Do my cosmetics have a shelf life?


Most of us are in a habit of buying lot of cosmetics and displaying them on shelves and using them as long as they are not finished. But do you know that these products have an expiry date or shelf life? Yes, certainly every product we use has an expiry date or shelf life for which a particular product can be used. To understand the shelf life of products in a better way we should first of all know the basic difference between the expiration date and PAO (period after opening). So expiration date is the date after which your cosmetics cannot be used anymore or in other words preservatives added in them become less effective or ineffective after that time and chemical changes may start taking place.

What is expiration date?

Expiration date is usually specified if the shelf life of product is less than 30 months. But if the shelf life of cosmetic is more than 30 months or even if it is less than that it doesn’t mean you can use it for entire shelf life. Expiration date is usually specified in MM/YY or DD/MM/YY format. For how long the product can be used, also depends on the PAO (period after opening) of the product. The PAO is usually denoted by an open jar symbol with a number followed by M. For example 12M which denotes that a particular product can be safely used for 12 months after opening the seal. To remember the correct PAO you should either place a sticker marked with the date when you open the product or write with a permanent marker on bottle itself.

When to discard your cosmetics?

Sometimes knowing the expiration date and PAO may also put you in a dicey situation. Now what you should do if PAO is reached later than expiration date or PAO is reached before the expiration date?? To understand this let’s take an example.

First case: You buy a night cream with expiration date 02/15 and PAO 6M and you opened the product on 1/11/14. Since PAO of cream is 6 months so the shelf life should be 1/11/14 + 6 months= 30/4/15. So PAO 30/4/15 is later than EXPIRATION DATE which is 02/15. Since the expiration date of the product has already been reached you should not use the product beyond.

Second case: The same night cream with expiration date 02/15 and PAO 6M and you open it on 01/04/14. So its shelf life is 1/04/14 + 6 months= 30/9/14. So PAO 30/9/14 is reached earlier than EXPIRATION DATE which is 02/15. Since the 6 months period after opening has been over you should not use the product beyond.

In simpler words you should stop using the product when either expiration date or PAO whatever is reached first.

PAO for various cosmetics

Every cosmetic has a different shelf life and the PAO also varies from 3 months to 3 years for different cosmetics. Even if no expiration date is written on natural products they don’t have a shelf more than 6 months as they don’t have added preservatives which let bacteria proliferate and multiply resulting in contamination of the product and rendering it useless.

Any cosmetic that has a powder base like blush, eye shadow, compacts or talcum powder have a PAO from 1-3 years. But bronzers have a PAO of 6 months only. Caution must be exercised with the applicators of blush, compact or eye shadow as they come in direct contact with the skin and hence should be cleaned or washed as per instructions on the label.

Cosmetics like lipsticks, lip liners, lip-gloss, eye pencils and nail paints have a PAO of about 1 year. Whereas eyebrow pencils and stick eyeliners have a PAO of around 6-8 months. Always go for smaller packing of mascara and liquid eyeliners as they have a short PAO of around 3-6 months. Since eyes are very sensitive and easily prone to infection always buy quality products and never share your lipsticks and eyeliners with anyone to save yourself from conjunctivitis or herpes.

Cream based skin care products like foundation or cold cream have a PAO of 1-3 years but sunscreens have a PAO of 1 year or one season. Skin care products with dispensers also have a PAO of around 1 year. Whereas anti-wrinkle, anti-ageing or under eye creams have a PAO of no more than 6-10 months.

But the good news is that you can use your perfumes, EDP, EDT, Cologne or deodorants for upto 3 years after opening.

What should you do if you notice some change in cosmetic?

If you notice any change in the colour, smell or appearance of your cosmetic you should discard it. When your mascara becomes dry I know it's difficult ladies but throw it there and then. If your Blusher becomes dry or flaky or it has lost its lustre or sheen you should know that it’s time to change. You should store your lipsticks at a dark, cool place away from direct sunlight. Any change in lustre, sheen or smell of the lipstick it’s time to discard it.

What will happen if you use expired products?

Using expired cosmetic products can cause redness, itching, skin irritation or allergic reaction. In extreme cases it may cause contact dermatitis. Taking care of these small things you can manage your vanity box well and go on having a beautiful skin and prevent wastage of your cosmetics which really cost a fortune when they are of good quality.


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Dr. Sanjeev Gupta

MD, DNB (Dermatology, Venereology and Leprology) | Professor and Head of the Department (M.M. Institute of Medical Sciences and Research)

Mullana Medical College, Ambala

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