How To Know If Your Beauty Products Are Expired

Like most things we use in life, skin-care and beauty products don’t last forever. Once you open that jar of moisturizer, the clock starts ticking. Exposure to air, light, and bacteria can break down the product and eventually it will not work the same. It sounds crazy, but even if they are left sealed, heat and humidity can also cause your products to break down over time.

Expired products are not really a big deal every time. Sometimes it just means they lose some of their effectiveness. A vial of expired perfume could smell a little off or your favorite mascara doesn’t apply as smoothly and easily. But other times, an expired product can be irritating or cause other problems. Expired sunscreen, for example, might not work properly leading to a nasty sunburn.

Product Expiration Information on Label

This picture on a product shows “12M” on a little jar, which means the product should be good for twelve months after opening.

First things first. Most likely, you won’t find an exact expiration date printed on your beauty products because the FDA does not require it. If something like “Exp 12/2015” is not clearly printed on the packaging, look for what is called the Period After Opening (PAO) date.

Keep in mind that, just like things like milk and eggs, expiration dates on beauty products are not always reliable. My mom always taught me: “When in doubt, throw it out!” Check your beauty products out too, and toss anything that has changed in smell, color, or texture. Also be aware that most natural products have a more limited life span than products which include preservatives, and they will go bad much sooner.

Tip: If water is listed as the first ingredient, the product will have a shorter shelf life after opening than a product without water—all other things being equal—because water encourages bacteria to grow.

Here’s a list of some generalized guidelines for many different cosmetic products to have an idea when it is time to chuck those oldies.

  • Moisturizers, Face Creams, and Eye Creams

    Six months to one year. Products sold in a pump are less likely to introduce bacteria, while creams in jars should be tossed after six to nine months.

  • Sunscreen

    One year. Store it away from sunlight to prevent the formula from becoming unstable.

  • Anti-Aging or Anti-Acne Products

    Up to one year, depending on the ingredients. Anti-acne products containing benzoyl peroxide have a shelf life of three months once opened. Products with antioxidants such as retinol, glycolic acid, and vitamin C also break down more quickly.

  • Shampoos, Conditioners, and Hair Styling Products

    One to two years opened, three years unopened. Water and air that gets into the bottles could break down the formulas.

  • Perfume and Cologne

    Two years. As pretty as the bottles look on your counter, store them away from sunlight and humidity to be safe.

  • Mascara and Liquid Eyeliner

    Three months. Repurchase a new one every season and throw away even sooner if it’s dried out or if you’ve had an eye infection.

  • Liquid Foundation and Concealer

    Six months to 1 year

  • Powder-based Cosmetics (i.e., eyeshadows and powder foundation)

    Two to three years

  • Lipsticks and Glosses

    Two to three years. If you’ve had a cold sore, toss your lip products sooner.

  • Eye and Lip Pencils

    Three to five years. Sharpen before use to preserve them.

To make your beloved products last as long as possible, keep them away from heat, sunlight, humidity, and air. For sanitary reasons, choose pumps over jars and make sure your hands are clean before use so you don’t contaminate your products.