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Is it time to toss your beauty products? How to know for sure

by Anna De Souza /

Do you hoard beauty products? Does that bottle of sunscreen need dusting before tossing into your suitcase? Has your lotion seen better days? Maybe it's time for a cabinet clean-out. Just like food, your beauty products — everything from facial cleansers, shampoos, razors and moisturizers — have a shelf life.

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You can always turn to the PAO label, or "period after opening" emblem on the packaging, but you may find that not all products display it. Here's your cheat sheet to getting organized. Let's go!

Replace after three months:

  • Acne pads and topical creams

Acne pads and topicals lose efficacy in just a few short months after opening. "Pads tend to dry out unless they are packaged individually," cosmetic chemist Ni'Kita Wilson explained.

As far as creams go, it can depend on the active ingredients. "Benzoyl peroxide expires closer to three months because it is unstable," she adds. You have a bit more time with salicylic acid, so check your label.

  • Razors

Be careful! Razor blades become rusty relatively quickly in the warm, damp environment of a shower stall. The rust can warp the razor and leave you with nicks and cuts that can be a breeding ground for infection. Store your razor outside of the stall and wipe dry (or dip in olive oil), to help it stave off rust and stay sharp longer.

  • Loofahs

Loofahs look cute and clean from the outside, but check out the core. Chances are, you'll be able to see mold accumulating in its center with your naked eye. Think about it: they barely have a chance to dry before you're sudsing up again; it's a playground for bacteria to grow. Toss it every three months, or sooner if your bathroom is particularly damp and humid (i.e. you have a larger family and everyone's a fan of a hot shower).

Replace after six months:

  • Anti-aging products

Anti-aging products can age themselves, and you have to be vigilant given the murkiness of expiration dates. "Anti-aging products are considered cosmetics, and do not require any form of expiration dating," said cosmetic chemist James D. Hammer. In some cases, the manufacturer may have information that the formula is not very stable, and may voluntarily assign a shortened expiration date for their product — that's if you're lucky.

 Products designed to keep you looking ageless, do, in fact, age themselves! Anna De Souza
  • Skin care products in jars

Get this: The six-month mark begins as soon as you begin using the product, so you can start saying goodbye to your creams, serums and prescription topicals in open-system containers after that time frame. "If the creams are in a jar they can lose water and destabilize, or dry out," explained Wilson. Another issue? Using your fingers to dish out product creates a microbial contamination that exacerbates over time. Keep your paws out and use a spatula to scoop out product. If you notice a scent or textural change, toss it!

  • Face cleansers

Active ingredients in face washes begin to depreciate at about six months. "Actives, which are peptides or natural extracts, begin to degrade and lose effectiveness as the product ages," said Dr. Joe Cincotta, PhD, of JJC Creative Consulting, LLC.

Replace after one year:

  • Sunscreen

Pick up new sunscreen yearly or even sooner if it changes color, becomes watery, separates or has a strange odor. "Sunscreens must be uniform to be effective," Wilson said.

  • Scrubs

Grainy scrubs are pretty hardy but should be replaced after one year, especially if it's scooped out of a jar. Bacteria and yeast can breed over time, so if at all possible store a small scoop to dish product out.

 Whenever possible, opt for lotions, cleansers and serums in pump packaging. Anna De Souza
  • Skin care products in pump bottles

Whenever possible, opt for lotions in pump packaging, which you can typically store for up to a year. "Tubes and pumps get more time because they are not exposed to the environment, so there's less of a chance of microbial contamination - plus they don't lose water and remain stable longer," adds Wilson.

Replace after two years:

  • Shampoo and conditioner

Water and air can enter shampoo and conditioner bottles and break down the formula over time.

  • Deodorant

Ever had deodorant crumble under your armpits? It's probably time to toss it! Deodorants are often made with silicones that evaporate over time and can cause the stick to fragment over time.

Have some shelf awareness:

A good rule of thumb is to purchase as you finish. Try to get through the products you have so you get the most bang for your buck and avoid germs.

If possible, store products outside of the bathroom. With the fluctuation of temperature and dampness, it's a breeding bacteria. Most creams and lotions can even be stored in the refrigerator!

If you notice that a product isn't working as effectively as it once did, it's probably time to call it quits. Any separation in the formula renders it unstable — and likely ineffective.

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