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When do my over-the-counter skincare products expire?
That is a really great question, one I’m asked often in my office. It’s a question that has no exact answer. We need to first back up and ask, “What does it mean to be an expired beauty and personal care product?”
The beauty and personal care products no longer work
The obvious answer is that products expire when they no longer work. But when it comes to moisturizers, how do you really know? And how old must a shampoo bottle be before it stops cleaning your hair? Products lose their effectiveness slowly over time.
How long it takes depends on the conditions under which the products are stored. Products stored on a window sill exposed to the heat of the sun become less effective sooner than the same product stored in a cool dark cabinet. You may at some point find a ten year old hair product in the back of a bathroom vanity drawer, decide to use the product because it “looks fine” and after use, realize it still works.
The beauty and personal care products are no longer pleasing to the user
Some consider products expired when the user decides they no longer enjoy using it due to aesthetic changes. For example, sometimes the color of the product changes, develops an odor, or becomes thicker or thinner than it was originally when purchased. The owner of the product may then decide it is expired. This determination is, of course, subjective as each user determines for themself whether or not they wish to continue using the product.
The beauty and personal care products become contaminated
What if the product becomes contaminated? You may notice your moisturizer or other cosmetic looks visibly overgrown with bacteria, mold or fungus. For example, you may find a green accumulation of a foul smelling substance on the rim of the jar, an obvious clue that you should discard. Unfortunately, sometimes we have no way of knowing when an item is contaminated as there are no obvious signs.
Is testing skincare products for safety mandatory?
No, testing over the counter products is NOT mandatory, unfortunately. However, selling safe products most definitely is required! Reputable manufacturers conduct stability testing to assure a product meets certain specifications. Products are tested different environmental conditions for various periods of time, with varying temperature and exposure to light to try to mimic what happens to an item once it leaves the factory. They test physical, chemical and performance characteristics of a product to determine how they changed during the study. The researchers consider characteristics like color, odor, thickness, pH and even microbial testing. A reputable manufacturer may consider a product “expired” if that product doesn’t meet one of its specifications.
The law is very clear when it comes to cosmetics. It is the responsibility of a skincare company to ensure a product is safe when used in customary conditions. Selling misbranded or adulterated products is illegal. However, there is no legal obligation to put an expiration date on a cosmetic skincare product. Due to the subjectivity of expiration date determination, manufacturers can even extend expiration dates if the product isn’t selling and inventory is high.
So how do I know when my products expire?
So when does an over the counter cosmetic expire? Nobody knows for sure. However, there are some basic product expiration guidelines. After these time periods, I recommend replacing your over-the-counter cosmetics.
- 3 months – eye makeup (especially liquid eye liner & mascara)
- 6 months – “Anti-aging” moisturizers (especially those with Vitamin C)
- 9 – 12 months – Cream color cosmetics, lip gloss
- 12 months – cream blush & foundations, powder color cosmetics, including eye shadow
- 24 months – shampoos, conditioners, body wash, moisturizers, eyeliner pencils, lipstick, powdered blush
- > 24 months – Products that appear pure (no odor, physically looks good – use at your own risk)
About the author
Fayne Frey, M.D., is a board-certified clinical and surgical dermatologist practicing in West Nyack, New York. She specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of skin cancer and is a nationally recognized expert in the effectiveness and formulation of over-the-counter skincare products. As a speaker, Dr. Frey captivates audiences with her wry observations regarding the skincare industry. She consulted for numerous media outlets, including NBC, USA Today, and, the Huffington Post, and shared her expertise on both cable and major TV outlets. Dr. Frey is the Founder of FryFace.com, an educational skincare information and product selection service website that simplifies the overwhelming choice of effective, safe and affordable products available. Dr. Frey is a fellow of both the American Academy of Dermatology and the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery.