Ask LH: Can I Still Use Expired Skincare?

Ask LH: Can I Still Use Expired Skincare?
Image: Getty

Hello! Here I am, once again, urging you to check the expiry dates on various products. Together, we’ve gone through what happens when meat, cheese and even olive oil go past their respective expiry dates. This week, however, we shall turn our attention to the big and scary world of skincare. More so, how to tell when your skincare has expired.

Believe it or not, almost every skincare product has an expiry date (or shelf life date) that you probably should abide by. I mean, it is just your skin that you’re putting these products on. It’s not like it’s the most important organ we have or anything like that.

We all know that friend (me, I am that friend) that will cling onto a product, claiming they will use it and never do. Or the friend that spent way too much money on their skincare routine so they choose to ignore the shelf life on their beloved products. Again, I am said friend. Either way, it’s important that you know when your skincare products have reached the end of their lives.

To save you from having to become an internet sleuth, this week’s Ask LH is dedicated to finding out when your beloved skincare products will likely expire. So, whether you have a twelve-step morning and night skincare routine or you have that one trusty moisturiser that you’ve held onto for a few too many years, we’ve got you covered.

Does skincare have a shelf life?

Turns out, skincare does expire. That was easy. Moving on.

Kidding! It wouldn’t be an Ask LH if I didn’t give you every single piece of information you could possibly ever need, and loads you probably don’t. But hey, it could end up being useful pub trivia knowledge one day.

According to Mecca, most skincare and beauty products will have a little jar symbol on them with a number inside said jar. This is called a PAO (period after opening), which essentially tells you how many months the products preservative system will be able to fight off bacteria at its full potential once it’s been opened.

Usually, the PAO will be 6, 12, 18 or 24.

But what happens once that number has passed? Will your face melt off?

Likely not. It just means that the preservative system that fights off that nasty bacteria will slow down until it is completely ineffective. If you’re using your skincare well past its PAO date, you are basically putting potentially harmful stuff on your face for the sake of it. Which defeats the entire purpose of skincare.

Ric Williams, who is a formulation chemist with experience in cosmetic product research and development, spoke to CHOICE about which products are more likely to expire than others. He said that skincare with high levels of ‘natural’ or ‘organic’ materials are more likely to expire. The same goes with emulsion creams, lotions and moisturisers. Oil, alcohol or wax-based products and those in pump bottles will most likely last you longer.

According to Williams, this is because these products aren’t as susceptible to bacteria exposure as the others. Factors like age, exposure to oxygen, moisture, bacteria, heat and light will have an undesirable effect on your skincare favourites. Even damaged packaging can accelerate the degradation process.

Will it do anything bad?

While your face probably won’t melt off, there are of course some consequences for using expired skincare products. In fact, some expired skincare can have some really nasty effects on your face.

Dr Sue Feng (Palmer’s Chief Scientific Officer) spoke to Mamamia and shared some pretty interesting (and gross) facts about using expired skincare. I’ll lead with the least alarming news, which is if you’ve unknowingly used expired skincare products, in many cases, nothing overly terrible will happen. Reassuring, right? Unfortunately, things get a bit grimmer from there.

Dr Feng said that in many cases, using expired skincare may have a detrimental impact on our skin. Yikes.

Because the preservative system starts to fail, that means that there is room for gross bacteria to grow within the product. Long story short: you are putting a cocktail of bacteria all over your face.

This delightfully foul mixture can lead to rashes, acne breakouts and even infections. …Which is kinda contrary to the entire point of using skincare in the first place. If this happens to you, please see a doctor immediately. Don’t try to find an Ask LH about how to help infections caused by expired skincare, I don’t have the tools to help you.

Ask LH: Can I Still Use Expired Skincare?
Image: Getty

When is it time to say bye-bye?

If you’ve just realised that you don’t want to get an infection because of your skincare, you probably want to know what the tell-tale signs are for when it’s time to say bye-bye-bye (not apologising for that) to your products.

As always, expired things often have some pretty noticeable physical signs that things aren’t the best. For skincare, that usually means changes to the smell, consistency, colour or composition. Basically, if it seems different to how it usually looks, smells or feels, you’re better off just chucking it in the bin.

Another rather obvious sign would be if you’ve slapped something on your face and it starts to burn or tingle when it’s not supposed to. That’s generally a pretty good sign that you should get rid of the product.

You will have to rely on your own spidey skincare senses (nor will I apologise for that) for when you should bid farewell to your overpriced skincare products.

Does sunscreen expire?

I know it’s hard to believe, but summer is already here. Whether that be a humid, wet girl summer (thanks to our homegirl La Nina) or a classic 35°C Aussie Christmas, sunscreen is the most important aspect of any skincare regime.  

This also means that the suspicious bottle of sunscreen that randomly appears when December rolls around each year will rear its ugly (and probably expired) head. You know, the one that’s absolutely covered in sand from last year’s beach adventures.

Once opened, sunscreen will only last six months before it loses its SPF effectiveness. So it’s pretty safe to say that sandy suspect in your cupboard is probably well beyond the point of usage.

Please, for the love of your skin, don’t use expired sunscreen. You might think you’re protecting your face from the harsh UV rays but you’re actually walking out there like a fool with a face covered in useless cream.

Speaking of sunscreen, check this out if you still don’t know how much sunscreen to use on each part of your body.

How to store your skincare

I come bearing some more bad news for you. I’m sorry to say, but you’ve been storing your skincare all wrong.

According to both Dr Feng and Ric Williams, you should be storing your skincare in a cool, dry and dark place. They both agree that keeping your skincare in the bathroom is the worst possible thing you could do. Not only is the bathroom warm and humid, everything just always seems to get wet in there. Basically, it’s the ideal condition for mould and bacteria to grow.

I can already hear people running to the bathroom to salvage their skincare babies.

Expiration date guide

Obviously, every product is unique and will have a different shelf life so it can be difficult to know exactly when it will expire. Luckily for you, CHOICE has a handy cosmetic expiration date guide for you to follow. Check it out below:

  • Aerosol products: Two years (opened or unopened)
  • Antibacterial products: Three years (opened or unopened)
  • Depilatory cream: Three years
  • Face and body moisturisers: Three years (unopened) or six months (opened)
  • Lipstick and gloss: Five years (unopened) or twelve months (opened)
  • Foundation: Three years (unopened) or six months (opened)
  • Mascara and liquid eyeliner: Three years (unopened) or three months (opened)
  • Oils and serums: Three years (unopened) or six months (opened)
  • Sunscreen: Three years (unopened) or six months (opened)

Log in to comment on this story!