Expiration Dates: When to Toss Your Green Products

If you’ve got questions about when it’s time to replace your products, we’ve got you covered…

You did it! You decided to make the switch from conventional skin and beauty products to the natural stuff. But before you finish your favorite new mask, it starts to look and smell a little funky. What’s the deal? Can you still use it? Is it harmful? Why did this only last for six months when you’ve had a mask from high school that still looks and smells pretty normal? If you’ve got questions about when it’s time to replace your products, we’ve got you covered. It’s a bit more complicated with naturals than conventional stuff, but once you know the basics, you’ll be tossing empty containers instead of half-full ones you didn’t finish in time.

Here’s what you need to know about expiration dates, preservatives and what you need to know about expiration dates and tossing products.


The upside of organic beauty products? They’re made with natural, clean ingredients like plants, herbs and other botanicals that work wonders on your skin without having long-term adverse health effects. The downside of organic beauty products? Those natural, clean ingredients don’t include chemical preservatives like parabens, meaning their shelf life is shorter. They may contain natural preservatives like honey or lemon, but these still go bad faster than the conventional stuff.

The minute you open a product and expose all those awesome ingredients to the air and your fingers, they start to oxidize and be exposed to bacteria, both of which slowly compromise the ingredients over time. Not only does this exposure eventually turn the product… think about a whole apple with its skin intact vs. an apple with a few bites taken out of it, exposing its flesh to the air — it also makes the ingredients less effective as time passes.

What does this mean? Sometimes, the use-by dates are less about a product going rancid and more about a product no longer being potent. So the best way to get the most out of your products is threefold. First, look for containers that house products in dark glass and that utilize pumps. This makes what’s inside less susceptible to sunlight, oxygen and bacteria.

Second, opt for dry products you need to add water to on a one-off basis when you’re ready to use. Any sort of moisture is a breeding ground for bacteria, and since these products won’t contain chemical preservatives, there’s nothing to stop one stray drop of tap water from wreaking havoc in the jar. Another secret benefit of dry products? You can mix ‘em with whatever you want for your desired effect. Want a slight exfoliation with that clay powder? Toss in some honey. Need to tone? Mix with apple cider vinegar. Thirsty skin? Spritz the powder with an aloe-packed mist.

Third, if you can’t get what you need from a pump or dry product, always use a clean tool to scoop the product out of the container. Most products that are housed in pots also come with a small plastic spatula or wooden spoon — use these! Though they’re not foolproof, they’re a heck of a lot cleaner than your fingers.



Keep your stuff in a cool, dry place. As we’ve already discussed, errant water can do some pretty gross stuff to your products, so do everything you can to keep extra moisture away from your products. Same goes for heat. In short, your bathroom (hot, steamy showers, lack of ventilation, etc.) is not the best place to store beauty and skincare. I know this is kind of a pain since you know, you kind of need a bathroom to prep your skin to receive these products. But storing them in a cooler space will extend their shelf life. It may add a an extra minute to your routine, but a few storage bins in a dark corner of your bedroom — or even your refrigerator —  can work wonders.

When to Toss

Before we get into specifics…if there’s anything in your makeup bag or skincare arsenal that you can’t remember buying, toss it. If you’ve had something for that long, chances are it’s past its prime and it’s safer to just get rid of it than risk slathering it all over your skin. Better safe than sorry! Ok, onto the science-y stuff. Thanks to America’s lack of regulation when it comes to the beauty industry, there’s no guarantee your products will come with an expiration date. Some brands and makers do like to let their consumers know when something is on the verge of going bad, offering a date (usually a month and a year) on the label or packaging. These dates get tricky though, as they can either refer to when you should start using the product (more on that later) or when it’s time to toss the product.

If it’s the former, you’ll also want to look for a Period After Opening (PAO) date. This is a small picture of a jar with a number inside that indicates how many months you have to use the product after opening. In this scenario, if you have a product on your shelf that lists a date like “12/2017,” that means December is the latest you should open it up. Then if the POA symbol says “6M,” you’ve got six months from the time you open it to use it.

If there’s no expiration date offered, the label will still have a POA that you should pay attention to. Hopefully you’re buying products you want to use ASAP, so the countdown starts roughly around the time of purchase. (You can always jot down the date you’ve opened the product on the jar in permanent marker so you know exactly when to account for that POA.)

POAs and dates aside, the most important tool you have when it comes to knowing if something has seen better days are your senses. If you’ve been using a product every day for months, you probably know what it’s supposed to look and smell like. If the day comes when you open a product and the smell is off or doesn’t seem familiar anymore, it’s probably bad. Same goes for sight. If you see that something has separated or changed color, get thee to a trash can!

And if all else fails, do not hesitate to call the company that makes the product to ask how long something is good for. Many of your products may even have batch numbers on the packaging, which will help the maker track when it was manufactured, when it should be used by, etc.

It may not seem like using expired or sour products is as bad as, say, eating expired food. But remember that everything you put on your skin finds its way into your bloodstream and body. If the ingredients are spoiled or contaminated, you run the risk of exposing yourself to skin and health problems like infections, breakouts, dryness, rashes…all the stuff you use skincare products to combat.

Still don’t trust yourself to know when it’s time to get rid of something? Here’s a rough guide to help you out:

  • Shampoo + conditioner: As long as you keep water out of the bottles, these will typically last for about two years.
  • Soap + body wash: Bar soap is unlikely to go bad since you’ll finish it before that point. Body wash is usually good for a year.
  • Sunscreen: There’s no guessing with sunscreen. This is one of the only product families that legally require an expiration date.
  • Deodorant: It’s less that deodorant will go bad and more that it will become less effective over time, so you’ve got six months to a year before it stops working.
  • Body lotion: Six months. Not worth the risk as this covers almost your entire body.
  • Moisturizer: If it’s housed in a pot that you need to dip into, moisturizer will last about six months. Anything with a pump that isn’t exposed to the air gets an extra six months, meaning it’s good for a year.
  • Oil: Unopened oils can stay fresh for up to 24 months. Once opened, most will be good for 12-18 months, especially if the glass is dark and the package utilizes a pump or dropper.
  • Lip balm: These should last about a year. Just make sure your hands are clean before dipping into a pot of lip balm.
  • Makeup: You’ve got three to six months from the date of first use. For anything you use around the eyes (mascara, eye liner, shadow), be extra cautious and toss after three months.

+ Ready to make the switch to natural beauty? Check out our full of safe-natural products here

Photo by Jana Kirn

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… oh dear. I’m still using my lip balm that I got in 2011… six years ago.

Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog

4 years ago

This guide surely comes handy. I think I’m going to check my beauty arsenal right now…! Thanks!