As much as we’d like to say otherwise, nothing lasts forever — not even skincare products. Like most things that live in a bottle, skincare and beauty products eventually expire. Once they’re opened, air, light, and bacteria infiltrate the bottle, ultimately breaking down the integrity of the formulation inside. And even if the bottles are still sealed, variables like heat and humidity can degrade skincare formulations over time.
Expired products aren’t necessarily the end of the world, however. Even if a product is past its prime, sometimes that just means it loses a little bit of its effectiveness. An expired perfume could smell a little off, for example, or your anti-dandruff shampoo may no longer keep your mane flake-free. Other times, however, an expired product could cause skin irritation or other issues (like burning to a crisp on the beach after using expired sunscreen). The best way to avoid that from happening? Keep track of when your products expire!
Below, we’ve listed some general guidelines for determining when various cosmetic products expire. (“Cosmetics” refers to products like skincare, makeup, and hair products — it’s the official FDA term, so we’ll keep using it here).
How To Check Your Products For Expiration Dates
In the U.S., most cosmetics don’t state their expiration date. You’ll only find expiration dates printed on items that are considered drugs, like sunscreen, acne treatments, and dandruff shampoos.
If there’s no clear expiration date on a product, you can look for what’s called a Period After Opening (PAO) date. If the product contains a PAO date, you’ll see a picture of a jar with a number, followed by the letter M. So, if the jar says “24M,” it means the product will last for 24 months after being opened. Other times, the shelf life will be noted by a special (undecipherable) batch code printed on the container. You can look up these codes for major brands at CheckCosmetic.net.
Of course, you’ll also want to rely on more than labels and codes — trust your gut! Toss any product that’s changed in smell, color, or texture. It’s also good to know that natural products tend to have limited life spans, given that they’re not full of preservatives.
Another pro tip: if a product states water as its first ingredient, know its shelf life will be shorter. That’s because the water becomes a breeding ground for bacteria, which, when it comes to cosmetics, is enemy #1.
Cheat Sheet: How Long Cosmetics Last
If you’re buying cosmetics that don’t come with an expiration date, don’t worry. This list should give you a general idea of how long your products will last.
Moisturizers, face creams, and eye creams:
Six months to one year. It’s risky to use them past that time, given that irritation and possible bacterial infections can occur after they’ve expired. Creams that come out of a pump are less likely to be exposed to bacteria, but creams in jars should be tossed after six to nine months.
One year. Sunscreen is one of the few cosmetics regulated by the FDA, so it comes with a firm expiration date. Store your sunscreen in a cool, dry place out of direct sunlight to prevent the formula from destabilizing.
Anti-aging and anti-acne products:
Up to one year, depending on the ingredients. Anti-acne products containing benzoyl peroxide, for example, have a shelf life of about three months after they’re opened. Products with antioxidants such as retinol, glycolic acid, and vitamin C also break down more quickly when exposed to the elements.
Shampoos, conditioners, and hair styling products:
One to two years opened, three years unopened. Water and air will find their way into the bottles once opened and eventually degrade the formulas.
Loofah and bath sponges:
Three weeks for loofahs, seven weeks for sponges, eight weeks for poufs. That may seem pretty short, but given their material and moisture levels, these products are hotbeds for bacterial growth.
Three years, according to manufacturers — for both bar and liquid soaps. Yes, even soaps can expire, particularly if they contain essential oils. Even though some bars seem to last forever, it’s best to throw them away if they’re cracked and dried up!
Perfume and cologne:
Two years. And yes, while the bottles look lovely glinting in the sun on your top shelf, keep them away from sunlight and humidity. They’ll last longer and retain a fresher scent.
Mascara and liquid eyeliner:
Three months. Replace these products every season, and toss them even sooner if they're dried out or if you’ve had an eye infection.
Liquid foundation and concealer:
Six months to one year.
Powder-based cosmetics (like eyeshadows and powder foundation):
Two to three years.
Lipsticks and glosses:
Two to three years. If you’ve had a cold sore, toss your lip products sooner.
Eye and lip pencils:
Three to five years. Sharpen before use to preserve them!
How To Store Your Cosmetics Properly
Though they will go bad eventually, cosmetics retain a healthier shelf life if they’re stored properly. To make them last as long as possible, store your products away from heat, sunlight, humidity, and air. You may also consider buying products that come in pumps, rather than jars.
Also, make sure your hands are clean before use, so you don’t contaminate your products!