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Do Skin Care Products Expire? Why It Might Be Time To Refresh Your Stash

Posted by Nikki Wisher on Sep 19th 2023

Do Skin Care Products Expire? Why It Might Be Time To Refresh Your Stash

Is there anything worse than buying fantastic groceries but eventually throwing them away because, for any of dozens of reasons, you weren’t able to use them before they went bad? No one wants to throw money away or waste valuable resources, but it turns out that your kitchen may not be the only place where you’re keeping things that are past their prime – your bathroom could be harboring some landfill fugitives too.

Should you be doing a raid on your skin care stash? Here’s what you need to know.

Do Skin Care Products Expire?

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but the short answer is that yes, skin care products do expire. They certainly have a longer shelf life than that zucchini you bought last week, but the shelf life isn’t forever. Skin care products have ingredients that eventually go bad, just like makeup, medicine, and other products.

How to Know if Your Skin Care Products are Expired

The tricky issue with skin care products is that they usually don’t have a clear expiration date on the package like your gallon of milk does. It’s not legally required and it hasn’t become a standard practice in skin care.

Instead, some skin care products will have a PAO date: “period after opening.” It’s often written as something like “PAO12M” or an open jar symbol with “12M” next to it. In these examples, “12M” means the product is good for 12 months after you open it. Of course, that’s only useful if you know when you opened the product, which most people don’t track. In the future, you can put a sticker on each bottle with the date you open it. For past products, if you bought them online, you can look back at your order date to get a general idea.

What do you do if your product doesn’t have a PAO listed or if you don’t have an estimate of when you opened it? Your next strategy is to keep an eye out for any changes to the product. Look for changes in its consistency, color, smell, and so on. If it’s more watery, lumpy, or discolored than it originally was, that means it’s time for it to retire.

Why Should You Get Rid of Expired Skin Care Products?

Why does it matter if your skin care products are expired? Is it really something you need to be worried about?

The most common and least concerning problem with expired skin care products is that they become less effective as the ingredients break down. That’s only the best case scenario, though. With time, skin care products can give bacteria a place to grow…and an easy way to get onto your face. This can lead to potentially serious skin infections as well as skin irritation and inflammation and acne breakouts.

Using any expired skin care product isn’t wise, but there are a few situations when you have to be especially careful. The first is if you have a skin condition that makes you particularly prone to irritation, like acne, rosacea, or eczema. The second is skin care products you use near your eyes like eye serums and eye creams. Your eyes are beautiful yet delicate, giving bacteria an easy way to get into your body.

How to Dispose of Expired Skin Care Products in an Eco-Safe Way

If you check out your skin care stash and find some expired products, as most of us probably would, how do you dispose of them? It’s important to note that skin care products are designed for topical use, not internal use, so some of their ingredients may be toxic if they get into the water supply.

Reach out to your local center for hazardous materials to see if they accept cosmetics and skin care products. If they do, great!

If you don’t have a hazardous waste center in your area that accepts these products, there may be a service like Terracycle in your area that will accept these products by mail. If that isn’t an option, it’s better to toss the product and container in the trash – just don’t dump the product down the drain because this will give it access to the water supply.

Skin Care Products with green leaves

How Can You Keep Your Skincare Products Alive for Longer?

We all want our dollar to go further! If you want to keep your skin care products at their best for longer, follow these tips:

  • Avoid putting your fingers into the container: it’s better to use a clean applicator or scoop to get the product out because your fingers can introduce bacteria to the product
  • Store products properly: in most cases, this means storing the product at room temperature and out of direct sunlight, although there may be some exceptions so be sure to check the packaging
  • Don’t try to rehydrate a product that is drying out or thickening: you might be introducing bacteria through the water you add, and you’ll be diluting the product as well so it will be less effective

Keeping Your Skin Healthy with Active Skin Care Products

Quality skin care products are an investment for both your health and your appearance. It might seem like you’re getting more for your money by squeezing out as much of the product as possible when it’s past its prime, but in reality, you’re at risk for creating new problems for your skin instead. If you need to cut your losses and throw out a skin care product that’s half-full but expired, you may be saving yourself from a serious skin infection in the process (or at least the wasted time of using a skin care product that isn’t helping you).