, and could therefore be useless on your skin and a total waste of time and money.
What Are the Signs that Skin Care Products Have Gone Out of Date?
There are a few visible signs that the product you're using is no longer effective or is about to go bad or past its best. These include:
- Visible mould growth (throw them away immediately!)
- Drying out
- Other changes in texture such as thickening or thinning
- An odd smell
- Change of colour
- Unusual stinging or tingling when you apply it that you’ve never noticed before
How Do I Know When to Throw Away Skincare Products?
Aside from this list, if you notice anything that has significantly changed in any beauty product, then it's time to toss it away.
With sunscreen, this is vital, if you're using it to protect your skin. Make sure you're buying new sun protection each year to ensure you're being protected. It should never be used if it's been open since your last holiday a year ago.
Should you use any other product that’s past its period after opening date, then at best, it may be achieving a sum total of zero benefits for your skin. At worst, you could end up with spots and acne breakouts, and it may cause irritation and swelling. Which is especially bad for already non conforming skin, as any dermatologist or skin specialist will tell you.
How Long Do Skincare Products Last?
Each product will have its own use by date. But generally, in terms of makeup, liquid foundations will last between six months and a year whilst anything powder based will last between two and three years. Liquid and gel eyeliners and mascara will be less, at around six months.
Skin care products are similar, with facial cleansers, exfoliants and toners generally having a 12 month PAO. Moisturisers tend to be less, at six months to a year. Any samples in small packets are only ever designed for one use, that is, use them up in one go.
As for how you remember? We love a Sharpie pen on hand to note the month and year that a product was opened. You probably don’t need to be specific on day, as long as you note the month. Then (often painfully), the general rule is to toss anything that has significantly altered or is past its PAO.
Because the consequences if you don't - you may develop spots or irritation or gain no benefit - could be a whole lot more painful.
About Those Use By Dates on Foods…
*For the record, there’s quite a significant difference between use by dates, sell by dates and best before dates.
A use by date signifies the date by which a food or drink needs to be consumed by. They’re usually used on highly perishable items such as meat, fish and dairy products. These guys need to be listened to, as eating meat or drinking milk past its use by date could signal big trouble for you.
Best before dates on the other hand, are just a guide that lets you know when a food is at its freshest. They’re mainly used on fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables and dried and tinned foods.
Consuming these types of foods past their best before date is generally considered ok, as long as they pass the visual and sniff tests. If they look mouldy or slimy or they have an off smell, avoid them. But if a cabbage is a bit baggy or a carrot has a dodgy end you can cut off, they’re good to go.
Sell by dates are pretty useless to us as consumers and as such, their use is dying out. They’re meant for use by shop and supermarket staff to know when to remove them from the shelves for sale.
Looking After Your Skin with Sönd
See? We’re a wealth of information here at Sönd, and not just on skin and skin care products! We’ll see you next time for more fascinating and useful information…
In the meantime, have you discovered our range of alkalising skincare yet?
This article is not meant to treat or diagnose. Please visit your doctor for advice about any health concerns you may have.