When should you throw out your cosmetics?

We’ve all been there – cleaning out the drawers in our bathroom to discover tubes and jars of hardly used and almost empty containers of skin care products that either worked for us or didn’t. Whether we moved on to something else or forgot about them in the deep recesses, is it safe to still use the contents from these opened jars of cosmetics?

Most of us already know to be cautious with products that we use near the eye – experts recommend discarding them 4 to 6 months after opening in order to prevent any type of infection from occuring near the eye. But what about all the rest of the personal care products that a girl (or guy) just must have?

Turns out that expiry dates are not required for cosmetics products manufactured in Canada or the United States and that although manufacturers conduct stability tests, that there is no way to really tell how long a personal care product will last once it’s been opened. The European Union is slightly ahead of us, having established a system called the PAO (Period After Opening), which manufacturers must indicate on makeup and skin care products. Though not perfect, it lets consumers know how long a product can be safely used after opening before it’s destined for the garbage. The flaw in this system is that it doesn’t take into consideration how the product is stored once it’s opened, whether clean hands are using it or whether the kids got into it when you weren’t looking.  

All of these factors will of course have an impact on how long the product will remain ‘safe’ after being opened. Still, the PAO system is better than nothing and does serve as a reminder of when to toss your personal care products. As long as you remember when you opened them of course.

Here are some general guidelines for when to get rid of opened personal care products:

  • Cosmetics used near the eye (mascara, eye shadow for example) – 4 – 6 months
  • Moisturizers and foundations – 1 – 2 years
  • Powder based items – 2 -3 years
  • Retinoids/retinol preparations – 1 year (start losing potency)
  • Alpha hydroxy acids (such as glycolic acid) – 6 months. Alpha hydroxy acids can actually become more potent over time, increasing their potential to cause irritation
  • Antioxidants (like Vitamins C and E) – 6 months
  • Sunscreen – 1 year
  • Hydroquinone – 1 year

How often do you assess your cosmetics cupboard?