Expiring Products – Cosmetics

Did you know cosmetic products can expire? In this post, we cover the basics of cosmetic product expiration dates.

Are cosmetics required to have an expiration date? 

No, cosmetics are not legally required by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to contain an expiration date.

However, companies and individuals who manufacture and market cosmetics bear the legal responsibility to ensure the safety and shelf-life of their products which typically includes expiration date information (1,2).

Are some cosmetics considered drugs by the FDA? 

Many cosmetics can be considered a drug by the FDA. For example, products that contain ingredients to prevent sunburns (e.g., SPF 15, UVA/UVB protection) or acne are everyday cosmetics that are also drugs.
The packaging label on a cosmetic that is also classified as drug must contain active ingredient information, possible side effects, an expiration date, and more as required by regulations.

How do I figure out a cosmetic product's expiration date?

There is a two-part process for calculating the expiration date.
Products will contain an unopened or shelf-life expiration date on the packaging. This date tells us when a product expires even if it remains unopened and unused.
Manufacturers typically print the second expiration date on the product. This expiration date states the number of months the product remains fresh and safe for use after opening. In the below image, you'll see the standard symbol that contains the expiration date in months found on most cosmetic packaging.

3M, 6M, 12M, 18M

What happens when cosmetic products expire? 

Cosmetics often contain preservatives, antioxidants, and emulsified ingredients that allow the products to work effectively (1,2).
As we open and use cosmetic products, we introduce microorganisms and oxygen to the product. Preservatives are effective at keeping harmful microorganisms at bay, but they eventually lose their efficacy, allowing microorganisms to proliferate rapidly.
As time passes, antioxidants become less effective, and emulsified ingredients begin to break down, which changes the color and texture of a product and cause the oils and waters to separate, which all impacts the product's quality.
Sometimes products can dry out and become flaky or cracked, making them unusable.

What happens if I use expired cosmetic products?

Reactions to expired cosmetic products depend entirely on the expired product and how long it's been expired. We could experience no reaction or an extreme adverse reaction.
For example, if we use expired mascara, we could get a severe eye infection if bacteria and mold have grown uncontrollably in the tube.
On the other hand, if we're using an expired powdered makeup, we may not notice a difference. However, just because we don't have an adverse reaction, doesn't mean the product is working as designed, nor does it mean there aren't excessive microorganisms in the product that could cause harm. 
If we use expired cosmetics that are also drugs, like products containing acne medication and sun protection, there is no guarantee that the product will work as advertised. So, we may not experience any benefit of the active ingredient like sun protection or acne treatment, and we could experience skin irritation or worse.

Tip: Track your cosmetic product expiration dates

It's easy to lose track of expiration dates, especially when the date is calculated from the month it's opened.
We only need two supplies to label expiration dates on a cosmetic:

  • Masking tape
  • Marker

Before throwing away the packaging and using the product, use the symbols to calculate the expiration date, put a piece of tape on the product, and write the expiration date on the tape.
This way, we'll be able to use our cosmetic products before they expire, and we can easily keep track of products that need to be replaced more frequently, like mascaras.

The good news.

At the time of publication, we are battling COVID-19 with many states under stay-at-home orders. As a result, we may not be using cosmetic products at the same rate.
It makes sense to go through our cosmetic products and take an inventory of open cosmetic products that could expire before we use them again. This is especially true for products that expire quickly, like mascaras or cosmetic products that are also drugs like moisturizers that contain sun protection or makeup that includes acne medications.



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