We all have that one moisturiser or lipstick that we might have been talked into buying (maybe by me? sorry?), that we probably paid too much for, and that we barely use to stretch the investment. I love to break it to you, but turns out you’re better off patting on a full dropper of Vintner’s Daughter like you know you deserve, because your top shelf has a shelf life.

You might be wondering what the harm could be in using a lipstick a little past its prime. It’s Tom. Ford. Unfortunately, all products do eventually expire. Best case: the texture or scent changes and it’s just not the same as when you first bought it. Worst case: your products could be harbouring harmful bacteria that could lead to irritation or infection. Your skincare products’ active ingredients will also lose their efficacy over time defeating the point of rationing out each drop.  

Since there are so few regulations on the beauty industry in the US, only products sold as over the counter drugs like sunscreen and acne treatments are required to have marked expiration dates. In Europe, products with a shelf life of less than 30 months must have a “best before the end of” date which is shown as a symbol of an hourglass, followed by said date. Most products in Europe and the US will have a Period After Opening (PAO) symbol, which is a number followed by the letter M in an icon of an open jar, which indicates how long the product can be used after it has been opened. For example, a product marked “12M” should be used within 12 months of opening.

Besides a marked expiration date or PAO, there are few ways to tell if a product’s shelf life is at an end. Look out for any changes in color, texture, smell, or separation in a product.  Sometimes these changes could happen before the expiration date or PAO, especially if the product has been exposed to excess heat or moisture. Try to buy products in airtight, opaque or colored glass containers as these will class up your counter and tend to last longer, while products in jars are more susceptible to bacteria.

The general rules on product expirations are that powders last about 2 years, while cream based makeup only lasts from 12 to 18 months. Mascara on the other hand, should be replaced every 3 months. Skincare products like cleansers, moisturizers and serums will last up to a year, but keep an eye out for any changes in the product.  

So where do nontoxic products fit in? The exclusion of chemical preservatives does not necessarily mean natural products will expire faster than your conventional products. Most brands recommend their products be used within 6-12 months of opening, which I’ve found is more than enough time to go through an RMS highlighter or Marie Veronique serum. Many natural products are also formulated without water, lessening the likelihood of bacteria forming. Most of these products also contain plant extracts or antioxidants, like Vitamin E, that not only benefit your skin, but also act as natural preservatives.

In conclusion, life is short, use that serum.