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4 ways to tell if your cosmetic has expired

Gilda’s guilty of using old product: I have a Matrix Sleek Look shampoo and conditioner I bought 3 years ago, Can I use it? Is it effective?

The Right Brain reassures her:

Three years for a shampoo or conditioner is not out of the question, so your Matrix might be fine. But what about cosmetic products in general? if you’re really worried that your product being past it’s peak, ask yourself the following questions. If the answer to any of these is YES, then you might want to splurge on a replacement.

1. Does it fail the See and Sniff test?

Most cosmetics are designed to last a couple of years. A shampoo or conditioner like Matrix will probably still be fine. But before you use an old product, squeeze a little bit out and look at it and sniff it. Does it still smell okay? Maybe the fragrance just faded a bit. But if any of the ingredients have gone rancid or if there’s microbial growth, you’ll smell an off odor. Also look for junk growing in the product like mold or fungus. If you see or smell anything funky, don’t use it! Likewise, if the product changed consistency and has become way too thick or way too thin, that’s a signal that something changed. And not for the better!

2. Is it past the expiration date?

Ok, this one’s tricky because most products don’t HAVE an expiration date. Over The Counter Drug products do, but most regular cosmetics won’t.

If you don’t see an expiration date but you do see another string of numeric or alphanumeric code on the bottle, it’s probably the lot code. The lot code tells the company when (and even where) the product was made. It’s meant to help the company track the product so if you call them, they can tell you when the product was made and they should be able to recommend how long you can keep it before it expires.

By the way, in Europe, a new law requires a PAO (Period After Opening symbol) on the package. It looks like a little jar with a number on it and it tells you how many months the product is good for after you first start using it. You’ll also see this symbol on some US products.

3. Was it stored improperly?

Some products are sensitive to heat, cold, and light. For example, we recently wrote about Babor’s Intelli-zyme product that contains enzymes. Enzymes are notoriously unstable at high temperatures. Products like this can easily go bad from heat exposure. On the other hand, emulsion products, like skin lotions, can crystallize, thicken, or turn to mush if they’re frozen. There`s no way to know what happened to a product BEFORE you bought it, but you can take care to store it properly once you get it home. Don’t leave products in the trunk of your car on a hot day or a cold day.

Then of course there’s the condition of the package. Was it stored in a tightly sealed opaque bottle? Then there’s less chance that light or air could have caused any problems. But if the lid is loose and it’s in a clear glass bottle that sat in the window for 3 months, forget it!

4. Does it contain any “special” ingredients that are fragile?

If it’s a regular product, like the Matrix example mentioned above, you probably don’t have much to work about. But some active ingredients are a bit finicky, and those products can expire much sooner. Products like Babor’s Intelli-zyme and even sunscreens are much more delicate. Click here if you want to read our previous post about how to tell if your sunscreen’s gone bad.

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