​Shelf Life: When do your beauty products expire?

There are a lot of women out there that are doing the current Kon Marie trend in minimizing and throwing out or giving away excess in their homes, but what about makeup, skin care and shower products? When are they too old to be safely used, and when should they just be pitched into the trash or recycling? Using products that have expired can mean exposing your skin to bacteria, mold and yeast, which can result in eye or skin reactions, infections and worse. Let’s look at what you may have hiding in your makeup drawers, cosmetic zippered bags, and lurking under your bathroom sinks, and see what can be tossed now to keep you safe.

Dates Marked on the Container

Generally speaking, most items that we put onto our skin, be it makeup or skin care products like cleansers and moisturizers, and should have markings on them with expiration or “best by” dates. Sometimes there are actual batch numbers, with a “best by date”. These may be affixed with a sticker or printed onto the bottom or side or back of a container. Another symbol appearing more and more these days is the international “open container” sign. It looks like a picture of an opened cosmetic container, with numbers like “6 months” written on it. When you see the international open container sign with a 9 on it, it means nine months. This means that after you have opened the container, it should be used up within 6 months. That being said, cosmetics and skin care in particular, do not have an open ended expiration. If you purchase a face cream in January, and it has a shelf life of about a year, and you open it in December, you may already be gambling with the open container expiration date of 6 months. Here are some additional tips and information you can use to identify what is “off”.

What to Look For

  • If a product looks different than it was originally, toss it. Products, such as creams that looked white, should not suddenly look yellowed, or be separating into a watery section and a solid section. Toss that!
  • If a product changes in scent, or begins to smell sour, it is probably ready to throw into the trash. A cream that smelled like lavender should not suddenly smell like old yogurt.
  • If you have experienced an infection in your eyes, you are well to toss things like mascara that have come into contact with the infected area.

General Rules for Cosmetics and Skin Care Shelf Life


After cleansing, moisturizers are the number one skin care product used by women once or twice a day. In the parabens preservative days, moisturizers lasted a long time, but now with a trend towards more natural skin care, most moisturizers are only good for about a year. It all depends upon the preservative system, and the way it has been formulated.

With moisturizers, look on the bottom for an expiration date or the open container sign. If there is nothing noted, then assume that once you open the container you are good for about 9 months to a year, depending upon the brand and the preservatives used. Please note that refrigeration will do nothing to extend this date.

Shelf Life: Look for changes in color, texture and smell. If you are storing it as moisturizers should be stored (out of direct sun, and closed at all times), you have a better chance of keeping it for a year. If you see any changes, it is time to return the product, or throw it away before you regret keeping it!


There are many kinds of serums. There are ones which are oil, and these may have a shorter shelf life, depending upon the oil. There may also be light weight eye creams that are marketed as serums, like Awaken Revitalizing Eye Serum. This fantastic serum is a powerhouse of food for the cells. Serums can make a big difference in your complexion and texture, as well as moisturization. Serums can stand alone, like the Awaken, or they can be layered as in a facial serum, which would be applied before a moisturizer.

Shelf life: Each type of serum is unique, and some ingredients, like vitamin C, may lose potency over time. Awaken, for example, uses a wonderful blend of probiotics and natural preservatives, and is packaged in an airless pump to extend the life. Most serums are good for about a year, but check dates to be sure. With serums in airless pumps, you are best to go by the date, because sometimes it is difficult to see the product. When you dispense out of an airless container you can still check for texture and scent changes, but keeping fingers out of a container is really one of the best ways to keep bacteria out of the serum.


There are about a gazillion different types of masks out on the market, as they are a very popular trend, and great for the skin. There is no set rule for the life of a mask, as they may be gel based, cream based, oil based, water based, clay based etc. The easiest mask to become contaminated with bacteria is a clay mask. Many people do not realize that clay is basically dirt that has been in the Earth for centuries. It has to be sterilized before use, and that is only the beginning of the problems in formulating with clay. When we preserve products, clay becomes a hurdle because by nature it wants to absorb the preservative unevenly throughout the product. One area of a jar of clay mask may be perfectly preserved, and another area may be unpreserved. A great deal depends upon who has made it, has it been initially sterilized (usually with radiation or heat), and what type of formula has been created with it. The safest way to use clay is actually to buy reputable clay that has been cleaned, and mix it as you use it with your cream or toner, etc. to create a paste. It is the process of adding clay to a cream that sets off a bacteria smorgasbord. Please see the notes under “final thoughts” below.

Shelf Life: Most packaged masks will have a best by, and there are many now that are sold as an individual one-time use mask. Those are usually quite safe because they are single use, and bacteria have no time to grow. Most natural masks that are sold in jars will be about a 6 month expiration date, and we recommend that you stick by that date.


We are entering the summer months, and although you should wear sunscreen year round when outside, these months are when most people wear it more often. Most people do not apply enough sunscreen, so please remember that you need a good thick coating of it for it to protect your body and face.

Shelf life: There are many different types of sunscreen, but most of them are good for about two years. If you take your bottle into the sun, or on a beach outing regularly, your shelf life will shorten as the active ingredients break down with heat. It may also cause your sunscreen to separate. If you start to see it separating, or are unsure of its age, toss it quickly! Because sunscreen is such an important protector for our bodies from serious things like cancer, it is always better to err on the side of caution and buy a new bottle every summer.

Shampoo and Cleansers

Of all skin care or cosmetics, shampoos and facial washes and soaps last the longest. In order to keep your shampoo or facial cleanser fresh, make sure to keep them sealed and your hands out of the bottles. Do not be tempted to dilute them with water. The second that you add tap water to anything, you have just added bacteria to something that has been carefully formulated to be bacteria free.

Shelf Life: Handmade cleansing bars, like Calm Facial Bar, are actually good for about three years. Other cleansers may be closer to a year depending upon their ingredients, but almost all shampoos are good for at least two years. When in doubt, toss it out, if it starts to get black mildew, smells or looks different than it was before, and look for expiration dates marked on the containers.

Powdered foundation, blush or eye shadows

One of the longest lasting products in your bathroom is your powdered eye shadows, blushes and mineral powdered makeup. The trick to keeping these lasting for years is using only clean brushes to apply them. An old trick from the trade is that if you take your powdered shadows outside, use clean cotton balls to wipe the surface with 70% isopropyl alcohol, and then let them sit in the sun for a half an hour, they will be good as new. As long as no water from the tap sits on them, or oils from the skin change the powdered look, color or texture, you can do this cleaning method and keep your powders for 3-5 years. Keep your brushes clean by washing them with soap and water, and placing in the sun, or use a brush cleanser, and dry them before use.

Liquid Foundations and Cover-up

The shelf life on foundations and cover up sticks and creams can vary, and it all depends upon how you use it. If you use clean hands, apply your foundation liquid directly onto your hands, and use a clean makeup sponge, a foundation may remain uncontaminated and fill out a full one year expiration date. Many people, however, apply their sponge directly to the bottle, then use the sponge and toss it onto their counter to use again tomorrow. While they are off at work, or grabbing a latte, bacteria is beginning to grow. In this way, foundation can go off very quickly. Likewise with foam applicators that we use to apply cover up on top of a blemish. Most blemishes will have bacteria from acne, which is then transferred to the foam applicator, and then dunked back into the applicator tube. In this way, bacteria are introduced not only to the tip, but to the bottle. Most preservatives will fight off the bacteria for a certain period of time, but keep an eye on how you are using your products, and you can safely extend the time in which you use them.

Shelf life: As a general guideline, go for 6 months to a year for your foundation to expire, assuming you have taken care to use it properly. If you actually dunk your fingers into a pot of foundation or cover up, it may be 3-6 months. If you use a properly preserved foundation, use great care, and keep your fingers out of it, you may be ok for one year. Foundation is another product that can be affected and separate if it is in sunlight or heat, so use care when storing your product.


Mascara has a reputation that precedes itself. Everyone knows how easily it can be contaminated. More than any other makeup, mascara is the most dangerous in terms of spoilage. Not only that, we use it on our eyes, which are the most easily infected areas of our face. The biggest danger with mascara is the application process. It is applied to our eye lashes, then is dunked back into the tube, where it can grow a bacteria and yeast party. Some of the new mascaras on the market that are more natural are really only good for 3 months. Some of the older, more seriously preserved mascara are still only good for 6 months.

Shelf life: If you use it every day, please change your mascara every 3-6 months. If you see that it is getting clumpy, has been exposed to air, or if you have used it while your eye has been infected, pitch it ASAP and get another. It is not worth the risk.

Final Thoughts

Please remember when you are at a health food store or looking at natural skin care products online, that everything containing water, aloe, honey, hydrosols (water-based extracts), or other water-based liquids need to be properly preserved. Preservatives are not a negative…they are a necessity to keep us safe. So, just a word on the side here to beware of facial masks that have clay in them, which have ingredients like “clay, water, aloe, honey, and essential oils” but name no preservative. There is a reason why our skincare products need to be made the way that they are, preserved adequately, and then used properly. Ask anyone who has suffered a pink eye infection if they would change their mascara more frequently if it would help them never get an infection again, and they would most likely agree: it’s not worth the risk. Buy new mascara!

When you purchase your cosmetics, make a habit of double checking the container for your expiration date. Occasionally you may find a company that has only put their expiration date on the outer box, and not directly onto the bottle. Even though they are supposed to mark both, sometimes companies do not do this, and it is worth the time to check, before you throw away the box. Do yourself a favor and make a periodic check on your products, and make sure that they have not expired. You don’t have to clean them out weekly, like the vegetables in the refrigerator, but certainly every three months or so is a good idea to remain safe.

If you have any questions or comments, we would be happy to answer you personally! Please contact us at info@ayrskincare.com.