Are you being still using the same mascara years after your bought it? Or maybe you’re unknowingly being sold make up that is way past its best. We speak to the experts who reveal that expired beauty products could be putting your health at risk. Find out if it’s time for a clear out…

By Sophie Attwood

Skincare is a big business the UK. In fact, figures suggest that British women spend an average of £400 a year on skincare products. This is in order to keep their skin looking and feeling fresh and healthy.

But a lot of people don’t realise that just like food products, skincare also has an expiry date. What’s more, recently people have been taking to social media to raise awareness of third-party retailers who are selling expired beauty products that are well past their prime.

Is it bad to use expired beauty products?

According to the experts, using out-of-date beauty products could be putting your health at risk. ‘By using products after their expiry date we are not only risking the effectiveness of the products but also putting ourselves at potential risk of irritation, infection and permanent damage,’ says cosmetic doctor, Dr Rekha Tailor.

Even if the products you purchased were in date when you paid for them, they may not be now. After all, we’re all guilty of leaving skincare and make-up lurking in the bottom of a wash bag or drawer for a while.

One survey found that British women keep hold of their make-up products for six years after they go off. Since the pandemic has reduced many people’s incomes and expenditure, this figure is likely to have risen dramatically since the start of the year.

But we’ve all got that trusted old product we’ve been using for years without any negative side effects. And anyway, how do we even know how long a product lasts?

How do I check my beauty product’s expiry date?

‘Most products have a shelf-life of around 30 months when unopened, but there are two ways in which the shelf-life of an open product is indicated,’ says beauty expert Esther Fieldgrass.

‘Firstly there’s the little symbol that appears on the product’s tub or lid which usually says either 6M or 12M. The number 6 or 12 indicates how many months that it’s safe to use it for after opening.

‘The hourglass symbol with a date stamped nearby is the best before date. This is when the product should be used before,’ explains Fieldgrass. ‘However, what these dates don’t take into account is how the product has been stored.

‘So it goes without saying that a product that’s stored in the direct sunlight of your windowsill all day won’t last as long as one that’s kept in a cool, dark place. For mascara, I would say that this is best replaced every two months. This is because bacteria builds up on the wands.’

beauty products expiration dates

Why do beauty products expire?

Unlike fresh food that decays and goes rotten when it’s past its best, skincare products don’t tend to look any different even if you’ve had them sitting on the shelf for ages. So you might have wondered what manufacturers mean by “going off” or having a ‘use by’ date.

Indeed, cynics see it as just another way for these industries to generate sales and increase revenue. ‘Scientific advances mean that skincare is constantly evolving and ingredients such as vitamin C are being used more widely because of its benefits to skin,’ says brand manager for PCA Skin, Lizzie Shaw.

‘However not all of these ingredients are stable and so this means they can lose their properties easily or oxidise. This is why lots of products come in small containers, to try and ensure they’re used while their active ingredients are still at their best.’

old make-up

How long do beauty products last once opened?

There’s no hard and fast rule about how long your cosmetics last. It’s often down to a number of factors. This includes the chemical composition of each product, how they’re stored, and how often they’re used, as well as how they’re dispensed.

For example, products that are pump-action tend to pose less risk of gathering bacteria than pots that you open up and put your finger into every day.

To a certain extent, you need to rely on all your senses, including common sense, to tell you when products need replacing. ‘You can usually tell if a skincare product or make-up item has gone off. Often,  the colour, texture or smell has changed,’ says Lizzie.

‘Vitamin-based serums often develop a brownish tinge when they’re past their best. I always advise people to use their senses and trust their instincts.’

What happens when you use expired beauty products?

And yet we’ve all got that tub of something that we hold on to as it cost a lot and we don’t want to waste it! Even so, Esther still advises ditching anything that’s out of date.

‘Skincare that’s expired is usually less effective. But more worrying is the fact that there is usually a build-up of bacteria in it. This can lead to irritation and infection as well as breakouts and acne,’ she says.

‘Pump-action products are less likely to introduce bacteria. But creams in tubs and jars should be changed after a maximum of nine months. This is regardless of how much is left,’ she says.

‘For mascara and other eye-related products it’s particularly important that you remain aware of the expiry date. This is in order to avoid irritation, infection and potentially damaged vision as a result of bacteria entering the delicate eye area.’

Top tips for keeping your beauty products fresh…

  • Moisturisers, face creams and eye creams tend to last from about six months to a year.
  • Mascara lasts a few months, but it’s obvious when it needs changing because it usually clogs up or goes dry.
  • Liquid foundation can last up to a year.
  • Use a clean spatula for all creams and balms so as not to spread bacteria by sticking fingers in pots.
  • Wash your hands before spreading creams or serums over your skin and especially if you do have to put fingers into tubs!
  • Buy pump-action cleansers and moisturisers if you can as they will keep longer.
  • Write the open date on each new product you buy so you don’t forget how old it is

Click here to see our favourite beauty products for menopausal skin!