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Do skincare products expire?

Find out how long skincare, makeup, and cosmetics last—plus, how to store them and when to toss ’em.

Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Sep 28, 2023 • 5 min read
Curology Skincare Products
Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Sep 28, 2023 • 5 min read
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

In this article

Yep, all skincare products expire
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It’s a tale as old as time: the beauty products you bought years ago are way past their date, but you can’t bear to toss them out. It happens to the best of us, but we’re here to gently remind you that regularly purging your cabinet of expired products is a favor for your skin.

Yep, all skincare products expire

All good things come to an end, and skincare is no exception. Opening your product exposes it to oxygen, which can naturally start to break down the ingredients inside. 

Do unopened skincare products go bad?

Brand new, never-opened products still expire eventually—just not as quickly as opened ones. If stored properly, sealed products have a shelf life of approximately two years. This can vary though, so be sure to check the date (more on this later).

Do Curology products expire?

Just like milk, your Custom Formula doesn’t necessarily go bad the second it passes the “use by” date—but we still can’t vouch for expired medication. Your formula has full potency through the expiration date, but we don’t know how quickly the quality changes after that time period. Curology's other products generally have proven efficacy through two years, so you’re good to go for a while!

Curology skincare routine with custom formula

How to check the shelf life of your cosmetics

A product’s shelf life is the length of time you can expect it to look and perform as expected and be safe for use. The shelf life depends on a few different factors: 

  • What kind of product it is

  • How it’s packaged 

  • How the product is used and stored

  • When you first open it 

Luckily, there are a couple of ways to determine the date.

Check your product’s PAO (Period After Opening) symbol

This looks like a tiny image of an opened jar or skincare package with a number next to it, like this:

Curology Skincare Expiration Guide Illustration

The number indicates the number of months before you should toss out the product—so, for example, “24M” means 2 years after you first open the product.

Tips and tricks: It can be hard to remember both the PAO symbol (which is often only found on the outside packaging) and when you’ve started using a product. We recommend writing these down either on the product itself or on a clear piece of tape to stick on.

Check the product’s batch code

Use a website like checkcosmetic.net or checkfresh.com to see production and expiration dates. These websites work by checking a product’s batch code, which is an identification code assigned to a batch of cosmetics. It’s usually a combination of 3 to 11 letters and numbers and looks like it was stamped on after the packaging was created.

It can look like this:

Skincare Product Batch Code

Or this:

Four digital skincare product batch code on Dior product

Or this:

Three digit skincare product batch code

What happens if you use expired skincare?

In the best-case scenario, nothing. But best-case scenarios aren’t always guaranteed, and holding onto a product that’s past its prime may damage your skin and do a lot more harm than good. Bacteria can thrive in old products, so every time you apply contaminated skincare, you’re risking giving yourself rashes, irritation, or breakouts

Pay attention to these products’ expiration dates:

  • Sunscreen. The FDA recommends tossing out expired sunscreens and sunscreens with no expiration dates on them; expired sunscreens have no guarantee of either safety or efficacy. Fun fact: The sunscreen by Curology has a shelf life of 2 years.

  • Products with acids. Acids (like AHAs and BHA) may not work as effectively once they’re expired, so make sure to pay attention to the expiration date.

  • Products with active ingredients. Similar to sunscreen, there’s no guarantee that active ingredients will be as, well, active. 

How to safely use and store your cosmetics

The good news is there are a few ways to extend your product’s shelf life as much as possible. 

Don’t expose your products to direct sun. 

Direct sun = heat, and heat can make preservatives break down and cause mold and fungi to grow even faster. (This is why your Custom Formula comes in an opaque bottle!)

Keep your products in a cool, dry place.

Look for dark closets or vanity drawers instead of places that contain moisture or frequently change temperature, like the bathroom. If the product doesn’t say anything about avoiding extreme temperatures, it may be okay to store it in the fridge. 

Wash your hands before using your products.

Our hands carry tons of germs, and those germs can transfer to products very easily if you apply them with unwashed hands. You can also use a clean skincare spatula if you would prefer not to use your fingers.

Don’t share your products!

Sharing isn’t caring in this case—swapping beauty products can introduce foreign bacteria to your products, which can potentially lead to infections. Store testers and secondhand cosmetic purchases are also bad ideas for this reason.

When to throw out your products

If your product has done any of the following, it’s probably time to say goodbye:

  • The color has changed.

  • The product has separated, aka you see two or more separate layers.

  • The texture or consistency has changed.

  • It’s developed a bad or strange smell.

  • It’s grown mold (yuck!).

Keep in mind that preservative-free products tend to have shorter shelf lives, so it’s a good idea to use them up quickly.

Wondering when to toss specific products? We’ve made a quick-and-dirty guide for skincare and makeup products:

Skincare Expiration Guide Chart
Makeup Expiration Guide Chart

When in doubt, toss it out

Ultimately, a lot of the guidelines here come down to using your senses—if your skincare product smells off or looks different from normal, it’s usually safer to just throw it out. 

Want to take the guesswork out of skincare? Curology ships straight to your door, so you always have a fresh supply of your Custom Formula on hand. Sign up for a free trial* of Curology to get a prescription formula customized to your skin’s unique needs

Check out our other skincare guides for more tips and tricks, and remember: we’ve got your back!

• • •

We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.

*Subject to consultation. Subscription is required. Trial is 30 days. +$4.95 shipping and handling. 

Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

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