That old tube of lipstick that's been sitting at the bottom of your purse for ages. The expensive day cream you only use once a month when you remember you have it. The all-natural shampoo you bought on a whim staring at you from a shelf in your shower.
You know what I'm talking about here.
But how do you know when it's time to let products go? The reality is all cosmetics expire at some point, even those with chemical preservatives. But when it comes to natural skin care products, the question is even more important to answer.
Because green products typically use gentle, plant-based natural preservatives and don't contain any heavy chemicals to extend shelf life, it's likely some of the stuff in your medicine cabinet/makeup bag/shower caddy is past its prime.
Make sure to read and check labels frequently. Note the difference between the terms, expiration date, shelf-life and use by. Any product 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 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. Once a natural product passes that date, the active ingredients are inactive, and sometimes even have gone bad.
So how do you tell if a product is past its prime?
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 funky, it’s time to toss.
Consistency should be the same as when you purchased: a product shouldn’t get watery or turn hard. Similarly, if a product you usually love seems to no longer be doing its job, it probably means the active ingredients have gone bad. For example, lipstick that's been hanging around too long will often get tacky and lose its ability to apply smoothly.
Unless otherwise noted on the bottle, natural products should generally be used within six months to one year of opening, and mascara within three months. When in doubt, contact the manufacturer who can generally identify date of production from the batch code.
Here are a few tips to help your products last as long as possible:
- Always wash your hands before using a product, 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 vs. the sink top). Do NOT leave them in your hot car — they'll deteriorate faster.
- Don’t share your products! You can't assume others will take care of your stuff the way you do.
- Pay attention to dates. Seriously, just like with food, toss a product if it's past an expiration date.
- Keep caps and lids tightly sealed.
- Never add water to products, even if it's just to get those last few uses out. Adding water introduces bacteria and a moist environment, which will soon become a breeding ground for mold and other nasties.
- Give products a good whiff upon opening so you know what they should smell like. That way when the scent changes, you know it's time to say goodbye.
- Toss product if you've had any type of skin or eye infection as you might have contaminated the product.
- Write the date you purchased the product on the label.
- When in doubt, call the manufacturer to ask how long their product is good for.
It's important to note that all cosmetics have expiration dates, not just the natural ones. Remember to dispose of them responsibly, since most skin care and cosmetic packaging can be reused or recycled.
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