Save or toss? What really happens when a beauty product expires

As a compulsive beauty product hoarder (1,083 lipsticks and 479 perfumes at last count – so not kidding!), I am constantly faced with the battle between throwing out expired products (but that eyeshadow palette is sooooooooo pretty!!!!!!!) and not wanting to literally hurt my skin.

Confession: The former have once too often won over the latter, the lure of an expensive moisturiser that was left in the cupboard for a year too long winning over the potential ramifications of subjecting my skin to an expired product. Because honestly, which one of us hasn’t thought that throwing away a half full tube of mascara after three months is a bit too extreme? That lipsticks don’t expire… they just gently fade away, with no repercussions for our skin? And our health? That it’s all a marketing gimmick on the part of beauty brands to just make us buy more and more products in place of our perfectly fine ones?

Unfortunately, this is the equivalent of shoving your head in the sand, ostrich-style. Because all beauty products expire and using one that’s gone bad is doing some pretty serious damage to your skin. Which is something I learnt after a nasty set of breakouts on my forehead that simply wouldn’t go away. The culprit, as discovered by my dermatologist? A setting powder well past it’s date.

And that’s what led me to research this subject further. Exactly what happens when a beauty product expires? Why is it that old mascara is actually toxic and why you need to buy a new tube of sunscreen every year?

First… reading the label

Unfortunately, most cosmetics don’t come with an expiry date printed on the label – all due to lack of regulation on the subject. What you may find is something called Period After Opening (PAO) date, which is usually indicated by the illustration of a jar with a number written in it. So, a jar with “12” or “12M”, would mean the product is good for 12 months after opening.

I usually just jot down the date I bought the product as well as the date I opened it on the container itself, with a sharpie. If you want to be more sophisticated, look at Timestrips.

Also check the list of ingredients – if the first ingredient listed is water, understand that the product will have a short shelf life as this particular element encourages bacteria to grow the fastest. Organic and preservative-free products are also prone to short lives, as they have no protection against contaminants.

And when in doubt, err on the side of caution, since you really don’t know for how long the product was sitting in the warehouse before you even brought it home!

Case in point: The International Journal of Cosmetic Science published a study in 2013, which revealed that 70% women use at least one expired beauty product, especially eye makeup. And that a whopping 67% of this eye makeup was contaminated. Time, seriously, to rethink our beauty habits.

Moisturizers and eye creams: Nine months to one year

The longevity of creamy skincare formulations – whether moisturizers or eye creams – depends on their packaging. Pump bottles, ampoules or any kind of dispenser in which the product is not exposed to air or your hands will last up to one year. Jars, however, usually last for only 6-9 months. That’s because your hands can contaminate the product with bacteria, while exposure to air and sunlight makes it degrade faster.

In either case, moisturizers and eye creams start degrading and undergoing chemical changes past the one year mark. This happens in different ways: Ingredients like vitamin C and hydroquinone start losing their potency, while others like glycolic acid and retinol actually become more concentrated over time. The former means products lose their efficacy, and the latter leads to skin irritation. Plus, oil-based creams may become rancid, which will further inflame the skin.

Sunscreen: One year

Sunscreens are actually regulated by the FDA and usually come with a prescribed expiration date of one year. After that, the active ingredients start to break down, making the SPF weaker. The formula also starts becoming unstable when exposed to heat and the active ingredients become unequally distributed in the base – so, while with one pump you may get enough SPF, with another you may get none.

beauty-expiry-dateAnti-acne products: Six months

Most acne products are centred on salicylic acid and Benzoyl peroxide, which break down and lose their potency very quickly. Worse, they break down into other chemicals that can irritate and harm the skin.

Retinoid creams: Nine months

Vitamin A is another product that breaks down pretty rapidly, so you need to use it up within the year. Faster if its not packed in an opaque tube as exposure to light and air accelerates the process.

Grainy exfoliators: Two years

Scrubs of the grainy kind are a hardy lot but they are still prone to breeding bacteria that are passed on from your fingers. So, avoid contaminating the tub with dirty fingers and you’re pretty much set for a while.

Peels and masks: Three months

Peels and non-grainy masks, on the other hand, are creatures with short lives. Especially if they are anchored by fruit and glycolic acids. That’s because the buffering agents start evaporating after a while, making the acids more potent. Cue: Skin irritation and burns.

Soap: 18 months to three years

Yes, soap expires. And how fast it expires depends on the formulation. Commercial non-organic soap bars can usually last for about three years, given the added synthetic ingredients and preservatives. However, these very same synthetic ingredients and preservatives will change their chemical composition over time, leaving them skin-unfriendly. Organic, handmade soaps, on the other hand, usually contain high amounts of fat and no chemical preservatives. The fats start breaking down and becoming rancid, giving them a shelf life of 18-24 months. And once you add things such as flowers, fruits, herbs and essential oils, the longevity reduces even further as these organic ingredients decay pretty fast.

Bath oils and shower gels: Two years

Loaded as they are with oils, botanicals and other natural ingredients, bath oils and shower gels are prone to oxidation, which causes chemical changes in the formula. Over time, the consistency also changes, making the oils and water separate. Result: Not so effective, not so pretty.

Loofas and bath sponges: Three weeks for loofas, six weeks for sponges

According to dermatologists, loofahs and sponges are responsible for some of the worst skin infections they see on a regular basis. Loofahs contain proteins and carbohydrates, which become a feeding ground for bacteria. Both loofahs and sponges are also riddled with tiny holes that trap dead skin and harbour bacteria and molds when moist. So, air dry them thoroughly in between uses and toss out in a maximum of 3-6 weeks. Less if you notice any funkiness.

Shampoos and conditioners: Two years

Once water and air start getting into the bottles – as they invariably do – the formula starts breaking down or separating.

expired-beauty-productsDeodorant: Three years

Deodorants are usually loaded with anti-bacterial ingredients and come in an aerosol can, which limits the risk of contamination, so they run foul more slowly.

Liquid foundation and concealer: One year

With time, liquid makeup starts thickening and separating, making for a patchy finish. It also starts changing colour due to oxidation, all of which explains why old foundation does not sit as well on your complexion as a fresh one.

Eyeshadows, blush and other powder-based makeup: Three years

As long as you’re not touching powder-based makeup with dirty hands or brushes, it runs a lower risk of feeding bacteria as there is no water to aid their growth. However, with time, they start drying out, crumbling and become clumpy, making application difficult. Some also contain botanical ingredients, like aloe or essential oils, and these can harbour infections. So, keep an eye out for any kind of growth or change in consistency and toss out immediately if that happens.

Lipsticks and lip glosses: Two years

Lipsticks are loaded with wax, water and emollients, which literally draw in bacteria and become mini-reservoirs of infections. They also contain oils that go rancid with time. Plus, they start drying out as the water evaporates, causing a drag on lips, rather than the creamy or glossy effect you’re seeking.

PS: If you’ve had a cold sore, any lip products you use at the time have to go immediately. Apologies!

Lip and eye pencils: Three to five years

Pencils usually go very close to mucous membranes, thereby increasing the chances of both picking up bacteria and transmitting them back to your eyes and lips. However, every time you sharpen them, it gets rid of the contaminated layers and reveals a fresh, clean one. This extends their shelf life. Only caveat: Regularly sanitise your sharpener and toss out the pencil immediately if you have any cold sores or eye infections.

PS: Self-sharpening pencils don’t have the same benefits and need to be tossed out after 3-6 months.

Mascara and liquid eye liner: Three months

Wet cosmetics such as mascaras and liquid eye liners, which are packed in dark, narrow containers, are literally a petri dish for bacteria – and you’re going to use them next to your eyes! Plus, every time you pump the wand, it pushes air into the formula, drying it out and making for not-so-smooth application.

Nail polish: Two years

The formula will start separating, becoming stringy or gooey. This will start happening sooner if the nail polish is exposed to heat and humidity.

perfume-expiryPerfumes: 3 years to infinity

Do perfumes actually expire? Yes, they do. However, they don’t have a fixed expiry date and their longevity depends on a lot of factors – much like fine wine. Which is why some perfumes go “off” in a couple of years, while others are good for a couple of decades (my mother’s Nina Ricci L’Air du Temps, housed in the original crystal bottle and stored at the back of a very cool, very dark cupboard, smells great after 17 years!). That’s because alcohol is the perfect preservative. However, the ingredients inevitably do start oxidising and breaking down when exposed to the environment. Perfumes with heavy base notes, like woods and musks, last longer than light citrus or florals, which evaporate more quickly. Again, perfumes with a higher alcohol content last longer.

Next, comes the way you store your perfumes. Sunlight, heat and humidity are mortal enemies of fragrance, leading to chemical changes that alter the scent. When this happens, you will notice that the perfume starts changing colour – becoming darker or going milky – and starts smelling more like alcohol than a fragrance. The best way to increase your perfume’s shelf life is by storing them in a cool, dry place, like a drawer or wardrobe.

Hair oils: Exactly which one is right for you?

With benefits ranging from conditioning and adding shine to treating dandruff and stimulating growth, hair oil has become like liquid gold for our tresses. And forget all those drippy, sloppy, sticky after-effects: the big beauty players are creating a completely new generation of oils for the hair. They’ve swapped sachets for sleek pumps, heavy textures for featherweight silkiness and potent blends that do a zillion things at the same time. In fact, I would contend that hair oil is the new hair serum.

choose-hair-oil4How? While it creates a glossy, swishy shine, the humble hair oil also provides protection and nourishment for your strands. And where serums simply coat tresses with silicone, oils add shine in a far more hair-friendly manner by calling on essential fatty acids, vitamins and antioxidants that penetrate the follicles to treat and condition simultaneously.

And that’s not all: hair oil tames frizz and leaves strands manageable, while also protecting against the harshness of heat styling. Plus, it speeds up drying time as the oil reacts with heat to repel water from the hair. And the good ones even create a barrier against the environment: slip some on to protect your hair from sun, salt water and chlorine, or use it as a mini-shield against the effects of pollution.

However, before you dive into the world of hair oil, it’s vital to know exactly which one will work for your strands. There is a hair oil for all textures and types – including the most baby-fine heads of hair. You just need to pinpoint your best fit!

Hair oil for coarse, dry or chemically processed tresses

Hair becomes coarse and dry when it’s damaged, hence you need nourishing oils to repair its structure. One of the top hair oil choices here is virgin coconut oil, which penetrates the hair shaft to patch and protect it from the inside-out. Besides this, it is also lightweight, non-greasy (making it great for fine hair) and helps prevent dandruff.

Then there is avocado oil, which is rich in proteins and amino acids, along with high levels of vitamins A, D and E. All these are vital for hair’s health: for instance, proteins help fill in the cracks in the cuticle, so each strand becomes stronger. However, since avocado is a heavier oil, it works best on medium to thick hair.

Argan fruit and oil
Argan fruit and oil

Argan oil is loaded with vitamin E, omega-3 and omega-9 fatty acids that provide rich nutrition for your hair. It also contains linoleic and oleic acid to moisturise the strands. Plus, argan oil’s small molecular structure allows it to penetrate the hair shaft, repair damaged hair follicles and restore lost moisture. Using it as a hair oil puts back lost lustre from hair straightening and other chemical treatments, helps keep colour vibrant, prevents dryness and acts as a shield against harmful UV rays and environmental pollution.

Hair oil for dull tresses

Sweet almond oil has high amounts of vitamins A, B, and E. As a hair oil, it heals split ends, improves scalp circulation and adds shine to dull hair. The fatty acids provide UV protection by reflecting harmful rays, while vitamin E makes strands grow longer and stronger.

Or try pomegranate seed oil, which contains punicic acid to revitalise dull strands and increase flexibility. It also safeguards your tresses against environmental pollutants, thereby helping keep them in optimal condition.

Hair oil for thick tresses

While everyone is reaching for argan oil these days, the exotically fragrant oil is more suited to thicker heads of hair. It is sticky and can be hard to get out of fine hair – you’ll need to shampoo two or three times to fully rinse it out, or else you’ll get build-up. Yet for richer locks, argan oil can strike the perfect balance of shine, scent and manageability.

Hair oil for fine tresses

Thin or fine strands get weighed down very easily, so look for a light oil that can give them some texture. The structure of jojoba oil is closest to that of our scalp’s natural oils. This allows it to absorb immediately, making it the lightest and most non-sticky of all hair oils. Yet it also packs a hefty nutrient punch with anti-bacterial properties to keep the scalp healthy, stimulate hair growth and moisturise the strands.

choose-hair-oil2Oil for hair loss

Extra virgin olive oil is rich in high levels of mono-unsaturated fatty acids, which are terrific for moisturising, protecting and nourishing the hair. It also has B vitamins (niacin and biotin), vitamin D and vitamin E to help banish bald patches. If that’s not enough, olive oil helps in battling dandruff, which can be one of the reasons for hair loss. Other benefits include deep conditioning, sealing split ends and strengthening hair from the inside out. However, because of its heavier texture, olive oil is more suited to thicker hair.

For fine hair, there is coconut oil. This is made up of saturated fatty acids that soothe the scalp and keep it hydrated. A hydrated scalp promotes hair growth because there are no dead or dry skin cells to clog the hair follicle. Coconut oil also helps reduce hair breakage by strengthening the hair shaft.

Or try out rosemary essential oil. It contains over a dozen antioxidants, vitamin B, iron and calcium, so its application works to strengthen brittle hair and treat scalp problems that hinder hair growth. At the same time, it easily penetrates follicles and delivers the essential nutrients, thereby making hair grow faster and thicker.

Hair oil for dandruff & itchy scalp

Thyme essential oil is antimicrobial, so its usage as a hair oil can help treat itchy scalps plagued by bacteria and fungus. It is best used with grape seed oil as a carrier, since the former also contains Vitamin E and linoleic acid to nourish the scalp and help prevent dandruff.

Thyme oil
Thyme oil

Oil for ALL hair types

Still a bit puzzled? You won’t go wrong with rice bran and hemp seed oils, which suit all types of hair. Rice bran contains vitamin E and creates a harder shell around the cuticle so your strands suffer less breakage; while hemp seed oil is packed with amino acids, omega-3 fatty acids, proteins and minerals that make hair stronger and healthier.

Mix-and-match your hair oils

You can also custom-blend various hair oils according to your needs. For example, if you have coarse hair that’s also afflicted with dandruff, mix coconut oil and thyme essential oil. Similarly, you can use a nourishing oil for scalp and a light oil for hair strands. So, use your own experience of your hair and create a personalised oil blend for yourself. Or pick a blend off the store shelves – just read the ingredient list to know whether it suits your strands.

Do you use a hair oil? Which one? And will you be making any changes after reading this post?

Spring beauty essentials: The 12 new beauty products I am obsessing over this season

After a long career in magazines, I have developed a deep distrust of that particular industry’s beauty awards, top 10 lists and best-of-the-best new launch announcements. Why? Because the unwritten rule in literally every magazine that I have ever worked for is simple: The position and number of products on any of these lists is directly proportional to the number of advertising pages bought in the magazine by the beauty brand. That ‘world’s best lipstick’ tag doesn’t sound half as authentic after that, right? Even if it comes from your favourite publication?

Here, instead, I’ve put together a list of the top beauty launches for this season that come sans payment or inducement of any kind. Hopefully, they will catch your fancy for all the right reasons – as they did mine!

Clarins 4-Color All-in-One Pen, $30

Anyone growing up in the ’90s will definitely remember those four-colour retractable pens that were the height of cool back in the good ol’ days! Well, Clarins now has a makeup version for you, with three eyeliners – blue, black and brown – and a neutral coloured lip liner. All available at a click. Makes packing that vanity kit so much easier!

clarins-4-color-penClarisonic Sonic Foundation Brush, $35

If I had to choose one single product from all the ones listed here, this would be it! The company that has so far been taking off every last bit of our makeup at 18,000 micro-pulses is now going to be putting it on at 18,000 micro-blends… simply by popping on this new brush head onto any existing Clarisonic device. It works with both creams and liquids, the sonic technology making primers, foundations, blushes and concealers simply melt into the skin for a flawless, airbrushed finish that mere mortal hands would find nearly impossible to rival. Total blessing for someone like me who knows we need to blend, blend, blend and then blend some more… but is usually just too lazy tired to follow it through!

Clinique Chubby Crayola Stick Moisturizing Lip Colour Balm Collection, $17

It’s not just about the packaging. The joint venture between Clinique and Crayola has made every childhood dream of scribbling on your lips with jumbo crayons come true. The limited edition collection of 10 Chubby Stick Moisturising Lip Colour Balms is not just encased in the signature Crayola packing, the two companies have also worked to colour match and name match to actual crayons in the latter’s sets. My favourites? The punchy Brick Red and sangria-hued Red Violet.

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Sephora Sweet Balms, $6

Did I mention the ’90s theme running through almost every one of Spring’s beauty products? Sephora joins the bandwagon with Push-Pop-inspired lip balms. They come in three tints – violet, pink, and coral – and will transport you right back to days filled with Bonne Bell lipsticks and PEZ candy dispensers!

sephora-sweet-balmsLabiotte Chateau Wine Lipstick Fitting, $15

Wine + Korean cool = Total awesomeness. This time in the world of lipsticks. Labiotte’s wine bottle-shaped lippies contain actual wine extract and come in four varietals: Malbec Burgundy, (a purplish berry), Nebbiolo Red (a cherry red), Shiraz Red (a more pink-tinted red) and Cabernet Red (a deep rose). Or you can opt for one of the six long wearing lip tints, or one the eight Wine Melting lipsticks, which mimic the look of wine-stained lips.

labiotte-chateau-wine-lipstick-fittingNars Sun Wash Diffusing Bronzer, $40

Finding a bronzer that’s just the right amount of glow-y without piling on the shimmer may just be the Holy Grail of makeup. And NARS seems to have gotten it just right, debuting the cult Laguna bronzer (along with three other shades) in a brand new super finely milled formula that seems to light up your face from the inside out. It’s so fine that while the texture starts out as a powder, it literally melts into skin like a cream. And you can build it up from sheer to super-pigmented with just a few swipes.

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Tom Ford Soleil Lip Balm, $36

There’s just something about summer that makes me want to stay far, far away from heavy lipsticks in the daytime (is that just me?). But I also don’t much like the look of bare lips, especially when offset against a tinted moisturiser or a touch of glow-inducing bronzer. Tom Ford’s new lip balm flirts with just the right amount of colour and the perfect levels of hydration to keep lips both tinted and supple in one go. It starts off as a sheer wash of colour but moves into serious pigment territory with a few more swipes, making it totally multipurpose. And since it’s a balm, there’s no wilting, drying or slippage in the heat. Win-win all around.

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Julep Love Your Bare Face Detoxifying Cleansing Stick, $28

This one’s perfect for popping in your purse – a face cleanser that comes in stick form and is packed with rice bran oil, reship oil and fruit enzymes. Just rub the stick across your face and rub gently with damp fingers to emulsify for squeaky clean skin. No fear of spills. No breakage. Just easy portability married with maximum efficiency.

julep-love-your-bare-face-detoxifying-cleansing-stickYuni Shower Sheets Large Body Wipes, $15

These are a Godsend for long journeys and other offending factors where you feel icky (hello, long day in office hell!) but having a bath is simply not an option. The oversized sheets can be reused multiple times and will leave you looking and feeling minty fresh. I have taken to stocking one in my purse just in case, coz who knows what waits round the next corner!

yuni-shower-sheetsLush Metamorphosis Bath Bomb, $8.95

What looks grey and grungy but explodes into the most gorgeous, pretty-inducing ribbons of pink, orange, yellow and green when it enters your bath? The Lush Metamorphosis Bath Bomb. Forget about the sexy, spicy myrrh and black pepper scent… I want this one purely for the feeling of bathing in a rainbow!

Pixi Peel & Polish, $24

While I am all for an at-home facial, sometimes there are just not enough hours in a day to get everything done. Enter this brilliant new peel, which sits on your face for just two minutes, dissolving away dead cells and other accumulated grime. I pop it on while in the shower to maximise time efficiency… genius, or what?

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Charlotte Tilbury Instant Magic Facial Dry Sheet Mask, $22

While I adore sheet masks, they’re sometimes too sticky and slippery and sloppy for my taste. Charlotte Tilbury’s “dry” version solves that problem with a precedent-setting fabric that substitutes traditional sheet mask serums for tiny vectors of vitamins, floral extracts, peptides, oils and butters. It also works on a smart technology, which tailors the mask to your specific problems. So, for instance, your T-zone may need brightening, your cheeks may need hydration and your jawline may need lifting… and the mask will tackle each zone both independently and simultaneously. According to Tilbury, you can even use it over your foundation for a creamy radiance. And it comes with these clever loops that hook around the ears and hold the sheet firmly against the skin.

My only grouse? Each mask is capable of being re-used there times, which means a lot of folding and popping it in and out of the packet. Given my way, I would stick to the single use, chuck-it-out effortlessness but in this case, the pros clearly outweigh the cons.

Parfum vs EDP vs EDT: What the brands will never tell you (it’s more than just concentration levels!)

This time in Paris, I had an epiphany. A huge one: All these years, I have been wearing a false Chanel No. 5. Not fake, just false. That’s because what we know as Chanel No. 5 Eau de Parfum is not really the legendary fragrance created by Ernest Beaux for Mademoiselle Chanel in 1921.

It is, in fact, Beaux’s parfum, as re-imagined for a more contemporary audience by Chanel nose Jacques Polge in 1986. And the difference, contrary to common belief, lies not just in the concentration of oils. In fact if, like me, you are only familiar with Chanel No 5 EDT or EDP, discovering the parfum will be like finding a completely different fragrance.

parfum vs edt vs edpIsn’t it just about the proportion of oils to alcohol?

No, it’s not. Definitely and absolutely not. As you go up the fragrance ladder, it’s not just the concentration that changes but also the materials and their quality. The EDP and Parfum versions might, in fact, have additional notes that are left out of the EDT altogether because of their price and “heaviness” (EDTs are typically fresher and lighter).

For example, it’s believed that only the Chanel No. 5 parfum contains jasmine from Grasse – the EDP is crafted with flowers from other, lesser sources. Impossible to say for sure but when you smell the two simultaneously, the parfum does deliver a fresher, more rounded jasmine story.

The second thing you notice is that Polge has underlined the original’s bright citrusy top notes and made the vanilla drydown much warmer in order to create a modern twist. The creamy notes of peach that lace the rose, lily of the valley and jasmine heart are also more prominent, while the amplified voluptuousness of sandalwood and the darkness of leather and incense replace the plush, rich muskiness of the original.

The EDP sillage itself is beautiful and long lasting but definitely less powerful. I would say that if the parfum is haute couture, the EDP is the Little Black Dress – both are thrilling in their own right but the former is definitely more majestic.

While I use Chanel No. 5 as an example, the same story runs across all perfume houses, from Dior to Van Cleef & Arpels.

And that’s why, price matters…

  • Chanel Parfum: $260.00 per ounce
  • Eau de Parfum: $33.82 per ounce
  • Eau de Toilette: $26.47 per ounce
  • Body Spray: $13.10 per ounce

What’s you take? Do you wear Chanel No. 5? Which one? And would you rather buy a Parfum, an EDP or an EDT?