You have a skincare product that you grabbed at a sale because you had always wanted to try it. You stash it away and only took it out after you’re finally done with whatever product you’ve been using, only to find that it has already expired.

Familiar scenario? You’re not alone.

Another familiar scenario that typically follows after you found out that your product has expired: you wonder if you can get away with using it anyway. You went on Google to get some answers and chances are that’s what landed you on this article – and we’re glad you’re here because we may offer the answers you need.

While some of the skincare products have an official expiration date stated on their packaging, others require some investigation. It may sound a little complicated but don’t worry, we’re here to help you overcome that problem and save your skin from potential harm. But first, let’s talk about the shelf life of skincare products you commonly use. 

Things to know about the shelf life of skincare products


1. Estimated shelf life of skincare products: moisturisers

For opened moisturisers, a rough estimate would be a year or so. As long as everything looks the same as when you first opened your moisturiser, it should be safe. 

For unopened moisturizers, they should last for two to three years. 

Why shouldn’t you use expired moisturisers? 

First and foremost, moisturisers contain active ingredients that could lose their effectiveness over time, that include anti-ageing and anti-acne properties. For instance, anti-ageing products contain Vitamin C, retinol and glycolic acid that have molecules that break down once the products have been opened. 

There’s really no point in using these products if they aren’t effective anymore, right? After all, we want products that deliver exactly the efficacies they promise! That can’t happen if creamy moisturisers lose their main purpose of what they are made to do.

Another problem to worry about is the growth of bacteria that occurs once the products are opened. Even though you may not be able to see it with your naked eye, for all those times when you’re using your fingers to apply the product onto your face, you would probably have contaminated its formula. After all, our fingers are easily one of the dirtiest surfaces you can think of, so the chances of introducing bacteria, dirt, and other impurities are probably quite high. 

How to know if your moisturisers have gone bad?

It really depends on where you store your moisturiser. But if you’re like most Malaysians who store them on our tables and shelves, then it’ll be pretty humid environment.

Humidity affects how long moisturisers last as well. Once you start to realise your moisturizer no longer looks like how it used to when you first opened them such as having a weird texture, smell or colour – it’s time to throw it in the trash can. 

2. Estimated shelf life of skincare products: serums

Whether it is unopened or opened, either way, serums only last for up to a year, no longer than that. 

Why shouldn’t you use expired serums? 

Most of these serums contain ingredients such as ascorbic acid. When in contact with the air, it’ll immediately oxidise and cause potential problems to our skin – totally opposite of what we want. 

How to know if your serums have gone bad?

The key to notice if serums have gone bad is to see if there is a brown-ish colour. Otherwise, if your serum has been on the shelf for more than a year, you probably can’t use them already. 

3. Estimated shelf life of skincare products: toners

The shelf life of toners is actually subjective, but sources say that it could only last for six months up to 1 year. Hydrating toners could possibly last more than a year, but toners that are used for exfoliating that includes AHAs and BHAs may not be able to last as long. 

Why shouldn’t you use expired toners?

Toners that already expired will leave your skin dry and irritated, which completely defies its purpose, which is to hydrate your skin. 

How to know if your toners have gone bad?

When you realise that it has a weird smell, colour or change in texture, you probably have to throw them away. 

4. Estimated shelf life of skincare products: sunscreens 

Most sunscreens tend to last for as long as three years from their manufacturing dates. 

Why shouldn’t you use expired sunscreens?

The main purpose of sunscreens is to protect you from harmful UV rays. When it has already expired, your skin will be exposed to the sun as it is no longer providing protection because expired sunscreens lose the properties that protect your skin from the sun. In short, using expired sunscreens would be equivalent to not using anything to protect your skin against the sun.

How to know if your sunscreens have gone bad?

The colour of the sunscreen will change. Aside from that, you may find an unpleasant smell coming from the sunscreen. The non-obvious signs would be when the texture of the sunscreen separates or crystalises. 

5. Estimated shelf life of skincare products: cleansers 

From the time you open the cleansers, it should last for up to six months at the most.

Water-based cleansers tend to attract bacteria more, which is why you should be wary of how long you left it opened compared to other cleansers. This is because bacteria grow a lot faster in water than in dry conditions.

If you leave your cleansers unopened, they are more likely to last longer than six months, several years even. So if you’re the type that buys in bulk whenever they are on discount, don’t open them if you want to keep them in good condition for a longer time!

Why shouldn’t you use expired cleansers?

If you’ve passed the expiration date by a few days, there shouldn’t be any side effects.

However, if you’ve been using expired cleansers that are several weeks after the expiration date, there’s a chance that bacteria that breed in them will cause problems such as acne, irritation, and redness.

Most cleansers have active ingredients which are used to fight against impurities, dirt, to name a few. When cleansers expire, you could face multiple skin reactions such as irritation and redness, as well as skin infections from the bacteria that grew around your cleanser. 

How to know if your cleansers have gone bad?

Pay attention to the smell, colour and texture change once you open them. Be sure to check if the texture separates itself as well. 

How to check the shelf life of skincare products 


Do take note the shelf life of skincare products that are organic or natural tends to have a shorter expiry duration compared to others because they’re less likely to contain preservatives.

open jar shelf life

This symbol tells you how long can keep the product for after you’ve opened it.

That aside, other than seeing the expiration dates printed on the skincare products, you could refer to an image that looks like an opened jar. This symbol indicates the number of months that the products can last for after you’ve opened them. If you’re new to skincare and haven’t even noticed this, it’s time to pay attention to it!

To help you further, consider writing down the date you open your product on the cap of the product with permanent marker so you can always refer to it easily. 

However, note that not all skincare products have expiration dates printed on them or the little opened jar image with the number of months stated on it. Also, the dates and symbols only serve as a general rule of thumb and whether the skincare product is still safe for use depends on the environment where it’s stored at and the way it was used. The best way to decide if a skincare product is still safe for use is to notice a change of texture, colour or smell. This means that even if a skincare product is still well within its best-before date, you still shouldn’t use it if you find a change in its appearance or smell.

Tips to increase the shelf life of skincare products


1. Use a spatula instead of your fingers 

Our fingers tend to carry bacteria or dirt, even after you wash them with soap. It is always better to use a spatula to prevent any bacteria from entering your skincare products. If your products don’t come with a spatula, simply purchase them online or at any physical store. Otherwise, you can also consider picking up the product with a new cotton swab.

2. Keep your skincare products away from heat 

When you store your skincare products where direct sunlight shines on them, it could reduce the effectiveness of the ingredients found in them. Most skincare products contain ingredients that do not go well with UV rays. Be sure to store them in your cupboard or drawer, or any other dark and cool place. 

3. Take note of when you purchase and open your skincare products 

This can be a little tedious, but rest assured it will be worth it, especially when you spend tons of money on your skincare! Whenever you purchase a new skincare product, take note of the purchase date by writing it on your packaging (we recommend writing on the cap of the product with permanent marker so you won’t miss it). And then, make another indication when you open it.

These notes will make it much easier for you to track the shelf life of skincare products you own. 

4. Be sure to close your lids or caps properly 

It can be easy to simply close your lids or caps of your skincare products when you’re in the rush or are simply lazy to do it properly. But guess what, if you leave it opened even just slightly, it allows oxidation and introduction of bacteria to occur. When products are exposed to any air at all, it could be ineffective sooner and shorten the shelf life of skincare products. 

5. Wipe off excess product 

When you scoop up some essence, cream or lotion, sometimes there will be leftover product on the opening of your jars or tubes. Be sure to wipe and clean it up to prevent bacteria fromGrowing around the area as it will be exposed to the air. 

Featured image taken from / Instagram.