The Shelf Life of Your Skin Care Ingredients

How Long Can Your Skin Care Products Last?

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How long do the skin care ingredients in my lotions, body scrubs and other skin and body care products really last? When should I throw them away? Could I cause myself harm if I use these products after they expire?

Answer:

For most skin and body care products, there is an easy way to find out how long the skin care ingredients are good for. Simply look on the back of the container. Many times you'll see what looks like a skin care product tub/container that is open with a number on it.

The number is usually 6, 12, 24 or 36. This number refers to the number of months you can use a product after you have opened it.  If your product doesn't have an image on the back, assume it is probably good for no more than 12 months unless stated otherwise somewhere else on the product.

But let's remember that dipping your fingers into product does bring bacteria into the mix. Always use a clean spatula, or my favorite, a baby spoon that you can get at the drugstore to take a product out of a container. This is more sanitary than using your finger. If water gets into your product that can further contaminate it.

Certain products are required by law to have an expiration date on them. Those products include sunscreens and acne treatments that contain active ingredients like benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid. The FDA requires that these products have expiration dates clearly stamped on their packaging.

Though you might read here and there that you can still use your sunscreen after its expiration date please don't. You could run the risk of getting a sunburn if you do so. Toss any sunscreen or anti-acne products you have on hand that are past their expiration dates.

When to Throw a Product Out

Now, do I always throw away a lotion if it's over a year old?

Not usually. Many times it's still fine to use as long as the product is not separating or looking a bit "off". Just use your best judgement and if you think it's time to toss it, it probably is. You will know it is time to throw out your skin care or body product when you see the following signs:

  • If it smells bad or rotten
  • If it has separated (you see two distinct layers in the product)
  • If the texture of the product has changed
  • If they product changed color
  • If it has mold in it (you'll see black, green, or blue spots in your product)

A word about preservatives. There are many very small skin care companies these days that sell their products directly to consumers via websites like Etsy for example. Many of these products or products that are organic do not use preservatives. This means the product, especially if it is packaged in a jar, has a very short shelf life. Consider storing these products in the refrigerator. Also use them quickly.

Any product that is packaged as a single use product, usually called an ampoule, needs to be tossed immediately after use even if you do not use up everything in the small container or pod. Products that contain acids should not be kept for longer than their expiration date since acids actually become stronger and potentially more irritating over time.

Use your best judgement before tossing a product; your gut will tell you what to do.

How to Store Your Products so They Last Longer

Unopened products that are still sealed usually have a shelf life of 3-5 years or more, so don't be concerned about the products on the shelf. As long as they stay sealed, they will last many years. The time only starts counting down when you open it.

Having said that if you store your unopened products in a hot and humid environment or forget them in your car for example you are definitely shortening their shelf life. It is best to buy products that are in sealed containers like pumps instead of jars. Make sure water does not get into your product, replace the cap tightly after opening (if the product has a cap), and do not store in a sunny place (like next to a window).

 Wash your hands before applying any skin care products to your face or body so that you do not get dirt or bacteria into your product.

Updated by Hanah Tetro