Friday, 31 May 2019 06:20

Expiration Expert: Understanding Product Labeling

Written by   Melanie Timms, director of marketing, innovation, and education at CBI Laboratories Inc.

Nothing lasts forever and the same is true for skin care products. Although it may be tough for a client to throw away an expensive moisturizer, serum, or mask, there is often good reason to discard expired skin care products. Difficult as it may be, expired skin care products may be more than just ineffective. They may potentially be harmful to skin. Unfortunately, it is not always easy to know when to toss away products, as many cosmetics are not labelled with expiration dates. The shelf life often depends on when the product was opened and how or where it was stored.



According to the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), “There are no regulations or requirements under current United States law that require cosmetic manufacturers to print expiration dates on the packaging of cosmetic products.” The only exception to this would be that of over-the-counter topical drug products, like sunscreens, acne medications, and barrier ointments or creams, which, according to the FDA 21 CFR 211.137, require an expiration date to be displayed on the primary packaging of the product.


Some manufacturers or brands, specifically ones that sell their cosmetic products into European countries, might choose to put a date or a picture of a tiny jar with a number of months beside it, such as: 6M, 12M, or 24M. The reasoning is that cosmetic products sold within the European Union are required to have an expiration date for anything lasting less than 30 months.


A Quick Guide for Decoding Expiration Dates

  • MFE, MFG, or M is the date that the product was manufactured
  • EXP or E is the date of product expiration
  • BB, BBE, or BE means best by or best by expiration and is the period of time suggested to use the product within
  • 3M, 6M, 12M, or 24M is the product life span (in months) after opened



In an effort to maintain product shelf life, the following can help.


Store products in cool, dark places like medicine cabinets, drawers, or closets. Once a jar is opened, its contents are exposed to light and air, which speed up its deterioration. Airless packaging, such as jars and pump bottles, prevent air entry and provide an extra layer of protection to the product.


In order to prevent bacteria from entering the product, avoid dipping fingers into opened jars. Use clean cotton swabs or cosmetic spatulas wherever possible or purchase products that dispense through pumps. Close lids tightly between each use.


In convenient though it may be, store open cosmetic products outside of the bathroom. The humidity is a breeding ground for bacteria, mold, and yeast.


If eye infection or cold sores occur, discard any and all eye and lip products that may have been contaminated.



Here are some general guidelines to help determine when it is time to discard skin care products.


Water-based Cleansers and Toners: One year. Some ingredients such as retinol and alpha hydroxy acids may actually increase in potency after long periods of storage.


Serums: Six to 12 months. Ingredients with highly unstable ingredients, such as vitamin C or resveratrol, may last even less time. Generally, the manufacturer will provide the suggested shelf life once opened.


Moisturizers: One year. Certainly, if it starts to smell or look bad, by all means, toss it.


Sunscreens: One year. As required by the FDA, all sunscreens are labelled with expiration dates and, if they are stored unopened, they will be effective until this date. Once opened, they start to lose their efficacy and should be discarded within a year of opening.


Acne Treatments: Two years. Over-the-counter drug products with active ingredients are required to be labelled with expiration dates.


Natural and Organic-based Products: While there is a trend towards using natural beauty and skin care products, bear in mind that natural preservative systems may not be as robust as those used in traditional skin care formulations. Shelf lives may, in fact, be shorter, so be diligent in watching out for changes in smell, color, or consistency.


Use these as general guidelines, but keep in mind, when it comes to assessing safety, there are no set rules, especially for expired skin care products. Changes in smell, color, or consistency are signs to trash a product. In order to maintain healthy skin, replace skin care products on a regular basis.

Want to read more?

Subscribe to one of our monthly plans to continue reading this article.

Login to post comments

January 2023

Skin Care Blogs

Brands of the Month

  • Celluma by Biophotas, Inc
  • Eminence Organic Skin Care
  • DMK Skin Revision Center
body { overflow-y: auto; } html, body { min-width: unset; }