How long do cosmetics keep?

How long do cosmetics keep?

If you’ve just had a make-up kit clean out thanks to our blog about make-up used-by dates, then it’s time to go to task on your cosmetics, too. We’re talking serums, moisturisers, masks, cleansers, eye creams – all of which have expiry dates, and all of which can become ineffective, or worse – contaminated – if not stored correctly. So how can you decipher the used-by date of a skin care product? According to Emma Hobson, Education Manager for The International Dermal Institute, there are a few things to consider when you’re trying to work out the lifespan of your cosmetics:

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Expiry date

If a product contains active ingredients, the expiry date relates to those actives, not to the shelf life or overall ‘freshness’ of the product. “The printed expiration date on the label only indicates the guaranteed effectiveness of the ‘active/s’ within the product,” advises Emma. “This can be anything from three to 12 months.”

Shelf life

“Skin care products undergo stability and microbial challenge testing to ensure the formulas remain stable and that nothing unwanted will grow within the product during its shelf life period,” says Emma. “Most products that do not have an expiry date generally have a shelf life of 12 to 36 months.”


Most skin care products will have a PAO (Period After Opening) symbol on the packaging. “The purpose of this symbol is to give consumers an idea of how long after opening the product can be safely used without causing harm,” says Emma. The PAO symbol looks like an open cosmetic cream jar with a number on it, followed by the letter ‘M’, which refers to ‘month’. “So for example, a PAO symbol showing ‘24M’ suggests that the product is safe to use for 24 months after it has been opened.”


According to Emma, when it comes to your cosmetics, one of the biggest challenges is keeping them free of contaminants. “Water, which can contaminate a product, can easily get into jars and open-topped bottles when you’re in the shower,” she warns. “Or simply putting your fingers in a pot of moisturiser day in and day out can also increase the chance of contamination.” For this reason Emma recommends cosmetics that come in contamination-proof packaging, such as tubes, squeeze-bottles, spritz toners, and individual capsules.

Emma’s top tips for ensuring your cosmetics last as long as they should:

Keep them in a cool place (some can even be kept in the fridge)
Don’t put your fingers in a jar! This can contaminate the products
Don’t get water into them – keep them dry!
Keep them out of direct sunlight.

Emma’s cosmetic lifespan list:

Facial cleanser: Generally a year once opened
Facial moisturiser: Six to 24 months.
Facial serums: Six to 12 months
Face masks: Six to 12 months
Body moisturiser: 12 to 18 months
Body wash: 12 to 18 months
Sunscreen: Six to 12 months
(As per requirement of the TGA in Australia, all sunscreens need to have an expiry date on them. Before purchasing a sunscreen, always look for the expiry date and ensure it has at least a year to go before expiry. )

Do you take note of the expiry dates on your skin care products? How many cosmetics in your bathroom cabinet do you think are past their used-by date?

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