Does lip balm expire and other beauty questions – Episode 174

Beauty questions covered on this episode include…

  • Why is the prescription azelaic acid so expensive?
  • Do cosmetic products expire?
  • Is petroleum in skin products like Aquaphor bad for you?
  • What’s the difference between moisturizers and hydrators

Beauty news

How will the microplastic ban affect cosmetic products?

I saw this story that the EU was proposing to ban microplastics in products like cosmetics, detergents and agricultural products.  The concern with microplastics is that they get into the environment clog up waterways and have a negative impact on wildlife.

They say about 36,000 tons of microplastics are released into the environment every year.  That sounds like a lot.

Then they go on to say that the ban would force the cosmetic industry to reformulate over 24,000 formulas. That sounded pretty high to me. They also said it would cost the sector more than 12 billion pounds a year in lost revenue.

The industry group, the CTPA says that there isn’t scientific evidence that microplastics from cosmetics are a source of marine pollution.

I personally don’t think you really get much benefit from these microbes. It’s more of a gimmick. I don’t think they provide exfoliation for example. And I’ve looked.

Beauty Game

Which is the fake Goop product?

Vampire Repellent
Organic Cotton Toothbrush – This is the fake
Coffee Enema
Camel Milk home delivery service


Pee Vee asks, “Why the heck is prescription azelaic acid so expensive?  This ingredient has been around for a long time! It is not a patented ingredient, as far as I know.”

Do cosmetic products expire?

Scott says…I was wondering if you could help clarify some information regarding shelf life please.

To give you a bit of context:

For the past 17 years I’ve been using a lip balm called: Nivea Hydro Care Caring Lip Balm.

Here comes the bad news: Last year Nivea reformulated their entire range of lip balms which they call the “new melt-in formula”

The new formula is terrible. It smells revolting, it has a very sticky texture and no moisturising properties whatsoever.  The old formula is perfect for me, it goes on smoothly, it’s mildly scented and feels very rich and moisturising.

My query relates to the shelf life.  On Nivea’s website they state that “unopened products have a shelf life of at least 30 months from the date of manufacture unless they carry a specific expiry or use by date”.

I have enough lip balms in my stash to last me until December 2020 (assuming I use one per month) but I have no idea when they were manufactured.

Is it strictly true that they will go stale after the 30 months unopened?

We’ve gotten questions like this a few times but I don’t think we’ve covered it on the podcast. Beauty product consumers often want to know how long a product will last. Unfortunately, there is no simple answer but here are some guidelines to determining the expiration date of a cosmetic formula.

Before we talk about the expiration date, it makes sense to first define what is meant by “expiring.”  When it comes to cosmetics, there are various things that indicate a product has expired.

First, does it still work?  A good indication of whether a product has expired is if it still works. If a product stops providing the benefit for which you use it, then it is expired. If the lip balm doesn’t make your lips feel good, then the product has expired and you shouldn’t use it.

Next, does it have acceptable aesthetic properties?  Perhaps the most important indication of whether a product has expired is whether it continues to be aesthetically pleasing to use. Over time, there can be chemical reactions going on in your product which can result in color changes, odor changes, pH drift, viscosity changes, texture changes and more. While these products might technically continue to work, they aren’t as pleasing to use as they were when you first bought them, so the manufacturer would consider them “expired.”

How are expiration dates determined?

Manufacturers define the expiration date as a point in time when the product doesn’t meet specifications. These are just standard tests run on products when they are first made.  By defining an expiration point as the time when the product no longer meets specifications, you can then run a test to determine an approximate expiration date. The industry standard way of doing this is called stability testing.

Stability testing – Stability testing involves an experiment in which you take samples of your product and put them at different environmental conditions for a set period of time. The conditions vary in temperature and light levels and are meant to simulate what happens to the product during its life cycle from shipping, to store shelves, to consumer’s bathrooms.

At select intervals you evaluate your samples for various physical, chemical and performance characteristics to see how they have changed. If the changes are minimal according to your company standards, then the product is still good.  When characteristics of the product go outside of the specified ranges, then your product can be said to have “expired.”

Manufacturers and consumers likely have different expectations for how long a product should last. For most products, the industry standard is that it should be stable for at least one year. This means you shouldn’t expect to see any changes for characteristics outside the specification range after one year of testing. Of course, if the product isn’t selling fast enough the manufacturer would like this date extended but they also strive to have all inventory sold before one year.

Consumers are a bit different in that they want to have products that will last for as long as they have it. They don’t really want to buy a product that will “go bad” in a short amount of time. Actually, I don’t think they want products that will go bad for however long they have the product. This can be a really long time. In fact, I’ve got a men’s hair styling product that is at least 10 years old. I still use it on occasion because it smells fine and still works. This is why I make a terrible target consumer for hair products.

It’s interesting to note that in the US there is no specific requirement to put an expiration date on cosmetics. It is a law however, that the manufacturer has to run tests to determine the shelf life to demonstrate the product is safe to use.  In the EU there are more stringent requirements for product expiration dates. If a product has an expected shelf life of longer that 30 months you must do testing to demonstrate how long the product will last after opening. If the product has a shorter than 30 month shelf life, you must put a “best before” date on the package.

So, back to your question. While the manufacturer has put the 30 month expiration date on it if the lip balm still tastes right and works for you, it’s unlikely there will be any problems with using it. Of course, if you do have a problem you probably won’t have any recourse since you’ll be using the product in a way not recommended by the manufacturer.

Jodi asks, “Is Petroleum in skin products like Aquaphor bad for you? What’s snow white Petroleum?”

Dina asks – What is the difference between hydration and moisture/hydrating and moisturizing? How do moisturizers work? And how are they different from hydrators?

You know, we got this question and I thought it was a bit strange. It’s hard for a formulator to keep up with all these marketing terms. Cosmetic marketers have a tough time differentiating their products so they come up with different ways to talk about the same things.  Anyway, the terms moisturizing and hydration are really marketing terms which means the companies can define them pretty much however they want. They all mean the same thing and refer to increasing the amount of water present in either hair or skin. In investigating what’s on the market I noticed that some marketers use these terms to differentiate between Humectants (which are ingredients that attract water) and Occlusive agents (which are materials that block water from escaping thereby increasing the amount in the skin). But these are not scientific terms.

Moisturizers as some people define them, are oil based ingredients including occlusive agents like Petrolatum or Mineral oil and emollients like esters and plant oils. They work by creating a film on the surface of skin which prevents water from escaping. They also make the skin feel smoother and less dry.  Hydrators are ingredients called humectants like Glycerin or Hyaluronic Acid that absorb water from the atmosphere (or your skin) and hold it in place on your skin.

You’ll see hydrators and moisturizers advertised in all kinds of different products. Things like balms, seriums, oils, creams and even gels. The form of product doesn’t matter too much since it does not really affect the performance of the product much. Although creams and balms can be made to be a bit more intensive because you can include more occlusive materials. But the for product performance it is the ingredients that matter. The form just affects the experience of applying the ingredients.

For really dry skin occlusive agents are the best (something with Petrolatum works the best). But if someone want to avoid petrolatum, shea butter or Canola oil or Soybean oil can work.  In reality, petrolatum is the best however. If you use a humectant (hydrator) you should see immediate improvement in skin. If you use a moisturizer (occlusive) it will take an hour to improve skin. That’s why you should use a product that incorporates both.

If you want to ask a question about beauty products you can click the link in the show notes or record one on your phone and send it to  We prefer audio questions because it sounds better on the podcast.

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