How to check expiration dates on skincare products

How to check expiration dates on skincare products

Just like groceries, skincare and makeup products expire. So it’s a good idea to regularly check the expiration dates on your products, in order to keep your skin happy and healthy. 

Why you should check the expiration dates on your skincare products

There are two main reasons you should check the expiration dates on your skincare products: efficacy and cleanliness. 


For some skincare products, the active ingredients in the product may not be as effective as they should be once the expiration date has passed. For example, sunscreens expire and over time lose their protective benefits. Other active ingredients can degrade, become unstable, go rancid or oxidize, making them less effective on your skin or even detrimental to your skin’s health. 


Most skincare products contain natural or chemical preservatives, and these preservatives can break down over time. Products are exposed to bacteria whenever we use them, like when we stick a finger in a jar to take a swipe of a cream or apply a balm directly to our skin. When products are exposed to bacteria after their preservatives have broken down, the bacteria can grow in the product, which means we could be unknowingly putting bacteria on our skin, leading to potential infections and other risks.  

How to check the expiration dates on your skincare products

Now that we know why it’s important to check the expiration dates on your skincare products, how do you actually find the date? 

Most skincare products will either have an expiration date stamped with their batch number somewhere on the packaging, or an open jar symbol with a number inside. It looks like this:

Open jar symbol with "12M" inside the jar

The number and the letter “M” correspond to how many months a product will be good for after you open it. So, a “12M” like in this photo would mean that the product is good for 12 months after opening.

What if the expiration date, batch number or open jar symbol have rubbed off? Well, then it’s time for a common sense check. If the product has changed texture - whether it's completely dried out, separated or gotten crusty - or changed color or smell, it’s probably time to say goodbye.

What to do with expired skincare products

It might be tempting to just toss your expired skincare products, but simply putting them in the garbage means the product and the packaging will probably end up in a landfill for years to come. 

Start by checking with your local waste or recycling center to see if they accept skincare, makeup or cosmetics as part of their household hazardous waste collection. If so, follow their guidelines for dropping off your expired products. If that’s not an option, you can look for disposal programs or takeback programs run by brands and retailers. 

If you’re really out of options, you can empty the expired product into the trash, and clean out the packaging for recycling. If you choose this option, try to avoid washing any product down your sink to prevent water contamination. Unfortunately, most beauty packaging is not easily recyclable or biodegradable, so the best option is to cut down on consumption and opt for more sustainably packaged products over time. 

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