Ask Grace: Does Skincare Expire?

Hey Grace, 

I love buying and trying new skincare but I’m worried about how fast I should be using up the products already own. Will they “go off” or stop being as effective if I don’t use them up in time? And how fast should I finish them? 


It depends on the type and nature of the product, but many expire much sooner than you’d think – and they certainly don’t last forever! There’s no one-size-fits-all rule, but products (by law) must be labelled with either an expiration date or a period after opening logo. If a product has a shelf-life of less than 30 months from manufacture then it must have an expiration date, but if it exceeds 30 months then it will have a period after opening logo. This looks like a small half-opened pot with a number (usually months) next to it which indicates the amount of time the product should be used in once it’s been opened. This should help to give you a good indication of roughly how long you can keep products for, regardless of whether or not you’ve already used them. 

The reason the date and time period varies between products is because there are multiple factors that impact each product. The ingredients used, whether the product contains preservatives, and the packaging are all taken into account. For example, natural products and products stored in jars will expire much sooner than a product formulated with preservatives and stored in an airtight tube. There are also other factors that can impact a product that may reduce the expiration period based on how you use it. For example, where you store it (temperature and light exposure can degrade ingredients or alter texture) or how you handle it – if the product is left open it may become exposed to bacteria. Packaging really impacts this, so I’ve highlighted below a few things to keep in mind… 


Tubes are good for dispensing thicker textured products like creams so they’re often used for moisturisers, SPFs, eye creams, and lip balms. They’re not airtight but they are pretty good at minimising air exposure, so they can be a good option for cream-based products that contain active ingredients like vitamin C and retinol. 


Tubs, pots, and jars are great for easily accessing products that you use quickly and in large amounts, like body creams. They’re also good for products that have quite a solid consistency, like moisture or cleansing balms. Because they require you to dip your fingers in and out (and they get a lot of air exposure) they shouldn’t be used for long periods of time, or for products that contain unstable active ingredients like vitamin C. 

Airtight pumps

Airtight pumps are perfect for products where it’s important that ingredients are kept well preserved and where the product needs to be carefully dosed out – so serums that contain retinol, peptides, acids, and antioxidants like vitamin C. They’re expensive to make so they do contribute to the overall product cost and aren’t really necessary for stable formulas that aren’t sensitive to air exposure. 

Non-airtight pumps

Non-airtight pumps are a good option for thinner textured products like lotions and cleansers – they’re more hygienic than jars (because there’s no risk or contamination) but as they do expose the formula to air, they’re not great for products that contain unstable or vulnerable ingredients like antioxidants. 


Dropper bottles are perfect for dispensing carefully measured amounts of product, especially thinner, runnier texture like hydrating serums and oils. They’re not airtight, so they can result in products expiring sooner, especially if they’re in transparent packaging which won’t protect ingredients against UV (although darker tinted or opaque glass will). 

Single dose

Although not always great for the environment (depending on what they’re made from), individually wrapped or single dosed products are one of the best ways to ensure that ingredients are fresh and potent every single time you use them. If you want to get the most from active ingredients like exfoliating acids or vitamin C, this is a great option. 

If you have a question for our resident beauty editor and esthetician Grace Day, tweet us at @beautybay using the hashtag #AskGrace for a chance to be featured.