Do Skin Care Products and Toiletries Always Expire?

We know food goes bad, but what about lotion, conditioner, and mascara? While they may seem like they last a long time – and often end up on shelves for years – toiletries do have a shelf life. Here’s what you need to know.

Dear Lifehacker,

I have a collection of skin care products and other toiletries that are so old I can’t even remember when I bought them. Do things like moisturizer, shampoo or perfume go bad? If so, when do I throw them away? Signature, Cosmetics Collector.

Dear CC! Like most things in life, skin care products, toiletries, and beauty products don’t last forever . Once opened, the watch starts counting these items because exposure to air, light and bacteria can destroy them. Even when closed, things like high temperature and humidity can degrade the quality of food over time.

Expired products do not necessarily matter. Sometimes it just means that they are losing effectiveness. For example, an expired perfume may smell a little, or your anti-dandruff shampoo no longer protects your mane from flaking. However, in other cases, an expired product can cause irritation or other problems, such as using an expired sunscreen and then frying yourself in the sun.

Below are some general guidelines for various beauty products so we don’t have to guess how long to store them. (For the rest of this article, we’ll use the word “cosmetics” for all of these types of products, as that’s how the FDA defines them .)

How to check your products

You won’t find expiration dates on most beauty products due to the lack of regulations. In the United States, only those products that the FDA determines should have an expiration date; these include sunscreen, acne medications, and dandruff remedies. If you buy European products, you may be more fortunate as there is a directive in the European Union that requires an expiration date – at least for those products that have a shelf life of less than 30 months.

Whether it’s mandatory or not, some manufacturers list an expiration date on their products. If the container is not clearly labeled as “Exp 12/2020”, look for the so-called Post-Opening Date (PAO). This is a picture of a can with a “24M” written on it, which means the product must be in good condition for 24 months after opening. Sometimes the expiration date is marked with a special (illegible) batch code printed on the package. You can find these codes for major brands at .

However, as with milk and other products , the shelf life of cosmetic products is not always reliable. When in doubt, discard anything that has changed in smell, color, or texture. Trust your eyes and nose! Also be aware that all natural foods have a more limited shelf life and can go bad much earlier than foods containing preservatives. If water is the first ingredient, it usually has the shortest shelf life after opening because water stimulates the growth of bacteria, which is enemy # 1 when it comes to toiletries.

Shelf life of various cosmetics

Sources such as skincare and makeup expert Paula Begun , The Los Angeles Times, and Real Simple usually agree on when to drop or discard certain items. The above table acts as a kind of cheat sheet for these guidelines, with more details below.

Skin and hair care

  • Moisturizers, face creams, and eye creams: Six months to one year. The danger of expired creams is not only reduced effectiveness, but also irritation and possible bacterial infection . Pump creams are less likely to spread bacteria, and canned creams should be thrown away after six to nine months.
  • Sunscreen: one year. This is regulated by the FDA , so the shelf life is usually one year. Store it out of the sun ( possibly in the refrigerator ) to prevent the mixture from becoming unstable.
  • Anti-aging or acne products: Up to one year, depending on ingredients. According to the New York Times , acne products containing benzoyl peroxide have a shelf life of three months after opening. Foods with antioxidants such as retinol, glycolic acid, and vitamin C are also degraded faster.
  • Shampoos, conditioners and hair styling products: open for one to two years, closed for three years. Water and air entering the bottles can disrupt the formulas .
  • Loofahs and bath sponges: three weeks for loofah, seven weeks for sponges, eight weeks for poufs. This may sound rather short, but take into account the humid environment and any openings that bacteria can grow in.


  • Deodorant / Antiperspirant: Three years or check expiration date if available. Outside Online notes that deodorant doesn’t really lose as much effectiveness or risk a bacterial infection (because it is, after all, an antibacterial product).
  • Shaving creams and shaving soaps: Two years or possibly longer if stored properly .
  • Toothpaste: Check the expiration date of fluoride toothpastes. This is usually two years after manufacture .
  • Mouthwash: three years from the date of manufacture, also usually indicated on the bottle.
  • Soap: Three years, according to manufacturers, for both soap and liquid soap. Yes, even soap can run out, especially if it contains essential oils. However, some ingots seem to last forever, and if they are all cracked and dry it is a bad sign.

Makeup and Fragrances:

  • Perfume / colognes: two years. As beautiful as the bottles are on the counter, keep them away from sunlight and moisture.
  • Mascara and Liquid Eyeliner: Three months. Take a new one every season and throw it away earlier if it’s dry or if you’ve had an eye infection.
  • Liquid Foundation and Concealer: Six months to one year.
  • Powder-based cosmetics (such as eyeshadow and powder): two to three years.
  • Lipsticks and gloss: two to three years. If you’ve had cold sores, throw away your lip products as soon as possible.
  • Pencils for eyes and lips: from three to five years. Sharpen before use to keep them safe.
  • Nail polish: one to two years. This can usually be determined by the tackiness of the varnish.

To keep track of all of these dates, write the date of purchase and the time it was thrown on the label. A product like Timestrip can save you some effort.

How to store cosmetics

How you store your groceries is even more important than these date guidelines (which are actually estimates). To ensure they last as long as possible, keep items away from sources of heat, sunlight, humidity, and air. Look for pumps instead of cans, for example, and make sure your hands are clean before use to avoid contaminating your products. FDA says :

Consumers should be aware that expiration dates are simply “rules of thumb” and that product safety can expire long before expiration date if the product is not stored properly. Cosmetics that have been improperly stored — for example, exposed to high temperatures or sunlight, or opened and inspected by consumers prior to final sale — can significantly deteriorate prior to their expiration date. On the other hand, foods stored under ideal conditions may be acceptable long after the expiration date.

Just remember: use or lose.

Love, Lifehacker

This story was originally published on 11/21/13 and updated on 9/19/19 to provide more complete and up-to-date information.


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