How To Tell If Your Skincare Has Gone Bad?
For most skin and body care products, there's an easy way to find out how long the shelf life is. Look to the bottom of your packaging for a stamp with an expiration date. If you can’t find one, simply look on the container for a tiny image of an opened jar with a number on it: 6, 12, 24, or 36. This refers to the number of months you can use a product after you've opened it. If the product doesn't have this symbol on the container, one-to-two years is a good rule of thumb for the shelf life, unless otherwise stated on the packaging. However, sometimes you have to use your best judgement. If you think its time to toss your skincare away, you’ll know it if you notice these following signs.
Changes in odor. Fragrances are made of many different ingredients that can react with the rest of the product so it's not surprising that the fragrance is often the first thing to go bad. A little fragrance fading is completely normal but if you detect a sour or rancid odor it may be a signal that something is seriously wrong and it's time to throw it out!
Changes in color. The color of the product is very sensitive to light, so it's not unusual for cosmetics in clear packaging to experience a shift in shade. Slight color changes don't necessarily mean there's anything functionally wrong but if you detect a big change from the product’s original appearance then it's time to toss it.
Changes in texture. Changes in the consistency of a product may be subtle but significant. For example, if your skin lotion looks exceptionally thick or thin or if it appears too grainy, this may be an early indicator of product instability. This means the oil- and water- soluble chemicals are separating. Not good!
Microbial contamination. If you see any black spots or fuzzy growth in your product, it could be contaminated with bacteria or fungus. Get rid of it immediately or you may be at risk for infection! And by the way, you should never dilute a product with water just so you can get the last little bit out of the bottle. Adding water can dilute the preservative system which can allow potentially dangerous bugs to grow.
Physical separation. If the product has separated into two layers, then it has gone bad. You can't always fix it by just remixing it. This is particularly true of cosmetics that have active ingredients like sunscreens and dandruff shampoos. Once the active drug ingredient has separated from the rest of the formula, it may not work properly anymore.
What Happens When a Product Expires?
Ingredients Lose Effectiveness. For over-the-counter treatments like acne products and SPF, a passed expiration date signals that the active ingredient is no longer as active as it should be. This means that your acne treatment may not work as well, and your SPF may expose your skin to harmful UV rays. Other ingredients like retinol and vitamin c also break down and become unstable when they expire. On the other hand, certain ingredients like acids can become more potent with time.
Bacteria Can Grow. Preservatives, just like many ingredients, can lose their potency over time. That makes certain products, especially water-based products, susceptible to bacterial growth once they have expired. Products packaged in jars that require you to constantly dip your finger into the formula can also be a bacterial risk. Toss these products after their expiration dates to avoid skin irritation and breakouts.
Oils Become Rancid. Although oil-based products don’t harbor bacteria, they begin to smell “off” when they expire. That’s because oils go rancid over time when their chemical bonds become compromised by air and light. Once an oil is rancid, it loses all of its nutritional value to the skin and can even cause free radical damage. Rancid oils smell like melted crayons-- plasticky and chemical. If you notice an unpleasant shift in odor in your facial oils, toss them.
Ingredients Can Oxidize. Some ingredients begin to oxidize when exposed to air, for example vitamin c. Generally, you can tell that something has oxidized because it will turn a brown-ish color. Sometimes this color shift doesn’t greatly impact the efficacy of the product. But sometimes, this oxidation can be a sign that the ingredients inside the product are no longer potent. If you notice a colorshift but the product is still within its expiration date, contact the brand to find out if you can keep using the product.
Keeping track of your skincare expiration is an important part of your skin hygiene. Check your expiration dates, search batch numbers, and remember to store your products properly out of direct sunlight and in a cool and dark placeto prolong their shelf lives. If properly stored, you can potentially get a few years use out of many of your favorite beauty products. However, it is important to take stock of your inventory every so often to make sure you are not using something that could potentially be harmful. Remember that when in doubt, throw it out!
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