What You Don’t Know About Cosmetics’ Expiration Dates

Written by Katherine Martinko

All cosmetics and skin care products have an expiration date, which means that many old containers hang around bathroom cupboards far longer than they should. While slathering oneself with expired moisturizer doesn’t seem nearly as bad as drinking a glass of spoiled milk, the ingredients still get absorbed by your skin. Natural products have an even shorter shelf life than mainstream, drugstore products, which are full of preservatives.

Here’s the problem. According to the FDA, “There are no regulations or requirements under current United States law that require cosmetic manufacturers to print expiration dates on the labels of cosmetic products.” If you’re lucky, a conscientious manufacturer might choose to put a date or a picture of a tiny jar with a number of months beside it, i.e. 12M or 24M. Products from the European Union must have an expiration date for anything lasting less than 30 months. (I’m not sure what happens after that magical date.)

Here’s a quick list, compiled from LifeHacker, with the usual expiration dates for products that contain preservatives. Organic Authority has a similar list for all-natural products.

3-7 weeks: loofahs and sponges
No one I know throws out a loofah after 3 weeks, but apparently all those water-filled holes are a playground for bacteria. Opt for a reusable washcloth instead, or a bar of soap.

3 months: mascara, liquid eyeliner
Always throw these out after an eye infection and avoid testers at cosmetic counters.

6 months-1 year: skin creams, moisturizers, sunscreen, anti-aging/anti-acne products, liquid foundation, liquid concealer
Products with a pump are less likely to introduce bacteria than open containers, which should be tossed in 6-9 months.

2 years: shampoo, conditioner, hair styling products, shaving cream, toothpaste, perfume, cologne, nail polish
Trust your sense of smell. Always store perfume and cologne away from sunlight.

3 years: deodorant, anti-perspirant, mouthwash, soap, powder-based makeup, lipsticks and glosses, eye and lip pencils (can last up to 5 years)
Keep your fingers clean when you dip into containers of gloss.

There’s a bigger problem, however. It’s easy to talk about tossing expired cosmetics, but if you haven’t detoxified your beauty routine and still use products that contain the Dirty Dozen (and countless other carcinogens, pesticides, reproductive toxins, hormone disruptors, plasticizers, degreasers and surfactants), it’s not safe simply to toss them into household garbage. David Suzuki’s website suggests the following option for getting rid of toxic cosmetics:

The first step is don’t buy any more chemical-laden cosmetics and stick to those deemed safe by the SkinDeep Cosmetics Database. Second, use up the products and recycle the containers. Third, if you don’t want to keep using them, find out if your city considers cosmetics to be household hazardous waste. Fourth – this is more extreme, but I like it – consider mailing your expired product back to the manufacturer, asking them to dispose of it safely and urging them to sign the Compact for Safe Cosmetics.

This post was originally published in TreeHugger

Photo Credit: Thinkstock


Mary B.
Mary B4 years ago

Loofas and sponges can be put in the bottoms of potted plants [before you pot them] and they will obsorb water and create some air space. Cut them up a bit first and toss in a combined handful.

Val M.
Val M4 years ago

Thanks for the info

Kathleen R.
Kathleen R4 years ago

Thanks for the information.

Nimue Pendragon

Similar story on Healthy Living.

PrimaSICK B.
PrimaAWAY B4 years ago


Manuela C.
Manuela C4 years ago

Thank you, I'm very surprised by loofahs...

Cathleen K.
Cathleen K4 years ago

Sponges can be disinfected in the microwave. Zap it on high for two minutes and the bugs are dead.

Anne Moran
Anne M4 years ago

Cosmetics suck...
They dry your skin right up...
Stick with a good moisturizer, your face will thank you for it....

Edith B.
Edith B4 years ago

Something else to worry about, guess I will clean out my bathroom closet tomorrow.

Roxana Saez
Roxana Saez4 years ago

Your skin is your largest organ....if you cannot stick the product in your mouth you have no business putting it on your skin. DIY and love yourself.