We have all been there during the day. Looking at the medicine cabinet or in the basket by the sink, and seeing a crowd of facial bottles, tubes, jars, and pots that are in various stages of use—and some that you leave and do not remember buying at all.
You know for a fact there are probably at least some of them that you should just get rid of by now, but which ones? How do you decide? How long does a skincare product really last? And why is it so hard to part with unused and probably expired ones?
Spring and fall are ideal times to tackle the task of streamlining your skincare and checking your product packaging for age and effectiveness. It is a time when you are probably already thinking about switching up your regimen for the changing seasons and buying beach-worthy facial sunscreen for the weather or a deep-hydrating treatment for winter lips. We have got some tips and suggestions to help you get organized and making the best beauty decisions for your skin.
Be strong—your skin will thank you!
If healthy skin is your goal, your best bet is to find your tried-and-true products and stick to using them on a regular schedule. You will use them up well within their peak performance so you are not wasting money, and you are not undermining your own best efforts with them that might be hurting your skin more than helping.
Anything in a pot or jar that can be touched by your fingers can get contaminated by bacteria over time. So be sure to keep an eye on its expiration date. You do not want to hinder your journey to great skin by using expired ones.
Some ingredients, like vitamin C or salicylic acid, will break down and get less effective over time.
Others, like retinols or glycolic acid, can actually intensify as they get older—risking irritation or other reactions so be wary using these if you’ve had them for long periods of time.
Any sunscreen product that may get exposed to warmer temperature extremes under the weather is at risk for becoming ineffective, exposing you to sun damage when you think you’ve protected yourself.
So the next time you are arguing with yourself over whether or not you should “just use up” that older product that still seems OK, remember that it might not even be doing anything for your skin anymore. In fact, it might be making your skin worse.
How long do skin care products really last?
For most skin care, the rule of thumb is that once opened, it will be good for 6-12 months. Obviously, if a product has changed in terms of texture, smell, or color and seems noticeably “off”, it is better to err on the careful side and throw it out. Even if it has not been 6 months.
We’ve got a few more tips for how to tell if you should toss
For any product made in the US, unless any of the ingredients are considered over-the-counter drugs by the FDA, it is not required to have an expiration date. Check the packaging! But, if there is no date and you think you have had it for a year or more, you are better off simply discarding it.
Many skin care products have a “PAO” mark or Period After Opening that looks like a pot with a number and an M, like “12M”. Search for it. That signifies how many months after you have first opened the product it should be safe for use.
Exposed products (i.e. not in a closed pump), liquids, and anything with active ingredients are likely to have a shorter shelf life. So be sure to truly incorporate those into your routine to avoid wasting money.
If it’s been exposed to extreme temperatures, like sunscreen that’s stayed in a car warmer during hot weather, unfortunately, it should be replaced sooner rather than later.
Keep it simple: If you are checking your product twice a year, use a Sharpie or a felt pen to mark the bottom of any and all that you keep. If a product has two marks when you check it, chuck it.
Sealed products that have never been opened can most likely still be used if they have been stored at room temperature and out of direct sunlight. Of course, the question begs, if you have not opened something after a year…are you really ever going to use it?
How to prolong your skin care shelf life
If you are investing in top-quality skin care, you want to make it last as long as possible! Keep your products in tip-top shape with a few of our simple tips.
- Store everything at room temperature, out of direct sunlight, and preferably in a dry spot. Yes, Instagram-worthy arrangements on windowsills or beside sinks look great, but take the shot and then move them to a more practical spot. Storing your skincare in the bathroom is the easiest spot, but as we all know, the bathroom changes temperatures and humidity which can deactivate many active ingredients and cause bacteria to grow. Skincare fridges exist for this reason!
- If your product has a pump or tip, do not touch the opening with your finger or allow it to touch other surfaces. Unclean hands are home to more bacteria than we can even imagine. If you need to clean it, use a clean tissue or an antibacterial wipe that is safe for skin.
- If it uses a dropper, let the drops fall onto your fingers or applicator—do not let the dropper touch anything and then put it back into the bottle. That will contaminate the entire bottle. If it falls, clean it with an alcohol wipe or soap and water and let it dry before putting it back in the bottle.
- Keep yours capped and closed securely between uses. This is an obvious one, but when we are in a rush, mistakes happen. If they’re are exposed, you are leaving them open to anything. Take a second to double-check.
- If the product is exposed in a jar or pot, either use a clean cotton swab or disposable/washable cosmetic spatula to scoop out what you need, or at least be sure to thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water before you dip in.
- Consider travel sizes, samples, and one-use packages for traveling. Especially by plane where recycled air can carry lots of germs. You want to avoid exposing your skincare to one of the biggest germ traps.
- Stay with a few core products rather than keeping a bunch you only use every now and then. Skin care is usually most effective when used consistently and long-term. So, instead of constantly trying the newest product, stick to what you know works for you. Before you incorporate something new, look at the ingredients, speak to an esthetician, and make sure it will benefit you and have the impact the way you hope.
Why do we do this to ourselves?
It happens to all of us—we start out with the best intentions, maybe get caught up in the buzz of a new trend, or we have a stubborn skin concern that leaves behind a trail of solutions and tips that were not suitable. On top of that, we are wired to resist losing out, so once we’ve spent that money we keep telling ourselves that we should stick it out and use them up.
But to maintain truly healthy skin, we need not just a high-quality product but one that is still fresh and that we are committed to using. Change products consistenly and make your purge a pampering by following it up with a shopping trip for replacement or upgraded ones, an esthetician consult to refresh your beauty regimen or a relaxing spa night in to enjoy the skincare you keep. You might even start to look forward to spring cleaning!
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