We know how exciting it can be to bring home a new beauty product. From a silky texture or radiance-boosting glow to a how-did-I-live-without-this hue, beauty products are, for many of us, happiness in a bottle (or jar). In fact, we tend to love them so much that we often reach for them long after we should—and forget how important it is to practice vigilance when reaching for them at all. We’re delving into the wild world of product expiration dates—also known as shelf life— and beauty product best practices for ways to keep your favorite items functioning at their highest, safest levels. Read on for our top tips…
Shelf Life, Explained
Whether you’re using sunscreen, medication, conventional personal care products or are a clean beauty convert, your products are only as safe as their “shelf life.” A shelf life is simply the length of time your product will perform as promised in a safe, effective manner.
Expiration dates vary depending on the type of product you’re using, the preservatives used in the formula and how it’s used or kept—and because there are no FDA regulations or requirements governing shelf life, brands can send their products out into the world without listing expiration or “use by” dates. Even if products do have a date or a PAO (period after opening) symbol—a jar icon with a “6M” (number of months) imprinted within the jar—these dates serve as a suggestion, as a product can spoil sooner (or a little later) than the date on the label, depending on how it’s stored.
This can make shelf life feel like an arbitrary guessing game…but we’re cracking the code to ensure your products perform to the best of their promised abilities without becoming unsafe for you to use.
Top 6 Tips for Keeping Products Safe & Working Well
- Storage Matters. How you store your products makes a huge difference in how they perform and how long they last. You may have noticed your clean beauty products are often sold in miron—deep blue glass—or amber bottles to protect the essential oils and botanical essences from light, which can negatively affect product potency. Just as light can be detrimental to delicate formulas, so can heat and humidity break down or even spoil the balance or efficacy of skincare, makeup, sunscreen or medication. “Store in a Cool Dry Place” is a preferred method of storage for a reason: It helps ensure your products stay safe, from the shelf to your skin.
- Apply with (Really) Clean Hands. This may seem like a no-brainer, but having clean hands is a crucial part of maintaining a stable shelf life! While we may start applying our products with clean hands, our best intentions can be waylaid simply by reaching for our phone (a notorious germ carrier) to check a text, then continuing on with our routine. But dipping dirty fingers into products can put them at risk for bacteria, microorganism or fungi. Always make sure your hands are clean when applying your favorite products. Better yet? Reach for a clean mini spoon or Q-tip to scoop out product to avoid cross contamination.
- Respect the Expiration Date. As we’ve mentioned, expiration dates aren’t an exact science—they can vary depending on how, when and with what you’re using and storing your products. Still, there are some rules of thumb we like to adhere to in an effort to keep our products safe…especially the products we use near our eyes. Mascara, eye cream or eyeliners and shadows have shorter shelf lives, and for good reason. Our delicate eyes deserve to be bacteria-free!
Pay attention to when you’ve opened each of your personal care products and when they should be tossed. We like labeling ours with a Sharpie to make sure we’re keeping up to (expiration) date. This will help avoid skin irritations, rashes and infections in the long run.
And don’t forget that your clean beauty products can be likened to food: When properly stored, they can last a bit longer, but natural items will always expire quicker than preservative-laden ones.
- Be Selfish. Mom was right: Sharing makeup or products is never a good idea. Ever. Go ahead and share your clothes with friends, but keep your products to yourself to ensure they stay safer, longer.
- Water Won’t Work. Adding water to a product to get a few extra drops out of it or help it blend better may seem innocuous enough, but where there is water, bacteria follows…especially in clean formulas made without conventional preservatives. Never add water (or saliva!) to your applicator, makeup brush or the formula itself—conventional or clean.
- Use Your Senses. Sight and smell go a long way in telling you what you need to know about your product’s shelf life. Are you detecting a slight change in smell? Has the color or texture changed, or are you seeing signs of separation? If you’ve answered yes to any of the above, it’s time to toss your product. Your skin will thank you for paying attention!