You’ve scored a great gift with purchase, hit the sample mother load or bought items in bulk to get the best possible deal. Can you use all the products before they expire? This is the question that plagues a deal shopper. We’ve all thrown out products that were perfectly viable when we obtained them, because they expired before we could use them. Food labels tend to have expiration dates to prevent us from getting sick. Though I’ve saved a lot at Sam’s Club, I’ve also thrown away a lot.
It is a little harder with cosmetics. Some list expiration dates, but others do not. If you’re like me, you’ve researched products to see how long they’re viable. Which products can you push past the expiration dates, and which products do you toss the moment they expire. When your backup stash gets large, it is time to put a system into place to make sure you can use as many products as possible before the inevitable expiration date approaches. Of course, you can always gift extras away once you know you cannot possibly use it in time.
For products that list expiration dates, try to follow it. Expiration dates are listed on all products with less than 30 months of durability according to the federal government. That means products without an expiration date can still work over 30 months past the manufacturing date. Expiration dates are always a guide. Items can go bad before or after the official expiration date. There are websites devoted to tracking unlisted expiration dates. If your product does not list an expiration date, you can visit one. These sites do not cover all brands or all products, but they are helpful. I use checkcosmetic.net or checkfresh.com, but you can use whichever site(s) you prefer. Enter the Brand and the batch number. It will show you the expiration date on covered products.
What can you do if the product is not listed? The best thing I can recommend is to label the product when you receive it. Anyone who receives products in my giveaway will see that I number products to make sure they’re used before they expire. While this is not the most effective technique, I find it easier to remember when things arrived if I label them before I put them away. The reason it is not always effective is you do not know how long an item sat around at the retailer’s warehouse before they sent it to you. It is better than doing nothing at all, because you will almost certainly use products out-of-order rendering the older ones useless.
It is possible to receive a brand new item right after it is manufactured, but it is also possible that item has already sat in a store or a warehouse for a long time before you even received it. When you receive a brand new product and six months later get the same item, but that item has sat unsold in a store for a year, the one you received earlier is actually newer. You would probably not know though unless you checked. Then, you will probably use the one that arrives first, because you received it a sim months earlier and assume it is older. I’ve even had retailers send me products that are already expired before they arrive to my house. Some listed expiration dates while others did not. The ones where the date was clearly listed are always more upsetting when they arrive obviously expired. I realize retailers will not randomly check expired products not labeled with dates before sending them. In a world where products are not always fresh, you must be diligent.
Active ingredients have a shelf life. Even before the product opens, active ingredients will start breaking down. Most products list the earliest date the active ingredients may expire, so an expiration date does not always mean the product is no longer good. Sunscreens are almost always listed at three years. Once the date passes, it is still possible the sunscreen would work. Do you want to risk it though? You can read more information on this from Skincancer.org, Consumer Reports, or The Mayo Clinic. They all suggest you do not risk it. Dr. Karen Burke states via You Beauty that is usually safe to use sunscreen six months past the expiration date.
If I choose to use a sunscreen past its expiration date, I only use it for quick trips in and out of the sun. I also only go a month or two out, because I am not as brave as Dr. Burke. These are trips where I usually would not add any body sunscreen and hop from shadow to shadow to avoid as much sun as possible. I never skip sunscreen on my face whether I am going out or not. If I have to leave the house at the last-minute, I am ready to go. Thus, I use products with sunscreen in the morning regardless. My thought is if even some of the ingredients are still working, that is better than nothing. I will not use sunscreen even one day past the expiration date if I will be in the sun for any real-time. Why? My skin burns easily, and my Dad has skin cancer.
If I open a sunscreen before its expired or after and see the formula is separating, I will toss it. That is usually a sign that ingredients are breaking down. Heat breaks down sunscreen, so toss any sunscreen stored in the heat, regardless of the printed expiration date. Never use the sunscreen you took to the beach and forgot in your car for a couple of days. Using sunscreens you’re not familiar with after the expiration date is not advised either. You are not familiar with what the formula looks like, so you may not know if it is separating or not. If you react, you may never know if the reaction would have been the same had you tried it when it was still fresh.
We’ve all seen the cosmetic suggestions on when to toss products once they’re opened. Paula of Paula’s Choice gives great advice on this. I generally follow the toss after three months rule on mascara, but I have pushed it up to six months. Thus, I think Paula is right on there. Do not mess with germs near your eyes. Toss old mascaras. Some places add a year to her one year suggestion on liquid foundation making them usable for two years. She gives ideas on expiration dates for opened skin care products as well. If your specific product has the open jar picture with a number printed, that number is how many months the product is viable after its opened. Should your product be void of the helpful logo, you can use resources like Paula to get a general idea. Her dos and don’ts are also very helpful. Even though most seem like common sense, I am sure we’re all guilty of one or more.
She may toss powder products in 2-3 years, but I keep mine longer. Some people think you can clean powders with a layer of alcohol on top. While I think a little alcohol never hurt anyone (this may sound like a pun, but I do not drink), I would not rely on alcohol to get any major germs off something. If you’re sick or have any type of virus, bacteria, etc, do not double dip brushes into your product. Skip makeup, use disposable brushes remembering not to double dip, or use freshly cleaned brushes remembering not to double dip. Should the germs make their way into your products, toss them. It is cheaper to replace than the opportunity cost of getting sick. Sick or not, always use clean brushes in products to help prevent germs from getting into your powders. The good news is it is harder for germs to live in powder. The bad news is once they’re in, they’re not going anywhere.
The place where I really disagree with her is on foils. She thinks you should toss them after one use. With more and more retailers putting multi use items in foils, I think that is wasteful. My suggestion would be tear as small a hole as possible in the foil, and immediately place it in a Ziploc. While the Ziploc is not air tight, it is better than leaving the foil open to the elements. I also suggest that you take the Ziploc out of the bathroom when you remove your other beauty products. Use no other items from the same product type when using the foil. This suggestion is for more than the obvious reason of using it as quickly as possible without tossing product. Your skin does not adjust well to constant product switch ups. It is easier to determine if that particular sample is creating problems for your skin without changing products out.
What about closed foils? They almost never have expiration dates printed on them. You know the packaging is air tight. I’ve tried to look into this myself several times. I always come up empty-handed. What I can say is products under 30 months must list an expiration date. That is why you will see an occasional foil with an expiration date. If they do not have expiration dates, they are probably more durable than items that are not sealed in air tight containers. Ketchup in foils can last around five years. The FDA does not require expiration dates on them, so that is a guess I’ve seen in more than one place. That is longer than its bottle counterpart. If I can consume something in a foil over five years later, I will not fear putting an item on my skin not nearly as old.
A foil would probably last longer than a deluxe sample or full-sized item without a protective seal. Treat foils the same way you treat other sealed products. If by some miracle, they have a batch number, look them up. For ones without expiration dates or batch numbers, label them the moment you receive them. When you do finally open the product, look at it and smell it. If it does not look separated, dried out, moldy, or smell bad, try it. Inactive ingredients in an air tight container will probably be okay to try. A super old foil of active ingredients that managed to evade an expiration date probably will not work anyway. Just as the active ingredients inside a container start breaking down, they would do the same thing in a foil. In that case, toss it.
The general rule is never add liquid to anything to reactivate it. If it dried up, the benefits probably did as well. You are probably doing more harm than good trying to save this product. This holds true for face masks, mascaras, moisturizers, and more. Although I am not a Doctor, I think it is safe to add water to liquid soaps, shampoos, conditioners, and probably similar products to get that last bit out. If you have a moisturizer or lip balm that is slightly expired, try to repurpose it. While I would never use an expired product on my lips or face, I have used them on my nail beds and body, respectively. Moisturizers will generally still impart moisture past the expiration date, but the ingredients that give the most benefits will probably stop working. I lived to tell the tale, so you probably will as well. If something is seriously expired, as in six months plus, toss it. You’re probably a deal shopper if you’re reading this anyway. That means your next haul is probably on its way already.
If you’re not storing everything in a cool, dry place, toss it all and start over. Okay, I’m partially joking. They may not all be damaged, but they could be. You do a ton of research to get products right for you, and the best deal possible. Make sure you’re storing everything properly to get the most value from your deal. Although, it is more convenient to leave your items in the bathroom, the moisture can kill your products. Items look so pretty on your vanity by that open window, but that light can also bring heat, wreaking havoc on your products. Use a cosmetics bag that we all have too many of. Take portable products in the bathroom before use and out when you’re done. You can leave your shower products in the shower. Get your vanity away from the window!
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I'm Kimberly. Shopping is always more fun when I've found the best deal available, so I am always on the hunt. My father instilled that in me, and I love that I carry a piece of him. Sometimes, my husband and sons (12 and 7) let me shop for them, too. They do not use as many beauty products as I do. We can all benefit from nice products, even though their routine ends with moisturizer. That is when I can convince my 12-year-old to apply it.