So THAT's Why You Should Never Use Expired Skincare Products

Kiehl's explains all this National Hygiene Week.
J_art via Getty Images

Look, I’m a sucker for skincare. Hyaluronic acid this, glycolic acid that – I’m obsessed. But like so many others, I’m more than guilty of hoarding products in my own collection down to the sole fact that I paid my hard-earned money for them and I hate seeing things go to waste.

So you can probably imagine the amount of skincare I have in my collection that’s probably past its expiry date. It’s National Hygiene Week (2nd – 8th Oct) and Kiehl’s Skincare Experts have recently shared how to tell whether it’s time to throw your beloved skincare items out.

“Using expired products may not only be less effective than usual, but they could also be a breeding ground for bacteria and increase your risk of skin irritation,” Kiehl’s says.

“Different formulas will have different expiration dates, but one thing is for certain – all skincare products have a shelf life.”

Can your skincare products expire?

“Products naturally degrade slowly over time even when stored correctly. Some last longer than others depending on the ingredients, preservatives in the formula and the way they’re packaged,” Kiehl’s explains.

“If you’re suddenly getting itchy from a product you’ve had for a while it’s definitely time to let go and bin it.”

Nada Ward, the founder of solid soap company Beauty Kin explains products like skincare and makeup expire due to the active ingredients that are in them. “These kinds of ingredients can encourage faster bacteria growth which, if applied to the face, can cause reactions such as irritation or redness,” she adds.

How do I know they’re expired?

“Here in the UK, you’ll find a little tub and lid printed onto all skincare products, this is a PAO symbol (period after opening) and it typically has a 6m or 12m detailed next to it.”

You’re probably asking when the PAO clock starts ticking down? Nico Shaw Núñez, Head of International Growth and Regulatory Services at the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Perfumery Association (CTPA) explains that it’s from the very first time you open them.

“The PAO clock starts ticking because you start to introduce those microorganisms. How? Through everyday use. For example, when you put your toothbrush at the end of the toothpaste tube. Dip your fingers in your favourite shave cream. Or add an applicator brush to your blusher.”

What if there’s no expiry?

“Occasionally there’s no expiry PAO if products are from the US or elsewhere or if you can’t remember when you opened it,” Kiehl’s explains. “Use your senses to get an idea – is the smell a bit funky? Is the colour different? Sometimes expired products will separate, or the texture might change significantly.

If you’re a fan of natural skincare, you might have realised you’re having to replace your skincare products more often.

“Natural oils and butters can oxidise and develop changes in odour and appearance pretty quickly if not formulated with an effective antioxidant,” shares Jim Hammer, a cosmetic chemist and the founder of Mix Solutions.

What’s the risk?

“First up, they won’t be as effective. Active ingredients break down over time and there’s potential for chemicals to alter,” Kiehl’s explains.

“Sunscreen, for example, should never be used after its expiration date as it simply won’t provide the protection advised and could leave you in danger of sun damage.”

They further explain that expired products will also become full of bacteria and transferring them to your skin might cause redness, a mild rash, or even an eye infection: “If you have sensitive skin, then you’ll want to be extra vigilant.”

Can different products show different signs?

“Yes, it all depends on formulation, temperature, time and physical stress.”

Kiehl’s also mention that water-based products are way more prone to bacterial growth compared to oil-based products due to them being more prone to bacterial growth.

“Products made up of almost no water (such as powders) last the longest, because almost nothing can grow in these kinds of products. Lastly, if your product is labelled “preservative-free” you should definitely take extra caution, because without some kind of preservative system bacteria can flourish easily,” leading skincare brand Paula’s Choice explains.

How should I store my products?

Kiehl’s adds that while expiry dates are useful, they’re only as good as your storage conditions. So you’ll probably be as shocked and confused as I was when I tell you that bathrooms aren’t the right place to store your skincare.

“Bathrooms are unfortunately not the right place to store skincare, the humidity and changes in temperature can cause issues for most formulas,” Kiehl’s mentions.

“Keep them away from spots where they’ll get too hot like window sills or above radiators and try to avoid exposing them to too much light. Instead, keep your products in a cupboard or drawer and don’t forget to reseal them after using.”

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