That old tube of lipstick that’s been at the bottom of your purse or cosmetic bag for ages, or the expensive day cream that you only use sparingly on special occasions.  How do you know when it's time to let go?  The reality is ALL cosmetic products expire – even those with heavy duty preservatives.   Most of us hold on to products way too long, risking bacterial contamination.


To answer questions about the longevity of natural products, we turned to a couple of our favorite expert formulators.  HollyBeth Anderson of  HollyBeth Organics works closely with a chemist while creating her product line and comments that since bacteria can only breed in the presence of water and air, a preservative is needed if water is used in the formulation of a product .  The organic and essential oils used in her products have a shelf-life of about 1-2 years.  She labels all of her products with the “Period After Opening” (PAO) symbol that identifies the lifetime of the product.  Kari Gran, curator of Kari Gran Skincare, uses packaging to help maintain the quality of her products. She says,  “I chose to work specifically with MIRON glass containers. The violet, dark glass gives added protection and provides the ideal “cool, dark place” for natural ingredients to be stored." 




Note the difference between the terms, expiration date, shelf-life and use by.  Any product that is classified as a drug, such as sunscreen, MUST have an expiration date. Some brands use the “Period After Opening” labels that show a number written on the image of an open jar to indicate the number of months the product is expected to last after opening.  Frequently check the label as you use the product so that the date doesn’t pass without realizing it.  Always follow the guidelines stated and don’t try to squeeze a few more weeks out of your product. 


Look for changes in texture, consistency, color and aroma.  Discontinue use if you ever see mold or yeast growing.   Make it a practice to take a whiff of your new products so you know what they’re supposed to smell like. If it turns wonky, it’s time to toss.  Consistency should be the same as when you purchased – and shouldn’t get watery or  hard.  Sometimes lipstick that has been hanging around too long will get tacky, develop an odor and lose its ability to apply smoothly.

Unless otherwise noted on the bottle, natural products should generally be used within 6 months to 1 year of opening, and mascara within 3 months.  Products in a powder form will last  longer.  When in doubt, contact the manufacturer who can generally identify date of production from the batch code.


  • Always wash hands before using your products – especially if you have to dip your fingers into the product.
  • Never use your tongue to moisten a brush or mascara wand.
  • Store products in a cool, dry place away from moisture - like a drawer, rather than the sink top. Do NOT leave products in your hot car – they will deteriorate faster.
  • Don’t share your products!
  • Pay attention to the dates
  • Keep caps on and tightly sealed
  • Never add water to products, including hand soap and mascara!
  • Give products a good whiff upon opening so you know what they SHOULD smell like
  • Toss product if you have had any type of skin or eye infection. You may have contaminated your product!
  • Wash brushes and tools frequently
  • Write the date you purchased the product on the label
  • When in doubt, call the manufacturer!

    It is important to note that all cosmetics have expiration dates – not just the natural ones.   Most skincare and cosmetic packaging can be reused or recycled, so when it is time to toss, dispose of your products in a way that is environmentally sound.


    Margot White