If you’re noticing a change of consistency in your grooming products’ texture—or perhaps function—then it might be past its expiration date. Yes, grooming products expire, even if they contain no active ingredients or organic formulas. Any change in performance or structure will differ from one product to the next, but in most cases, the clock starts on the day you opened the product and first exposed it to air. This is the “period after opening date,” since chances are, you bought the product while it was safely on shelves (long before its actual expiration), and since they assume you’ll open it soon thereafter.
Sometimes, it matters more when the product was created and packaged, but since most trusted retailers track this themselves with their inventory systems, you are probably rarely buying items nearing expiration. Rather, if you buy something on sale, it might be good to check for a packaging date, or even a Batch ID or Lot # of some sort on the packaging, which can often be cross checked by the brand. (Many will even publish the actual date of batch production on the label itself.) If researching this information feels like too much work for a product that costs, say, $20, then just buy the dang thing and use it within a few months.
All of that being said, there is a general way of reading a product label, to discern how long after opening you can use a product. No, you probably won’t burn off your skin if you use it beyond that period or date, but you can trust that the brand won’t stand by the product’s claims and benefits beyond said window of time.
Here’s a breakdown of how to check to see if your grooming product needs to be replaced (if you’re thinking it does, it probably does).
Step 1: Check for the universal product “period after opening” logo
First things first: Most products will at least have a “period after opening” logo on their packaging (if not the physical product, then at least what it came in). The FDA does not require this, but it has become a standard among tried-and-trusted companies—on hair products, skin products, and everything between.
It looks like a little cylindrical vessel, with its lid popping off of itself. Inside the vessel will be a number, followed by an ‘M’ or ‘Y’ (for month, or year). If it says 6M, then it expires six months after being opened. If it says 12M or 1Y, then it’s one year after opening, and so forth.
If, for some reason, you think that you may pass this date prior to the product being used up, then just scribble the date you opened it with a permanent marker. (And write the designated expiration date too, in case the product doesn’t have the “period after opening” printed on it, as opposed to the box it came in).
Step 2: Look for an hourglass expiration logo
This is far more rare than a “period after opening” icon, but some products will show an hourglass icon in the same area of the packaging, with an exact date of expiration. Don’t count on finding it, but do look for it!
Step 3: Note any instructions on storage and application
Not all products are made for an identical environment. Some of them need to be stored in cool temperatures, while others must absolutely avoid hot temperatures. (In general, it’s wise to avoid scorching temps, but yes, some products depend heavily on this avoidance.) Certain active ingredients will simply lose their potency if stored improperly.
Luckily, most product makers will factor this in when devising a vessel for the product—just as they factor in oxidation and light exposure. For example, if you see a vessel for a face cream with a pump (instead of dipping your finger in for a dollop), and if the vessel is opaque, then that’s likely because it cannot endure prolonged exposure to light and air.
The onus is on you to make sure this product is temperature controlled, but luckily most can tolerate a simple bathroom setting, even as it fluctuates through a hot steamy shower.
Step 4: Remember these general rules of thumb
Since a product’s efficacy is largely dependent on its formula, the above information is truly the most reliable way to get the most out of it before expiration. However, there are still a few parameters that can help you along the way:
1. Organic and preservative-free products have a shorter shelf life.
Assume they are 3-6 months maximum, and consider storing them in the refrigerator.
2. SPF products are mandated by law to only last one year.
That is, they are forced to “expire” to protect consumers and prevent burning. Yeah, they might actually last for years on end, but it’s not a gamble worth taking. Replace them at the beginning of each summer.
3. Anything with active ingredients has a shorter shelf life.
If you’re treating acne or countering signs of aging with retinol, then try to get through that product within 3-6 months. Ideally, the maker will have limited oxygen and light exposure through the vessel design and materials, too, which will help a lot.
4. Sun exposure changes the structure of products.
If you leave hair products or fragrance in direct sun and heat, it can significantly alter the “genetics” of that product. Something dense might be more runny. Something that smelled springy and fresh might smell—well, not so.
5. Most baseline cleansers, conditioners, and stylers have 1-3 year windows of time.
Again, it’s never universal, but these products tend to lack the active ingredients and volatile formulas that are more easily compromised in other products. Still, check the labels, and be sure not to let anything liquid settle and separate.
6. Toothbrushes and razors have agreed-upon expiration dates.
The ADA advises changing your toothbrush quarterly (every three months). As for razor blades, swap them after 6-8 shaves, or after 2-3 weeks—whichever comes first. Store them in a cool, dry place, upright until dry, between shaves, after rinsing thoroughly with hot water.
Keeping in line with grooming products, it may be time to clean out your hair products—they expire too.