When to throw out expired beauty products

Sabine Wiesel 16 January 2022

We're quick to throw food out but when was the last time you checked the expiry date of your go to beauty products?

Be honest. When was the last time you had a beauty product clear out? If we’ve got you perplexed, let’s start with mascara. Can you remember the last time you replaced it? You might be surprised to hear that unless the answer is in the last six months, it’s past its expiry date.

Just like food, skincare and make-up products go out of date. So if you’ve recently started re-using that exfoliator you’ve had lurking in the back of the bathroom cupboard for some time, or you’re still applying that discontinued shade of lipstick that you just can’t get a replica of even though it’s older than most of your wardrobe, you need to read on.

What can happen if I use out of date beauty products?

The obvious fact is that they’re not going to be as effective, however, what you should really be worried about is the preservatives in the products no longer keeping bacteria at bay. Using products laden with bacteria on your complexion can lead to rashes or blemish break-outs in the best-case scenario, but at worst it could lead to skin infections and even permanent skin damage.

Take popular skincare active vitamin C. It’s notoriously unstable and has a short shelf life as it quickly starts to oxidise. “Products that have oxidised become pro-oxidant which can breakdown the skin’s compounds just as free-radicals do,” warns Georgie Cleeve, Oskia skincare founder.

Leading to skin damage in the form of collagen or elastin destruction, showing up in the form of skin sagging, broken blood vessels, wrinkles and pigmentationsigns of ageing you’re using the product to counteract in the first place.

How can I tell if my beauty products have gone bad?

Look out for the “period after opening” (or PAO) symbol on every product. It’s a number followed by an M in an open jar symbol and should be used as a guide to how many months after opening the product should be thrown out. There can also be an hourglass symbol with a date next to it, this is a best before date.

“Expiry dates are based on how long the preservatives and packaging systems work before actives breakdown, ingredients oxidise, or bacteria start to grow,” explains Georgie. “These are based on trials that every product has to legally go through.”

However, common sense has to also be applied. “Check if the scent of your product has changed, if the product has started to separate, or changed in colour and consistency,” warns Dr Ahmed El Muntasar.

How long do skincare and make-up products last?

Each product contains different ingredients, science and packaging so will go bad at different stages. Use your senses and the below guide to help you, but if in doubt always bin it—never put your skin at risk.

Serums, moisturisers and eye creams

Expires: 6 months - 1 year

These products contain water which is prone to growing bacteria and so most have a shorter shelf life. Add to this the fact that popular and powerful skincare actives, like vitamin C or retinol, are unstable and break down quickly too, and you have a recipe for a product that can turn easily. Look out for any darkening in colour and change of smell. Vitamin C can smell similar to fake tan when it’s turned.

Cleansers, masks and exfoliants

Expires: 6 months - 1 year

The expiry dates for these can vary, but those with a pump tend to spoil less quickly than jars. If your favourites do come in the latter packaging, always use a clean spatula or brush with every use. When fingers go in, so does bacteria.

Mascara

Expires:  3-6 months

It’s a short life span, but you have to stick to it to avoid eye infections. Mascara is traditionally water-based and prone to bacteria. If it’s dry, throw it out. Don’t be tempted to add water to extend its life. “It can fester with bacteria and fungi and you could get Pink Eye or Conjunctivitis,” says Dr Ahmed Muntasar.

Foundation, concealer and cream-based make-up

Expires: 6 months – 1 year

Again, pump-based products will last longer as there is likely to be any bacteria contamination. Check for any separation or change in texture and colour, as a sign it’s off. Avoid using any applicators straight onto the face, and apply to the back of the hand first. And remember, brushes and sponges should be cleaned regularly.

Powder products: Eyeshadow, blusher, foundation and bronzer

Expires: 2-3 years

Containing no water (or very little) these dry products last the longest. Avoid using fingers to apply that can spread bacteria and focus on keeping your tools that go directly into the products clean. Also, wipe the tops of powder products every so often and you’ll find these are safe to use for up to 3 years.

Eye, lip and brow liners

Expires: 6 months – 2 years

If it’s a liquid formula you have to treat it as a mascara, as it’s just as bacteria prone. Pencils will last much longer as you’re forced to sharpen them regularly—ridding them of any harmful bacteria.

Lipsticks and lip gloss

Expires: 1 year – 18 months

These are usually packed with preservatives so take longer to spoil as long as you wipe the bullet clean regularly, especially when reapplying after eating.

Read more: 5 ways to use lip liner

Read more: The lowdown on tiger grass

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