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When Should I Discard Skin Care and Beauty Products?
If you have ever wondered how long you can keep a tube of mascara, or when you should get rid of a jar of face cream, you're not alone.

Period After Opening - PAOIt can be a bit of a challenge to know if a particular cosmetic or beauty product is still "good," after it has been opened. Currently, there are no FDA regulations that require manufacturers to print expiration dates on cosmetic and skin care labels. Exceptions are sunscreen and acne products, but even those can have inconsistencies in labeling.

The European Union's cosmetic regulatory branch devised a system represented by a simple line–drawing of an open jar with a number followed by the letter M. This symbol shows the number of months the product will last after it is opened, commonly known as the period after opening, or PAO date. It is mandatory that all products sold in the 25 countries of the EU carry this symbol. While not required by law in North America, a number of companies have added the PAO symbol to their products.

It is important to note that the PAO symbol is a general guideline, and doesn't take into account how a product is used or stored, both of which factor greatly into the shelf life of a given product after it is opened. Storing products in cool, dry conditions and capping them tightly after each use will help extend the efficacy as well as the shelf life.

Most skin care products should be used completely or discarded within a year of opening. Many experts recommend a shorter period of time (3–6 months) for eye creams and mascaras due to the chance of infection should the product develop bacteria. Natural products, which have become quite popular; often contain plant–derived ingredients and no preservatives. They should be used within six months as they are less stable and more prone to unhealthy microbial growth. Even if a given product shows the PAO symbol, you might want to mark the container with the date it was opened as a reminder.

Common sense should be exercised of course; if a product has changed in appearance or scent, or has been exposed to high temperatures, humidity or sunlight, it has likely deteriorated to the point where it should be discarded. The product may simply be no longer effective, or in the worst case, it might contain microbes that could lead to infection with continued use.

It's a good idea to get into the habit of taking inventory of your beauty products periodically. That way you can discard anything that is past its PAO date, looks or smells odd, or is just out of fashion (don't wait for a particular shade of eye shadow to become popular again – just toss it out). With a little extra diligence, you can be sure that your skin care and beauty products are safe and effective.

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