Product Expiration Dating & Shelf Life

Most of us have more skincare products than we can actually use in a lifetime, so it’s important be aware that they don’t last forever. With the latest Dermstore haul collecting dust in your beauty cabinet it’s vital to ask, how long do skincare products really last?

This number indicates the number of months the product is good for after opening.

Shelf Life

“Shelf life” generally refers to the length of time a product is expected to remain stable; look and act as expected and stay safe for use when stored as directed. This length of time varies depending on the product, how it is stored and how it is used. Some manufacturers provide expiration dates or “best by” dates stamped right on the bottle. Products sold in Europe and the US will have a number within an open jar symbol indicating the number of months the product is good for after opening.

If it isn’t clear, most products offer 12 months of safe use unless otherwise stated on the packaging but use your best judgement. Also, don’t be afraid to contact a manufacturer if you have specific questions about their product. Especially if a brand doesn’t use preservatives, you can ask for information on proper storage and shelf life if it’s not clearly stated on the packaging. In general, products that don’t use preservatives will have a much shorter shelf life than those that do.

While the FDA does not require manufacturers to provide expiration dates or that products have specific shelf lives, there are some general guidelines you can follow to ensure the safety of your products.

Getting the Most Out of Your Products

  • Identify labeled expiration dates. Self-explanatory, toss after the expiration date.

  • Write ‘open dates’ on the bottom of the jar or bottle with a permanent marker. Even knowing the shelf life is useless if you can’t recall when you opened the product. If the permanent marker tip doesn’t work for the techy in you, there’s an app for that - Well-Kept Beauty App (WKB). WKB will track open dates and expiration dates with push notifications right on your cell phone.

  • Storage. Keep products stored in a cool dry place with caps closed tight away from light (sunlight too) and heat. Active ingredients and preservative systems can be compromised and start to break down faster when exposed to heat, light and air.

  • Clean, dry hands. It’s good practice to ensure your hands are clean when using fingers to get jar-based products.

When to Toss It

Note that expiration dates are simply "rules of thumb", and a product’s stability may decline before the expiration date - especially if the product hasn’t been stored properly. If any product changes consistency, color or scent, it’s time to trash it.

Any item that's packaged as a single-use product—an ampoule, mask pod, etc—needs to be tossed immediately after the first use. If there are leftovers after application to your face, make sure you are applying to neglected areas like the neck, chest and hands.

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© 2019 NIA EL-AMIN