Thursday, February 19, 2015

What is the SHELF LIFE of skin care products? And how to tell if a product has “gone bad”

What is the shelf life of products?

Every product is different, and every shelf life is different, so the answer to this question varies and is based on several factors. First, has the product been opened? Depending on how they are sealed, unopened skin care products have (or should have) a long shelf life. But at the same time, you don’t want products that have been on the shelf forever. Opened, it is really anyone’s guess how long a product will last without losing its potency. Second, has the product been exposed to heat or sunlight? This can dramatically decrease the life of a product.

Products in tubes tend to have a lower rate of bacterial infestation than products that come in jars. With jars, you are usually putting your bare fingers in each time to get out product, which may allow a lot of bacteria to enter the cream or lotion. Even though many companies provide a spatula or some type of applicator, I don’t know if anyone really uses them. In general, your opened skin care products should last at least six months to a year or even more.

Sunscreen is different. I recommend throwing any sun product away after a year. Why? I want the potency of these sun protective products to be at their peak. There is no way for the consumer to test sun products to make sure they are still potent and therefore actively helping with UV radiation. Why take the risk?

Also, if I find a sunscreen in my car and it’s not summer, I automatically toss it. Summer is over and who knows how many days this product has spent in a hot car. Buy new sun products at the beginning of spring or summer. This way you will ensure fresher ingredients in these all-important products. If you wear sunscreen on your face on a daily basis, it won’t be an issue as to whether the product is potent or not. You will naturally be going through a tube or jar of sunscreen within at least six months time.

Do be sure to keep any and all products away from direct sunlight, which can cause damage to anything if given enough time. In Sunscreen: Toss it out! (see below), I write about marking/dating your sunscreens so you know how old they are.

How can I tell if my products have “gone bad?” How long do products last?

Just like food, organic ingredients in skin care products do go bad and will let you know by emitting an unpleasant odor. The more organic and natural the ingredients are in a product, the more likely it will go bad at some point. This also depends on the preservatives used (all products contain preservatives) and if your product has been exposed to heat or direct sunlight over a period of time. So if a product smells funny, rancid, or in any other way “bad,” I wouldn’t use it anymore.

Ingredients sometimes separate (for instance creating a runny consistency), and this may be a sign that your product has gone bad. If the texture has changed from its original state (if it is now runny when it wasn’t before, or if it has hardened when it wasn’t before), it is probably time to toss it in the garbage.

The shelf life of products vary, and there is no ironclad answer as to how long a particular product will last before going bad. If products have a seal and this seal hasn’t been broken, they could last several years on the shelf without altering the ingredients. This is not always true, but I have had experience with taking products home and forgetting I had them. Then, when I moved to a new home, for instance, I found them again, unopened, and started to use them even though they were a few years old. I had no problems and the products seemed (and smelled) as though they were from a brand new shipment.

Less organic, more synthetic products (inert or inactive) could last indefinitely on the shelf. They don’t have many bacteria-forming ingredients that could cause potential damage to the product.

Obviously we all want the freshest, newest batch of products to use on our skin. But the shelf life of most products (unopened) is probably longer than you would imagine. As a general rule of thumb: Let your nose be your guide.

For more information, see: