How To Know When Your Beauty Products Are REALLY Expired

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The expiration date on a beauty product isn't like that number on the top of your orange-juice carton. Many products don't even have a date, and even if they do, nothing's going to really happen if you keep using the same bottle of lotion for six years, right? Well, actually, it might, according to a thoroughly researched article by The New York Times.

First of all, the myriad of containers shoved underneath your sink is a paradise for bacteria. Not only do you mix in all the germs on your hands whenever you touch them, but they're also designed to maintain maximum moisture — the perfect environment to breed bacteria. Gross. Plus, nowadays, companies are trying to beat out the competition and cut prices by combining multiple products into one — and sometimes, all those ingredients just don't mix. For example, benzoyl peroxide (a common ingredient in acne-treatment creams) has a short shelf life of only three months and it can degrade other ingredients and prevent them from doing their job. And sunlight and heat — even the normal amounts present near a radiator or a sunny window — can also shave time off of a product's life.

If you're thinking all-natural products are the solution, think again. While products containing fruits, vegetables, and other less processed ingredients may not have the same issues as manufactured chemicals, those organic and natural preservatives tend to have a much shorter shelf life than their artificial counterparts, and they can still be degraded by air, heat, or sunlight. Which brings us back around to the problem of packaging. Many products can expire even while in their original, sealed state, but once you open it for the first time, the clock is ticking.

And what exactly is the life span of a product? While there's no hard and fast expiration date, most beauty products carry a symbol called a Period After Opening (or, PAO). It's an icon that looks like a little jar or tube with a number in it. That number refers to the number of months the product is considered safe after opening it. For things like mascara, that can be as little as three months, while many lotions can last for 12 months. Not all products are required to carry this label though, not to mention the fact that you need to keep track of when exactly you first opened the package in order for this to be useful information.

Luckily, the NYT editors did their part and made sure to offer a solution. Apparently, avoiding early expiration is as simple as using a cotton swab instead of your fingers, storing products in a cool, dry place (read: not near your shower), and never, ever adding water. If something seems dried out, just get rid of it! There are tons more information in the original article, so if hoarding beauty products sounds like you, definitely check it out. Now, if you'll excuse us, we have to start cleaning out our medicine cabinet. (The New York Times)

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Image via The New York Times.