How Long Is Too Long? Understand Your Products Shelf Life

How do I know when my cosmetics products will expire? What is the expiration date of my face cream? The list of questions about when cosmetics and skin care will expire will continue to be on our top 10 list of common questions.
To answer this question, it is important to note that though the FDA requires manufactures to declare information regarding product ingredients, and proper labeling and/or packaging that does not mislead, currently no requirement exists for cosmetics or skin care manufacturers to supply expiration dates. There are a few exceptions such as, products containing sun protection factors, and certain over the counter treatment type ingredients that may be in some acne and hair care products.
Knowing that expiration dates are not required on skin care and cosmetic products is highly important. Now more than ever, consumer education becomes a critical element in making sure that the skin care products you use daily are safe, free from contaminates, and not spoiled. So how long is too long, one may ask? In the age of the recessionista, skin care and cosmetics is one area you will not want to be over conservative on, don’t fall into the snare of saving your old product to save money; it’s just not worth it.
Have you ever seen the label to the right? Do you know what it means? Take a look at some of your products; you may be surprised to see it on a large portion of them. Though not required here in the U.S. many manufacturers are adopting European Union’s system for regulating open product shelf life. In the example to the right, the symbol represents a guideline of a 12 month shelf life AFTER the product has been opened. Good to know! But there is a flaw, you still have to use your noodle when it comes to product safety, so if you share products, use your fingers in products, expose them to heat or any other contamination factors, you need to be aware that your products may need to be replaced sooner, the label is just a guideline.
From a skin care perspective, some products have a one-two year shelf life before they are opened and some even longer. Once a product has been opened, shelf life varies however; it is the contamination factor that becomes an area of concern. Cosmetics shelf life also varies and I would not recommend long term unopened storage for most cosmetics. Again, once opened, the clock starts ticking, don’t let it be a bacteria time bomb! As a general rule, common sense play’s a huge part in making sure that your products are safe, there are no hard fast rules, just merely smart guidelines and suggestions.
General safety guidelines:

  • Don’t share your products with friends (avoid testers, and don’t borrow any product either, you don’t know where that product has been, that is just gross)
  • Wash your hands before use, and always keep the outside of your containers clean (I used single application alcohol swabs for my containers)
  • Store product in a cool, dry, dark place
  • Securely replace product caps, lids, or other opening device after each use
  • If your products color, consistency, smell or texture changes, throw it out (product with Vitamin C will change color if exposed to oxygen or sunlight)
  • Don’t stick your fingers in your product jars, single use applicators like a sponge, cotton swab, or a cosmetic spatula are best (no double dipping)
  • Wash your brushes at least once per month and disinfect between uses
  • Don’t expose or store your product where temperatures can heat up like in your car for example.
  • Don’t add any water, or even worse, saliva to your products (again, that is just gross)
  • Never, never, never use products in multiple areas, for example, using an eye liner simultaneously as your lip liner (gross!) germs from your mouth can transfer to your eyes
  • If you get an eye infection, don’t use any eye products and make sure you promptly toss out all product you had used before you got the infection, better to be safe than sorry!
  • If you have acne, it is extremely important that you understand that using product can not only exacerbate your concern, but applicators can become loaded with bacteria which can further spread acne to other areas of your face. Never apply product to an open lesion and always use clean fresh applicators

Mascara:                          At least every 3 mos. Dropped it? Toss it!
Eyeliner (pencil):                Sharpened daily, you can use for up to 18 mos.
Eyeliner (liquid):                 Up to 3-6 mos. Dropped it? Toss it!
Eye Shadow (cream):          Up to 6 mos.
Eye Shadow (powder):        Up to 18-24 mos.
Concealer:                        Up to 12 mos. (sooner if used up to the eye)
Foundation:                       Up to 12 mos.
Powder:                            Up to 18 mos.
Blush/Bronzer (powder):      Up to 18 mos.
Blush (cream):                   Up to 6-12 mos.
Lip Liner:                          Up to 12 mos.
Lip Stick/Gloss:                  Up to 18 mos.
Remember, to save a little money is a good thing! But whatever you do, don’t take a chance on bad product! If it smells funky, changes color or texture, toss it! Product containing natural ingredients can spoil more quickly, but colors can also vary from batch to batch, just be aware of your purchase date and the date you opened the product. Products containing Vitamin C can change color to become more amber, this is natural, BUT if you have had the product open for an extended period of time, it may be time for a replacement. My final suggestion, use a sharpie to mark the purchase dates as well as the open dates on each of your products. In the end, it could save you more money, expense and pain by reducing your risk of infection or ugly side effects associated with putting bad product on your face.
Sources: Paula’s Choice, FDA, FDA Cosmetics Guidance.

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