Do Cleansers Expire?

You can't use the same tube of cleanser forever. Here's how long your cleanser will last before expiring—and how to tell when it's time to purchase a new product.

If you plan to stockpile your favourite cleanser so you never have to buy it again, you might be in for a rude awakening when you discover its expiration date. All toiletries eventually expire, whether you see a date on the package or not.

Most cleansing products expire after a year or two, but this rule varies with packaging, ingredients, and so much more. Here's how to tell when it's time to toss your old cleanser.


Do Cleansers Expire?


Reasons Not to Use Expired Cleansers

Using an expired cleanser a day or two after the expiration date is unlikely to make much difference. But the further you get from the expiration date, the more likely you are to harm your skin. Expired cleansers pose three key risks:

Reduced potency: Active ingredients in expired cleansers tend to lose their potency over time, so your acne-fighting or anti-ageing cleanser might not work at all.

This is especially true for anti-oxidant products, which lose potency over time.

Dangerous skin reactions: Ingredients change and break down over time, altering the way your cleanser works. Some ingredients become weaker, whereas others actually become stronger, creating a chemically unbalanced product.

You may end up with painful skin reactions, particularly if you have sensitive skin. And if you depend on your cleanser to treat common complexion concerns—such as acne or flaky patches—these might get worse as your product loses potency.

Dangerous bacteria and fungi: Over time, your cleanser bottles becomes a breeding ground for microbes. If your cleanser is expired, you increase your risk of a number of skin infections, particularly staph.


Do Cleansers Expire?


Cleanser Expiration Dates

Most cleansers are stamped with either an expiration date or a period after opening (PAO). If your cleanser bears an expiration date, throw it away when you pass that day. A period after opening—usually stamped on the label next to an M and a jar symbol—tells you how long you can use the product after opening it.

To avoid forgetting when you opened a product, write the date on the outside with a permanent marker. Or, use a sticker with the date you opened it.

Other Guidelines

Expiration dates are merely guidelines. You should also carefully monitor the state of the product to assess whether it's still safe to use.

Obvious infestations, such as mould growth, are no-brainer indications that you should toss a beauty product. Some more subtle signs that your cleanser belongs in the rubbish, not on your face, include:

  • Changes in colour or texture. For example, a lotion cleanser might begin thickening to a creamier texture.
  • Changes in smell. You may notice a distinctly foul smell or simply a different odour.
  • Changes in the container's appearance. Swelling can indicate an overgrowth of bacteria or fungi. Note that hot weather can also cause swelling, so store your product in a cool, dry location.
  • Changes in the product's behaviour. Old cleansers may suddenly fizz on your skin or do other strange things.
  • Watery or oily discharge. This indicates that ingredients have separated or are breaking down.