When you invest in your skin, it pays off in many ways. Great skincare products can be found in all price ranges, but regardless of the amount you are spending, you should be getting the most out of each one. Skin care products contain active, living ingredients and just like the food in your refrigerator, they expire.

Once products have expired, they are less effective and can be harmful depending on how old they are, what ingredients they contain and what conditions they have been exposed to. Active ingredients, including antioxidants, salicylic acids, and SPF, begin to break down and lose their ability to perform properly. And while preservatives are found in most products, and help to extend their shelf life, they too lose their effectiveness over time. Natural products have a much shorter span, and should most often be refrigerated.

If you store products in damp, warm environments, bacteria are more likely to grow. Expiration dates can also be related to the packaging. Products that are dispensed in a tube with a pump are far less likely to harbor bacteria as quickly as jarred products. To help prevent the spread and growth of bacteria, it is important to wash your hands before use and throw away any products used after an infection. 

In the United States, only over the counter (OTC) products require an expiration date. Other products will have a label called the Period After Opening (POA) date. This will be indicated by a number followed by the letter “M”. For example, a product with 12M indicates that the product is good for 12 months after opening.

The shelf life of skin care products ranges from product to product. Not all products have the POA date on the physical container (some only print it on the box) so keeping track of when you open a product is important. If the product does not have an expiration date or POA, you can safely assume 12 months for most products. The shelf life for unopened, packaged products is typically 3-5 years.

Some telltale signs of skin care gone bad can be discoloration, separation, a lumpy or grainy texture, a difference in smell, or mold formation. If you are unsure about a product, do a spot test to see how your skin reacts. For those with sensitive skin, using expired products can be more harmful due to acids and active ingredients breaking down and harming your skin. 

If a product does not look the same as it did when you bought it, it is probably best to replace it and prevent any reactions or infections.