Expiration Station: How Long Will my Skincare Product Last?

Expiration Station: How Long Will my Skincare Product Last?
Expiration Station: How Long Will my Skincare Product Last?

While “waste not, want not” is a relatively good rule of thumb, your favorite skincare product likely has a life expectancy. Certain products — particularly those geared towards anti-aging, contain active ingredients that are surprisingly delicate. Things like oxygen, light and heat can quickly deplete your potion of its magical powers, leaving it useless in the battle against wrinkles, sagging, acne and other less-than-desirable skincare foibles. Without an expiration date stamped clearly on the packaging, it’s often difficult to tell if your favorite product is rolling into expiration station — so we thought we’d assist with a rule of thumb guide on just how long your skin care product can be expected to retain its potency.

Let’s start with skin lightening products, particularly those that contain hydroquinone. Hydroquinone-based products typically start to show their age and turn brown after about 2 months, which means the product has likely lost its potency. Buying products that are packaged in an airtight, opaque pump will help squeeze some extra life out of it by keeping out light and air (which can cause oxidation), but using any product that has changed color is probably not a great idea.

The convenient swipe-on pads containing glycolic peel treatments and some acne treatments also typically conk out around the two-month mark by simply drying up. You can buy a little extra time by buying products whose swipe-on pads are individually packaged.

On the opposite end of products losing their potency, are those that become more potent — potentially too potent. The buffering agents in certain jar and tube-based peels and masks are prone to start evaporating, making those that contain active ingredients like glycolic and fruit acids more powerful and potentially irritating to the skin. Three months is a good rule of thumb for these types of products.

Acne products containing benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid decay almost as quickly, with their potency clocking in between four to six months. And retinoid creams offer up even more time than that, with their collagen-inducing powers staying at maximum potency for between nine to eleven months.

At the end of the day, the decision to toss your skincare product is up to you. Beware of certain tell-tale signs that your product’s magical powers are pooped out (and likely a breeding ground for bacteria — _ew!)):

1. A change in color: If it’s gone yellow or brown, it’s time to toss it.
2. A change in smell: This should be self-explanatory — toss it.
3. Separation: If your product has separated into layers — toss it.
4. A change in texture: Lumpy or thick — should be tossed.
5. Black, fuzzy spots: MAYDAY! Using a product that is showing signs of bacterial contamination can lead to infection. Toss it.

About the Author

Corrie Shenigo is obsessed. No seriously, she has a problem. Gleefully embracing all things even remotely related to being a modern woman, Ms. Shenigo dutifully reports her experiences and findings back to the fairer sexed masses – ‘cause gosh darn-it, they need to know. 

Yes, yes… she’s qualified. A former Editor at luxe mega-publisher Modern Luxury Media, Corrie has been published in Vogue, In-Style, Cosmopolitan, LemonTree and a whole slew of other print magazines, websites and beauty, fashion and lifestyle blogs, as well as her own blog BelleAesthete.com A skilled copywriter, Corrie’s clients have included noted beauty brands like Smashbox, CrushCrush Couture and Market America. She’s been known to moonlight as a red-carpet reporter for various celebrity news sources and somewhere in her studio lives a shiny B.A. in Mass Media-Journalism and Public Relations. 

Covering lifestyle, beauty and fashion isn’t just her job… it’s an adventure. So consider her the Christopher Columbus of women’s media – exploring, taking notes and reporting directly back to the Queen… ahem… that would be you.