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A Guide to Skincare Shelf Life

Skincare products don’t last forever. When it comes to skincare, it’s not a good idea to store products you’re not using for long periods of time because the ingredients degrade gradually and can lose effectiveness, or even harm your skin when applied.

If your to-do list includes revamping your skincare cabinet and you just can’t seem to decide which products outside of your normal routine should stay or go, here’s how to decide which products should make the cut:

Check the expiration date.

Not all skincare products are labeled with an expiration date, and even if they do, they’re not always the most reliable. But expiration dates are a good indicator for how long you may have owned the product and how long its projected shelf life is. Active ingredients become ineffective over time and expiration dates indicate how long the active ingredients in the formula are likely to be effective. Expiration dates for certain products, such as sunscreens, acne products, and prescription products, should be strictly adhered to. However, if stored properly, some products like moisturizers and cleansers might still perform past the expiration date. 

Check the product.

A general rule of thumb: If the product looks different than when you first opened it, toss it. 

If there is any change in texture, color, smell or if the product begins to separate, toss it. Use your senses to determine if the product has past its prime.

For example, Oil-based products begin to smell “off” when they expire because oils go rancid over time when their chemical bonds become compromised by oxidation and light. Bad oils smell like melted crayons- a plasticky-chemical scent. If you notice an odor in your facial oils, throw them away.

You may also notice a change of color in your products over time. Some products, such as vitamin C, become discolored once it has been exposed to air or expires. Ingredients begin to oxidize when exposed to air and can turn a yellow-brown color. 

Hot Tip: It’s especially important to keep an eye on your sunscreens because SPF is such a must. If you use sunscreen past its date or once it develops an irregular consistency or color, you leave your skin vulnerable to UV damage, premature aging, dehydration, and skin cancer.

On Maintaining Product Shelf Life:

If a product is stored incorrectly, bacteria can thrive within the container, especially in hot, humid environments like your bathroom (if exposed to the humidity from your shower).

To Prevent Contamination:

  • Climate and humidity will shorten a product's shelf life, store your products in a cabinet or drawer to decrease exposure to heat, humidity, or excess cold. 
  • Wash your hands before using products.
  • Secure the cap on your products after each use.

Generally speaking, how long does each product last?

Most opened products lose their effectiveness after one year and some even sooner. See below for some guidelines on each product type's shelf life.

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