If only your favorite skincare products came in a bottomless container that never ran out — like some fishes-and-loaves miracle. In reality, we may be better off with our petite pots of creams and serums because newsflash: Skincare goes bad!
All good things, even when it comes to skincare, have an expiration date. So to get the most benefit (and to avoid any adverse reactions to expired skincare), it’s important to stay (semi) vigilant on the use-by dates of your skincare products.
Meet the Experts
Sherry Sanvictores, MSN, NP, is a dermatology nurse practitioner.
Here are some ways to know whether your skincare has expired, how to help your skincare products last as long as possible, and when to throw skincare products away.
Do skincare products really expire?
Yes, all your beauty products have an expiration date. Skincare products have a varying shelf life, the amount of time the product can be stored before it starts to lose its effectiveness. Many skincare products will have a PAO (period after opening) symbol stamped somewhere on the container. It looks like an open container top with a number inside. This will tell you how many months or years your product will last after opening it.
Skincare can last two to three years when it’s not opened, but once you’ve broken that seal, there’s a ticking clock on the effectiveness of your skincare product — usually up to a year.
“Over-the-counter and prescription-grade products like Retin-A all have expiration dates, and you should adhere to them,” says dermatology nurse practitioner Sherry Sanvictores, MSN, NP. “After about a year, the product’s bioavailability isn’t as good. It probably loses about 10% of its potency, so you should toss it.”
Here are a few guidelines on how long skincare lasts once it’s been opened.
- Cleansers: 1 year
- Toners: 6 months to one year
- Serums & Moisturizers (face and body): 6 months to one year
- Sunscreens: Up to three years
Remember that all-natural products have little to no preservatives, so will not last nearly as long — and will need to be replaced more frequently.
How to know if your skincare product has expired
So you didn’t pay attention when you opened your moisturizer? Telltale signs your skincare product has expired are changes in “color, texture, or fragrance,” says Sanvictores.
A product was once clear or white and now looks yellow or discolored? Expired. It used to be smooth and creamy, but now it’s clumpy or separated? Expired.
“Sunscreen can get watery when it’s expired, so throw it away and replace it immediately,” says Sanvictores. “You don’t want to risk sun damage because of expired sunscreen.”
Here’s a tip to help you keep track of your PAO dates: Take a marker and write the opening date onto the container or if you’re super-organized, make a document on your phone or computer that lists all your skincare products and the date you opened them.
Sure, it’s a little Monica from Friends, but you and your skincare deserve it.
What about old, unopened skincare products?
“If it’s unopened, you can use it a year beyond its expiration date,” advises Sanvictores. “But again, it may have lost about 10% of the bioavailability of its active ingredients. There’s also an issue over whether the vehicle ingredients that support the active ingredients in penetrating the skin have gone bad. Don’t risk it because it could irritate and cause contact dermatitis.”
If you’ve been using an expired skincare product and have any adverse reactions like redness, rash, or other allergic reactions, throw the product away and call your dermatologist.
What’s the best way to extend the life of your skincare?
It’s all in how you store your skincare and how you use your products.
Keep your products in a cool, dry place.
Light, heat, and humidity will degrade your skincare products more quickly. So keep them away from your steamy showers and any sunny windows. Consider investing in a skincare fridge!
Use a spatula for products in jars.
Sticking fingers into jars adds microorganisms like mold and yeast into your product, i.e., contaminating your skincare. This could lead to skin irritation or infection when you put the contaminated skincare on your face. For example, our C.E.O. Afterglow Brightening Vitamin C Gel Cream comes with a handy spatula to avoid the likelihood of bacterial contamination of your product. Make sure to clean your spatula after use, too, and if you need to use your fingers, wash your hands beforehand.
Close caps and lids tightly.
After using your skincare product, make sure you’ve sealed it shut to keep out moisture and bacteria.
When in doubt, throw it out.
While it’s a bummer to toss a half-full container of your favorite skincare product, it’s also not worth a breakout or an allergic reaction. Think of this as a reason to apply your skincare daily and be as liberal with your products as you want!
We only recommend products we have independently researched, tested, and loved. If you purchase a product found through our links, Sunday Edit may earn an affiliate commission.