Expired! Is Your Skincare Product Past Its Prime?

Expired! Is Your Skincare Product Past Its Prime?
Woman looking at skincare products.

"Waste not, want not” is a relatively good rule of thumb, but your skincare cabinet is neither the time nor the place. We’re about to lay down some soul-searing truth about the expiration dates on your favorite skincare products, and it’s in your best interest to pay attention.

Certain skincare products—particularly those geared towards anti-aging—contain active ingredients that are surprisingly sensitive to outside environmental elements. Things like oxygen, light, heat, maybe even a sternly worded email, can cause your product to break down, depleting them of their potency. These same environmental factors can also cause any protective buffering agents in certain products to dry up, leaving your dermis open to damage from an ingredient being too strong. The passage of time (and use) can even turn your once pristine product into a breeding ground for bacteria. We don't imagine you'd like to slather bacteria over your face. And we didn’t even touch on the effect that certain types of packaging has on a product's life expectancy. It seems that the expiration date you’ve been diligently ignoring is pretty darned important after all. And in honor of that, we’re offering up a handy-dandy guide on just how long you can expect your relationship with some of the most popular skin treatment products to last and when it might be time to wish them well, and send them on their way… to the trashcan.

A scant 2 months:

Some of the most sensitive skincare ingredients are those in skin lightening products, and we're going to pick on one in particular—hydroquinone. Commonly used to treat melasma, age-spots, acne-scarring, hyperpigmentation and other discolorations on the skin, hydroquinone-based products aren’t exactly known for their shelf-life. These products typically start to show their age (by turning brown—ahem) after about 2 months, at which point you can assume that your product has lost its potency. Skin lightening hydroquinone products packaged in airtight, opaque pumps can help reduce oxidation and allow you to squeeze a bit of extra life out of it, but when it comes time to say goodbye, it’s best to simply toss it.

2 - 3 months:

We love those convenient acid-based skin peels, masks and wipes as much as the next person, but it seems that not even they are immortal. *sob. Products containing alpha hydroxy acid, fruit acids or glycolic acids, widely used in the treatment of scarring, fine lines and wrinkles, discolorations and even general skin tone, can begin to break down in as little as 2 - 3 months. It seems the buffering ingredients in acid-based products dissipate with time, leaving the all-powerful acid product to do with your complexion what it will—even damaging your skin. While you could go completely rogue and experience nothing worse than diminished results, slathering on expired acid-based products could also leave you with a negative skin reaction—irritation, rashes, breakouts or worse. Purchasing acid-based products in pre-packaged, individual wipes might buy yourself a little more time, but a general rule of thumb is: if your product has reached the end of its life-cycle, bury the body and move on. Or something like that.

4 - 6 months:

If the point of your acne product is to reduce irritation, discoloration and breakouts, you’d be wise to ditch your benzoyl peroxide- and salicylic acid-based skincare products when they’ve lingered longer than 6 months in your skincare cabinet. These types of products can decay quickly, and after a while, you may find that your results aren’t quite up to snuff. Do you really want to waste more time diligently applying an expired pimple-fighter that can no longer do what it's meant to? Probably not.

9 - 11 months:

Touting a longer shelf-life than the other favorites on this list, retinoids are still a relatively unstable lot. Like their counterparts, these products can be rendered useless by environmental factors like heat, light and oxygen, so where you store them (opt for a cool, dark-ish dry place), the packaging they come in (opt for a dark glass or opaque plastic container), and whether or not you screw the lid on effectively can all play a part in your product's effectiveness or lack thereof. While an expired retinoid will probably not cause any damage to your skin, zero results from an expired retinoid will do a number on your psyche. So let's just avoid that, shall we?

A visit with your doctor is always your best resource for any anti-aging or skin condition treatments. They’ll also be able to provide alternative treatments like laser therapy or chemical peels to treat unwieldy skin conditions.

Listen, we get it. The temptation to eek out one. more. use. is strong. Should you see: A lack of result? Marie Kondo that thing. A change in color? Toss it. A change in texture? Chuck it. Separation? Trash it. A change in smell? Ew… really? All that means your product's magical powers are pooped. And, we shouldn’t have to say this one but, should you notice black, fuzzy spots in your product that’s probably a sign that it’s become a cesspool of bacteria. Don't make us say it. Kindly deposit said product in the trash.