Just as we carefully check the expiry dates on our favorite foods to ensure their freshness and safety, being mindful of skin care product expiry dates is equally essential. Skin care expiry dates serve as more than mere suggestions; they are a safeguard against potential risks to our skin health. Expired products not only lose their effectiveness but can also harbor harmful bacteria and oxidized ingredients, leading to irritation and adverse reactions.

In this guide, we provide guidance on how to check the expiry of skin care products and resources for responsible disposal practices. By being aware of expiry dates and taking proactive steps to properly discard expired products, we not only safeguard our skin’s well-being but also contribute to minimizing environmental impact. 

Understanding Skin Care Expiry Dates

Given the wide variety of types of skin care products, active ingredients, product packaging, and formulations, there is no set timeline or rule for skin care product expiry dates. Various skin care formulations blend numerous active ingredients to target specific skin care goals, with some being notoriously sensitive to external factors like light, air, and heat. For example:

    • Vitamin A (retinoids such as retinol): Promotes cell turnover and reduces fine lines but quickly decomposes in sunlight.
    • Vitamin C: This potent antioxidant combats UV damage and boosts collagen; however, the ingredient oxidizes when exposed to air, turning the product ineffective.
    • Essential oils: Offer various benefits but can be vulnerable to light and heat, losing their potency and fragrance over time.

Pro Tip: Proper storage, away from sunlight and moisture, can extend the shelf life of skincare products and preserve their efficacy.

When do Skin Care Products Expire?

Knowing how to identify expired skin care products is essential for avoiding potential skin issues and ensuring optimal results from your skincare routine.

In Canada, shelf-life and expiry date are not legally required to be indicated on skin care and cosmetic products. Some manufacturers voluntarily include expiry or sell-by dates on the labels or bottom of their bottles, while others display mysterious batch codes or no information at all.

To check expiry date of skin care products, look for the following:

    • Expiration Date: There may be an explicit skin care product expiry date, often formatted as MM/YYYY or DD/MM/YYYY.
    • Batch Code: Some products will only display a batch code, which you can sometimes check online or with the manufacturer to find the production date and calculate expiry.

Keep in mind that most expiry dates refer to unopened product. Once opened, skin care products have varying expiry timelines ranging from 3 months to 1 year. Many product labels are now starting to include the Period After Opening (PAO) symbol, an opened jar icon with a number and M (e.g., 12M), indicating months of usability after opening. 

Once opened, cleansers, moisturizers, serums, and other products all have different expiry lifetimes, influenced by factors like product packaging (e.g., jars vs. pump bottles) and ingredient stability. Understanding these factors and the following general expiry guidelines can help you make informed decisions about when to replace your skin care products to ensure optimal results.

Opened Skin Care Product Expiry Guidelines

    • Cleansers: Use within 6 months to 1 year.
    • Moisturizers: Use within 3 to 6 months. Moisturizers in jars have a shorter lifespan due to exposure to air and bacteria from scooping the product with our fingers. In contrast, moisturizers in pump bottles or airless packaging are better protected and can last longer.
    • Serums: Use serums within 3 to 6 months. Serums with antioxidants like Vitamin C are more susceptible to oxidation and may expire sooner. Facial oils and lipid-based serums may last up to 1 year, depending on packaging.
    • Eye Creams: Use within 6 months to 1 year, packaging dependent.
    • Face Masks and Exfoliators: Use within 6 months to 1 year. Products containing active ingredients such as alpha hydroxy acids may lose strength over time, while clay ingredients tend to dry out quickly.
    • Sunscreen: Use within 6 months to 1 year of opening or as directed. Sunscreens are regulated, over-the-counter drugs in Canada and are required to list a best before date to identify when they will expire. It is crucial to replace skin care products such as sunscreen when expired. 

How to Identify Expired Skin Care Products

Not all products clearly state their skin care product expiry date and given the differences in active ingredients and product packaging, you are bound to encounter an expired product now and again. Keeping an eye on the following subtle yet crucial signs will help you identify and avoid expired skin care products:

    1. Change in Texture: Lumpy, separated, or changes in textures signal potential expiry.
    2. Color Alteration: An expired product may change colour. Creams turning yellowish, clear serums becoming cloudy, or any unexpected discoloration are red flags to be aware of. 
    3. Unusual Smell: A foul or significantly different odor from when the product was first opened indicates expiry.
    4. Irritation: If a previously compatible product suddenly causes irritation, redness, or burning, it may be expired. 
    5. Ineffectiveness: When a product no longer performs as expected (moisturizer doesn’t hydrate, serum doesn’t absorb), this may be a sign of expired skin care products. 

What to Do with Expired Skin Care Products?

Proper disposal of expired skincare products is not only essential for your health but also for the environment. Recycling, repurposing, composting, donating, and finding alternative uses are all responsible disposal methods to consider. Here’s are some approaches to consider:

Recycling

Check local recycling guidelines: Many components of skincare packaging, such as bottles, jars, and tubes, can be recyclable depending on your local community’s recycling capabilities. Visit your municipality’s website or app to confirm what’s accepted in your area (Resources 1-3).

Look for brand recycling programs: Some brands offer recycling initiatives for empty containers. Check the brands’ websites or product packaging for details.

Repurposing

Get creative with containers: Clean and repurpose containers for storage, small plants, travel containers, or DIY beauty projects. Remember to consider the safety and compatibility of materials.

Explore art and craft uses: Empty and cleaned containers can be used for paint pots, craft supplies, or other creative projects.

Composting

Biodegradable Ingredients: Skin care products made with natural, organic ingredients without harmful chemicals can be composted. This is more applicable to products like natural oils or primarily plant-based components.

Donating Unopened Products

Consider shelters and charities: Unopened products near expiration but still usable can be donated to local shelters, charities, or community centers. Remember to check their acceptance policies beforehand (Resources 4-5).

Alternative Uses for Expired Products

Cleaning Agents: Some expired skincare products, particularly those that are soap-based, can be effective for cleaning makeup brushes or even certain surfaces in your home.

Shoe Polish: Cream-based products, such as moisturizers or body butter, may be used to polish leather shoes, giving them a new shine.

Before discarding, recycling or repurposing any skin care product, it is essential to consider the nature of its ingredients and packaging. When possible, prioritize safety and environmental responsibility.

Understanding skin care product expiry dates, identifying expired products, and practicing responsible disposal methods are essential aspects of maintaining healthy skin and minimizing environmental impact. By following these guidelines, you can ensure the efficacy of your skincare routine while promoting sustainability and environmental mindfulness.

Additional Resources

Recycling programs

  1. Earth911: Find local recycling information.
  2. TerraCycle: Explore brand-specific recycling programs.
  3. Vancouver Waste Wizard (or via App Van311): Find detailed information on how to recycle specific items.

Donating Unopened Products

  1. Vancouver Health Collective: Provides a variety of programs and services for women, accepting donations of new or gently used personal care items.
  2. Directions Youth Services: Supports homeless and at-risk youth, accepting donations of new or gently used hygiene products, including skincare items.
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