Daily Vanity Logo

You’ve read about it or had friends remind you of it: Don’t ever use any beauty product that has already expired.

But what will really happen if you use the expensive limited-edition lipstick or that discontinued holy grail product you’ve been saving for special occasions, or all those face masks that you hoarded from your vacation in Korea?

This is a question that most of us want to know, because we are guilty of holding on to products that we love but are wayyy past their expiration dates.

Recommended: Salmon DNA is the buzzy skincare ingredient that targets multiple skin concerns – here’s an easy way to introduce it to your routine

What happens if you use expired skincare products

So, here’s the good news. You probably don’t have to worry too much about it.

Dr. Elizabeth Tanzi, founder and director of Capital Laser & Skin Care and Assistant Clinical Professor for the Department of Dermatology at the George Washington University Medical Center, says that there are few issues that may arise from using expired makeup.

“Except it probably wouldn’t be as fresh or the colours as vibrant,” Dr. Tanzi told Business Insider.

Dr. Diana Howard, Vice President of Research and Development for Dermalogica seems to agree with this. She explains that, expiration dates indicate when active ingredients in the formula are likely to stop performing but the only way to really make sure if your product is still potent is to check it in a lab.

A lab test is something most of us don’t have access to, but there’s a good chance that your product can still perform past its expiry date. “If a sunscreen expires, there is a chance it is still good for another year,” shares Dr. Howards.

Suggested: 5 surprising misconceptions of sensitive skin – you could be treating it incorrectly!

Using expired skincare products: There are risks to it

However, there certainly are risks in using products that have expired that you have to be aware of before deciding if you want to take them. 

Just as there is a chance that your product can still perform even though it is past its best-by date, it is also possible that it may not work as well as it should.

Dr. Hadley King, dermatologist at SKINNEY Medspa in New York City shares with Women’s Health Magazine this example: an expired foundation with SPF may not offer sun protection as strong as it was when it was fresh. “This also applies to products that include salicylic acid for acne prevention or retinol to prevent fine lines,” she says.

There can also be worse problems related to using expired products, such as getting an infection. Products that are prone to harbouring bacteria are most susceptible to it.

People with sensitive skin are also prone to getting rashes and other allergies: expired masks, for example, can irritate your skin because the chemicals and ingredients in them have begun to break down.

Which types of makeup and skincare products are most likely to harbour bacteria?

Once a product is exposed, it gets into more contact with bacteria and may start accumulating it. This is why all, if not most, products have a symbol on its label that indicates the amount of time the product can be used for after you have opened it. It looks like this:

The open jar symbol above is an advisory for you to toss out the product 12 months after you’ve opened it. Some products have a longer or shorter duration before they are to be thrown away; it’s usually dependent on the amount of preservatives in the formula and what makes up the formula.

Products made for sensitive skin typically contain less preservatives, and ingredients such as vitamin C are known to be highly unstable, so these beauty products will tend to have a shorter shelf life.

Products that require you to dip your finger into (for example, a jar of moisturiser) are typically more susceptible to bacteria build-up compared to those you can dispense (for example, a lotion that comes in a bottle with a pump).

If you use products that are filled with bacteria, you may risk getting an infection from your beauty product, which can cause inflamed skin, rashes, blisters, and even swelling.

Popular question: Can I use expired face masks?

We tend to buy face masks in bulk, particularly sheet masks – yes, you know you’re guilty of doing that when you’re on holiday in Korea. While there is nothing wrong with saving money by making bulk purchases, you run the risk of having your face masks expire before you even know it.

If you realise that many of your face masks have already expired and wonder if it is okay to continue using them so that you don’t waste the money spent, the general consensus is that you should avoid doing that.

According to renowned dermatologist and makeup artist Kari Bauce, face masks generally expire one to two years after the manufacturing date. Over time, the masks can become irritating to your face as the chemicals and ingredients within them begin to break down.

Active ingredients, particularly glycolic and fruit acids, will become more potent and hence more irritating for your skin – so toss those expired face masks out ASAP!

Suggested read: 80% of reviewers say this acne skincare range is better than their previous one

Signs that your beauty products have gone bad


Molecules in your beauty products can break down and form other molecules that can give you a bad reaction on your skin. If you’re intending to take some risks with expired products and continue using them, then you may want to take note of these definite tell-tale signs that the beauty product has gone bad.

  • The product smells funky or stale – mascaras, in particular, will have a gasoline-like smell
  • The colour is different than before
  • It has changed to a different texture as before
  • You see white or green spots on it – this is likely to be mould

Do a patch test before using expired products

Still unsure whether you should continue using a product after reading the tips above? Well, there’s still one thing you can do: a patch test.

Just like how you test whether a new product may give you a bad reaction, you can try the expired product on a small area of your skin to see how your skin reacts to it. Test it at the area below your ear, leave it out for a few minutes, and see if the area turns red or irritated. If it does, then you should definitely forget about the product.

This being said, please note that the patch test can help you see if your skin may react badly to the expired product but will not help you to tell if it’ll continue to deliver the efficacies that it promises.

Ways to make sure your products last longer

Unfortunately for us, Singapore’s humid weather makes it a great environment for our beauty products to turn bad easily and for bacteria to breed. However, there are a few things you can do to help your makeup and skincare products have a longer shelf life:

  • Keep it away from direct sunlight; if your vanity is near to the window, consider installing curtains or put your products into storage boxes
  • Store it in a dry and cool location – this means you should avoid leaving them in the bathroom
  • Always put the cap back on after you’ve used it, instead of leaving it opened
  • Sanitise your hands before you use the product, especially for products that require you to dip your finger in. If possible, consider getting spatulas for skincare products and applicators for makeup, so that you can reduce contact with your hands as much as possible
  • Avoid using beauty products that require direct contact, such as lipsticks, when you’re ill. You may be transferring the bacteria from yourself to the product
  • For products that you don’t use very frequently, such as masks and ampoules, you may consider storing them in a fridge

You may also like these articles: