Use-by dates on beauty products

Cosmetics, after diamonds, may be a girl's best friend. They hang out in handbags, glove compartments, medicine cabinets and on dressing tables. But did you know that cosmetics have a 'use by' date?

A recent study revealed that 15% of women did not realise that beauty products had an expiry date. Of those that did know about out-of-date cosmetics, 49% ignore the information.

Most women have cosmetics which are tucked at the back of a drawer or cupboard and which have been there for some time. After spending half a week's wage on a super-duper product, it is hard to admit it just doesn't suit and throw it out. Lipsticks can look great in the store but too gaudy/soft/purple in the daylight. Blushes, eye-liners, concealers that are too harsh or too pale get relegated to the back of the drawer.


Preservatives in cosmetics

The role of parabens

Preservatives are essential in cosmetics. Without added preservatives, cosmetics would last about a month. Chemical preservatives prevent bacteria, moulds and yeasts from multiplying. They also help prevent cross-contamination of products as you use them. When the preservatives eventually expire, bacteria are free to multiply and the end result may be skin and eye infections. Airborne bacteria enter the jar as soon as the lid is removed. Merely using moisturisers with the fingers introduces bacteria into the contents of the jar.

The cosmetics that sit in the back of a cupboard or drawer are busy incubating bacteria. Bacteria thrive on the water, oil and sugar mix that make up cosmetics. Unopened and kept in a cool dark environment, Australian government standards state that products should be stable for three years from the date of manufacture. However, in reality, many products have a much shorter shelf life.

Parabens are the most commonly used cosmetics preservatives and have been used since the 1920s. There is some concern now that parabens should be banned. Such a ban would have widespread implications for the industry.

Too much chemical intervention can cause irritation so there is a fine balance to be struck during the manufacture of beauty products. Mascara, because it is used so close to the eyes, has only small amounts of preservatives and should be discarded after three to six months. If you develop eye infections or styes, discard unused mascara immediately.

How long will each product last?

Liquid eye-liner should be discarded three to four months after opening, mascara after three or six months. Natural or organic products will only last about six months. Lip and eye pencils, sunscreens, nail polish and skincare products may last a year, sometimes a little longer. Foundation in a jar, perfume or cream powder will last one to three years and powders will last up to three years after opening.

Keep track of your cosmetics

There are some practices which will ensure maximum longevity for your cosmetics.

  • Mascara should be kept out of the light and heat. Don't share mascara and don't use it if you already have an eye infection.
  • Write the date of purchase on tubes and bottles so you know when it is time to discard the contents.
  • Nail polish can be kept in the fridge over summer to delay separation of the ingredients.

Signs of product disintegration

  • Ingredients separate or the texture becomes like cottage cheese.
  • The scent changes and becomes rancid indicating a lack of antioxidants.
  • Nail polishes become gluggy and won't set.
  • Lipsticks become dull on the bullet and may show evidence of mould or yeast growth.
  • Under extreme temperature conditions, creamy products may melt or freeze. The consistency will change and the oils in the product will rise to the surface.
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It pays to go through your old cosmetics from time to time and throw out those that are out of date. This way, you will ensure that you will not be at risk of eye and skin infections from out-of-date beauty products.