You’ve read about it: Don’t ever use any beauty product that has already expired. But what will really happen if you use the discontinued holy grail product you’ve been saving for special occasions? This is a question that most of us want to know, because we are guilty of holding on to products that we love but have already expired.

You can probably get away with using expired 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. However, because the only way to check if your product is still potent is to check it in a lab – which most of us won’t have an access to – there’s a good chance that your product can still perform past its expiry date.

Dr. Howard says, “If a sunscreen expires, there is a chance it is still good for another year.”

But not all the time

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 the example that an expired foundation that has 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”, Dr. King says.

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

Which types of products are most likely to harbour bacteria?

Once a product is exposed, it 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:

If you see the image above, you’ll know that you’ll need 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.

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 with a pump).

If you use products that are filled with bacteria, there’s a chance that you may get an infection from your beauty product. The infection can cause inflamed skin, rashes, blisters, and even swelling.

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 product has gone bad.

  • The product smells funky
  • The colour is different than before
  • It has changed to a different texture as before
  • You see white or green spots on it (it is likely to be mould)

Consider a patch test

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

Just like how you test whether a new product may have a bad reaction on you, 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 promise.

Ways to make sure your products last longer

Unfortunately for us, Singapore’s humid weather makes it a great environment for bacteria to breed. However, here are a few things you can do to help your 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. And if you could, 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

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About the Author
Kristen Juliet SohIn her 30s, Kristen Juliet Soh is the editorial director of Daily Vanity, and has spent more than a decade in the field of journalism and content stra...Read More