A Handy Guide To Skincare Product Expiration Dates

A Handy Guide To Skincare Product Expiration Dates

Are you sure your skincare products are (still) safe to use?

Skincare products, just like food, are also prone to contamination and degradation.

The moment they’ve been mishandled or used way past their shelf life, their level of effectiveness will reduce, making them completely useless.

And, sure enough, that’s something you don’t want to happen, right?

Now that I have your attention, here’s a handy guide to skincare product expiration dates to help you sort out all your beauty products right away.

Ready? Let’s begin.

A Handy Guide To Skincare Product Expiration Dates
A Handy Guide To Skincare Product Expiration Dates


When to throw out: After 2 years.

Scrubs are great in removing dead skin cells so you can have a healthier, fresher complexion.
And fortunately, they last for quite a long time.

Now, listen:

Although scrubs can last for 2 years, there are things that can make degrade them quicker. One good example is the way you dispense the product.

Constantly dipping your fingers into a product allows bacterial growth. When these bacteria get in contact with your skin, having clear skin is automatically out of the question.

So, instead of buying scrubs that come in jars or tubs, go with those that are packaged in tubes.


When to throw out: After 1 to 2 years.

Sunscreens are your best friend when it comes to protecting your skin from the sun’s UV rays. They help prevent sun damage and skin cancer.

Because they are so important, you need to make sure you store your sunscreens properly.

To prevent degradation, make sure that they aren’t exposed to direct sunlight. If you will be taking one with you to the beach or camping, remember to keep it in the shade, in your cooler or you can just wrap it with a towel.


When to throw out: After 1 year.

A lot of moisturizers don’t actually tell how long you can use them so knowing when to throw them out can be tricky. As a rule of thumb, a moisturizer that has been opened for more than a year may not be as effective as when you first bought it so it’s better to just throw it away.

Moisturizers with anti-aging and anti-acne ingredients can become less effective the longer you use them. Products with oils can separate and products that come in jars can get contaminated with bacteria.

Retinoid Creams

When to throw out: After 9 months

Retinoid creams are forms of Vitamin A and are available OTC or by prescription. They work by boosting collagen production and increasing skin cell turnover.

Like with most products with active ingredients, retinoid creams can degrade faster once exposed to oxygen. So, remember to keep your creams away from direct sunlight and make sure that they are packaged in opaque tubes or bottles.

Hydroquinone Creams

When to throw out: After 2 months

These creams are for those who want to lighten or even out their complexion. They are highly sensitive to light so it’s a good idea to buy one in an airtight, pump container.

As for storage, you can keep the cream in your fridge.

Acne Products

When to throw out: After 6 months

Acne products are usually formulated with salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide. These ingredients break down quickly, making them less effective in treating your zits.

If you’re not using them, make sure to keep the products away from direct light and heat to maximize their potency. You can also keep them in your refrigerator.


When to throw out: 6 months to one year

Toners can actually last for a year. However, if yours contain vitamin C, you should expect it to have a shorter shelf life. 

Face Masks and Peels

When to throw out: After 3 months

Most facial peels contain active ingredients like fruit and glycolic acids. These work by sloughing off dead skin cells and increasing cell turnover.

Some products contain buffering ingredients to aid with exfoliation. Once these buffering agents start to evaporate or break down, they become more potent, making them more irritating.


When to throw out: After 1 year

If you want to use a cleanser while it’s at its most active, make sure it’s not a year older.

You can make sure your cleanser last long by buying one that comes in a squeeze or pump bottle. This packaging helps avoid the spread of bacteria.

You may also want to choose a cream or oil-based cleanser as it has less potential for bacterial growth than water-based products.

Bar Soap

When to throw out: After 1 year

Do you wait for your bar soap to get too small before you throw it out?

If you do, you might want to hear this gross truth first:

Bacteria can live happily on bar soaps, especially if you share them with family members or you allow them to get exposed to dirt and dust.

Although they aren’t really that harmful when you have a completely healthy immune system, the idea of using a bar soap covered with bacteria can still make one feel uncomfortable.

So, stop sharing your soap and make sure to rinse it first before spending a good 20 to 30 seconds cleaning your hands to wash off all those germs sitting on your soap.

And remember, the chemical composition of soaps can be altered with age. Old soaps may not be that effective in killing all those germs so it’s better to get a new one.

Body Lotions

When to throw out: After 1 to 2 years

Moisturizers are for the face as lotions are for the body. These products help lock in moisture and keep skin soft and supple after bathing

Unfortunately, you won’t be getting any of those moments if you use an expired body lotion.

So, to make sure yours last for one or two years, avoid keeping it near the shower or the sink as moisture can make the spoiling process faster. Instead, keep your lotion in a cool, dry place, like your makeup drawer.

Also, try to buy those that come in pump bottles. These have a longer shelf life as they’re less likely to get contaminated.

Acne Pads

When to throw out: After 2 to 3 months

Acne pads are acne cleansers for people on-the-go. These are pads drenched in a medicated solution to fight excess oil and cleanse the skin.

Unfortunately, they are prone to drying out and losing their effectiveness the moment they’re exposed to air. Make sure to store them in an airtight container and away from direct sunlight to extend their shelf life.

Eye Creams

When to throw out: After 6 months

Eye creams usually come in a jar packaging which increases their likelihood of getting contaminated. If yours has the same packaging, remember to wash your hands first before touching the product or use a clean spatula to scoop it out.

How To Tell When Your Skincare Products Expire

The tips above are just general rules. Since products differ in ingredients and formula, some may not fit those rules.

So, to help you check your skincare product’s actual expiration date, here are a few methods you can use:

Look for the expiration date on the bottom of the bottle or tube

It’s pretty obvious if you think about it.

If you want to know a product’s expiration date, you simply check its packaging. Unfortunately, not all products have dates stamped on them.



Well, because they are not legally required to do so. Only products that won’t last longer than 30 months are required to print a “use-by” date which is usually in the form of month/year.

Those without a “use-by” date should be used within three years from the time they leave their factory. Now, how can you know when they’re manufactured?

The answer is in the batch code.

There is no general rule in interpreting batch codes because manufacturers don’t use the same coding system. However, there are online tools you can use to decode the dates.

Find the PAO symbol

PAO is short for “period after opening.” Though it isn’t a 100% guarantee, the PAO symbol tells how long you can keep a product before throwing it away.

It’s pictured as an opened jar with a number or a letter inside it.

How do you interpret it?

When you see a “24M”, for example, this means that the product is good for 24 months only. A “12M” means a product can only last for a year.


Now, remember this:

The PAO symbol is usually indicated in the box. If you throw away the box, you’ll have a hard time remembering when your product will expire.

Or, even if it is on the actual product, you won’t remember when you first started using it.

So, instead of relying on the PAO, write the actual date you opened the product on its back. This is actually more helpful than a PAO date if you think about it.

Check for changes in consistency, smell and appearance

Expiration dates or the PAO symbol should only be used as a guideline. As a consumer, you should be able to tell if there’s something wrong with your product.

Use your senses of sight, smell and touch to help you with this.

Your product is probably expired if it has changed in color, texture or simply its overall feel on your skin. These are sure signs that it has gone bad and should be thrown away immediately.


Another general rule is that powders last longer and are less likely to be contaminated. So, if you’re using a liquid or emollient product, you can expect it to have a shorter shelf life.

The last guideline is to watch for “preservative-free” products. Preservatives work by extending the shelf life of a product and slowing down the growth of bacteria.

Simply put, contamination is more likely to happen on those that do not contain preservatives.

What Happens If You Use Expired Skincare Products?

Is a product’s expiration date really a big deal?

Yes, it is.

Skincare products are meant to change your skin’s appearance for the better. Using expired ones will do the exact opposite or even worse.

Not following the expiration date can put you at risk of developing irritation, breakouts and bacterial infection.


When an active ingredient breaks down, they can be highly irritating to the skin. This can cause causing swelling, blisters or even rashes on the skin.

Bacterial buildup in a product can also cause skin breakouts and eye infections.

Sounds scary, right?

Fortunately, there are things you can do to extend the shelf life of your products. Just look at the following examples:

  • Always opt for products that come in pump bottles. If your product comes in a jar, use a clean spatula to scoop it out.
  • Close the lids tightly after each use.
  • Store products in a dark, cool, and dry place. Great examples include closets, drawers, and medicine cabinets.
  • Never store products in the bathroom. The humidity can lead to the growth of yeast, mold and bacteria.


After investing a lot in skincare products, you can’t just throw them away, right?

I know it’s hard but it’s a must.

Although skincare products are meant to help your skin, there’s no guarantee that they will stay that way. With age, their ingredients can lose potency and their overall effectiveness can wear off.

And you know what’s worse?

Expired skincare products can damage your skin, too.

In the end, you might spend way more money getting your skin treated just because you neglected your products’ expiration dates.

Are you also keen on product expiration dates? How do you extend the shelf life of your skincare products? Let me know below!

Dr Kathleen May Eusebio-Alpapara

A board-certified dermatologist who practices both medical and cosmetic dermatology

Leave a Comment