Nothing lasts forever and just like food or medicine, beauty products have an expiration date. But how long do cosmetics really last? And how do you know if it has already expired? We'll tell you how long you can use your cosmetics without hesitation and give you application tips to keep your all-day favorites fresh for as long as possible.
Photo by Luriko Yamaguchi
Why can cosmetics go bad?
Cosmetics contain fats and liquids that are perishable. Like cooking oils in the kitchen, fats in care products react with the oxygen in the air and become rancid over time. The water-containing substances in creams, serums and lotions are increasingly losing their liquid or are contaminated by bacteria. It is primarily oxidation, dehydration and germ contamination that damage cosmetic products and limit their lifespan.
How are cosmetics preserved?
There are various ways to make cosmetic products last as long as possible:
- It depends on the composition
The basis for its durability is already laid in the formulation of a care product. In general: water-free formulations last longer than water-based ones , since water becomes contaminated particularly quickly. With waterless products, the basis for the growth of bacteria and germs is thus removed and no preservatives need to be added to them. Four out of five FIVE products are therefore anhydrous .
- Choose the right container
The packaging plays an important role in the shelf life of cosmetics. At FIVE we use blue glass , which blocks the transmission of UV light. In order to avoid skin contact with the container and thus the colonization of germs, we use pipettes and pump dispensers to remove the products .
- add preservatives
While conventional cosmetics often work with synthetic preservatives, natural cosmetics rely on natural preservatives such as monohydric alcohols. But the popular natural preservative ethanol (INCI: alcohol or alcohol denat.) also has its pitfalls. Its big plus: It is very effective because it kills almost all bacteria and does not cause allergies. Its weakness: from a concentration of around 10%, it irritates sensitive skin and dries it out. That's why we don't use alcohol as a preservative in any of the FIVE products.
But there are other natural preservatives that do not fail to have an effect. Preservative oils such as jojoba oil or antioxidants from natural plant extracts such as rosemary extract counteract oxidation, as do vitamins. In addition to the alcohol already mentioned, essential oils with antibacterial properties and ferments naturally prevent germs and bacteria from settling and multiplying in your pots.
📖 If you want to learn more about natural preservatives and how they work, we recommend our blog post on natural preservatives in cosmetics .
How long can cosmetics last?
Cosmetics manufacturers are not obliged to label most of their products with a best-before date. This only applies to those that have a shelf life of less than 30 months unopened. Because even if no expiry date is given, according to EU guidelines, conventional cosmetics must last for 30 months in unopened condition .
The jar: The durability symbol in cosmetics
That changes once the product has been used. The shelf life is then between 6 and 12 months after the first opening if stored correctly and used appropriately . This is indicated by the shelf life symbol for cosmetics - an open jar - in combination with a number. For example, if a product has a shelf life of up to 6 months after opening, you can recognize this by the jar symbol in combination with the imprint 6M (M=months). With a shelf life of 12 months after opening, it would be 12M.
As a reminder: This information is an expiration date . This does not mean that a product automatically has to end up in the dustbin after this period has expired. Nor can the shelf life be guaranteed during this period if the product is stored or used improperly. Here it is always important to weigh up and observe whether and, if so, how the product has changed.
Tip : ✍️ Write down on the packaging with a waterproof pen when you first opened the product so as not to lose track.
Shelf life of the most common cosmetics
As mentioned above, water-free cosmetics last longer than water-based cosmetics because water provides the basis for germs and bacteria to multiply. Here is a brief overview of the average shelf life of the most common beauty products that have already been opened:
- Waterless make-up can last for several years , e.g. powder, blush, eye shadow, lipstick.
- Water-based make-up lasts up to 12 months, eg foundation, lip gloss, mascara.
- Waterless care products last at least 12 months , e.g. solid shampoo, laundry soap.
- Water-based care products have a shelf life of 6 to 12 months , e.g. eye, face and sun creams, body lotions and serums.
Shelf life of FIVE natural cosmetics
Contrary to popular belief, natural cosmetics do not automatically perish faster than conventional care products. The Cosmetics Ordinance stipulates the shelf life for all products, regardless of whether they are conventional or natural. We now know that unopened cosmetics must have a shelf life of at least 30 months. However, since we do not know the date of manufacture and it is not mandatory to state an expiry date on the packaging, this knowledge is of little help to us. Theoretically, the product could have been on the shelf for 28 months and when we finally buy it, only have a shelf life of two months.
Clear labeling of the best before date
To avoid this uncertain gray area and to offer maximum transparency, we do things differently at FIVE. Our products are marked with a date in month-year format (MM.YYYY), which indicates the expiry date. In this way, you can see exactly up to the month when you can at least use your FIVE product, provided it is still unopened. From the opening day, the shelf life is at least six months , provided the printed expiry date has not been exceeded. Only with our Shea Cream did we omit this information, as it is waterless and therefore lasts longer than required by law. We don't want to withhold this information from you either and are considering printing it in the future.
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Are expired cosmetics harmful?
Clearly: we don't want to be wasteful and it takes a lot of courage to throw half-full cream containers and tubes in the garbage. However, excessive frugality in this case can have unpleasant consequences and backfire. Expired beauty and care products can cause skin irritation , pimples, stains or rashes and even allergies .
Particular caution is required with self-tanners because of the ingredient dihydroxyacetone, which can split off carcinogenic substances if exposed to too much heat . The same applies
Sun protection with the synthetic UV filter octocrylene, which is contained in many conventional sun creams. It is also suspected of developing carcinogenic effects if stored for too long. This risk does not exist with natural sunscreen .
Even if it doesn't seem particularly sustainable at first glance: when it comes to cosmetics, you should turn a blind eye to your skin and say goodbye to expired products. After all, when it comes to food, we tend not to take any chances , so why should we make an exception for our skin?
As is so often the case, less is more. Because the same thing happens with cosmetics as in our wardrobe: In the end, we always reach for our favorite jeans, which we know are comfortable and conjure up a firm bottom. Therefore, it is better to buy less and pay more attention to the quality . Nevertheless, it sometimes happens that you simply cannot get used to a high-quality care product because it does not suit your (skin) needs. Then just keep giving it away before it ekes out a solitary existence in the bathroom cabinet until its sell-by date. It would be a shame!
How do I recognize expired cosmetics?
The signs that your conditioner may have expired manifest themselves in different ways and depend on the composition of the product. Depending on what ingredients they are made of, beauty products can change significantly in terms of colour, texture and smell . A rancid smell or an unnatural discoloration are other unmistakable signs. Then only one thing helps: hands off and put it in the trash can . The only question that remains is: which ones?
👆 An exception is our Shea Cream , which can change its consistency due to heat without affecting the quality. Nevertheless, it should be protected from heat and sunlight so that it does not crystallize when it hardens again. This is also the reason why we stopped selling Shea Cream during the summer months.
And goodbye – dispose of expired cosmetics
Have you cleaned up properly and would like to finally get rid of a few "closet keepers" that are ready for the dustbin? Then pay close attention, here comes our little cosmetics disposal guide :
- Very important: first clean the packaging of all product residues . These belong in the residual waste, NOT flushed down the toilet!
- Separate the packaging according to the type of materials : plastic packaging in the yellow bag, glass jars in the glass container (sorted by clear or colored glass).
- Watch out for hazardous waste : nail polish or hairspray cans fall into this category and can be disposed of free of charge at a recycling center .
📝 You can read more about zero-waste cosmetics and reusable systems in skin care very soon on our blog!
Hygiene is the top priority
Irrespective of the expiry date of the cosmetics, your own diligence is also required when it comes to being able to use creams, lotions and the like for as long as possible without hesitation. Hygienic handling of tubes and jars is therefore essential to prevent undesirable germs from getting mixed up or the cosmetics from drying out. So that your care products do not become unusable prematurely, you should avoid these four mistakes as far as possible:
- Do not reach into the pan with unwashed fingers .
- Don't leave products open .
- Do not expose products to direct sunlight or heating .
- Avoid skin contact when using pipettes.
That last point may surprise you, as advertisements often show how to apply a serum directly to the skin with an eyedropper. This may look aesthetic, but it is not hygienic. Because the pipette comes into contact with the skin, bacteria can get into the product , leading to the contamination mentioned above and thus making it unusable. Therefore, follow these 4 tips to enjoy your cosmetics for as long as possible :
- Only remove the product with washed hands or ideally with a clean spatula .
- Seal cosmetics airtight after each use.
- Store the products in a cool, dry and dark place .
- For eyedroppers, place the product in the palm of your hand before applying to skin.