Does A Moisturizer Expire? A Guide on Skincare Expiration

Does A Moisturizer Expire? A Guide on Skincare Expiration

If you are like most people, having experimented with various skincare products over the years, you might find yourself with a whole stack waiting to be finished or even opened for the first time.

This happens fairly frequently, with our skin needs changing with the seasons, and over the years, so does our choice of moisturizer.

However, if we have lots of odds and ends lying around our bathroom, is it always the best idea to use them?

So before you pick up that old favorite, let’s consider does a moisturizer really expire and if there are consequences using one that’s past its shelf life.

While using moisturizers that have expired shouldn’t damage or irritate your skin at best it will simply be ineffective. At worst the broken down ingredients could clog your pores or leave an oily residue if different components have separated.

Can lotions and moisturizers expire?

While skin creams and lotions are not food that you ingest they have no legal requirement to put a sell-by date on the packaging. Sometimes you will see a recommended shelf life being shown in month, but often there is nothing at all.

When products are being developed in the lab a number of stabilizers are added so that the ingredients do not quickly break down or separate. Without these stabilizers, a lot of our modern skincare products would have to be used within days.[1]

Fortunately, we have decades of experience in formulation moisturizers so now the majority have a shelf life of around a year or two.

This does however vary wildly with the ingredients included. A simple cream may have a very long shelf life, but a more complex cream with acids, antioxidants, and other natural extracts may inherently have a shorter shelf life.

Despite this, we can’t give you an average breakdown of different cream types and how long they should last. Companies publish ingredient data inconsistently, mainly without including percentage or per weight measurements for ingredients making it impossible to guess at their stability.

Does a moisturizer go bad?

does a moisturizer go bad

When looking at the recommended shelf life of a product (if it is included) the timing suggested is for a sealed product. As soon as you open the product it will begin to dehydrate and of course, come into contact with oxygen.

Initially, the effect is very slight and not something that needs to be worried about. The longer the contact with air, however, the greater the effect becomes.

Remember that once a product is unsealed then you cannot ‘reverse’ the effect by keeping it closed. Oxygen will already be oxidizing the ingredients so it will have a shorter time until expiration.[2]

Products that are packaged in a tube for example have much less exposure to the outside world and therefore last longer than jar-type products with a lid.

Using expired skincare products

The product guidelines are simply recommendations – there is no clear scientific guidance stating the rate at which active ingredients breakdown in each different formulation.

If you have bought an expensive skincare product but never got around to using it you may be tempted to try it even after the expiration date has passed.

While this isn’t necessarily a hard no there are some factors you may want to take into account when doing this.[3]

Does it smell?

If so the antibacterial and antifungal additives may have stopped working (if there were any in the first place)

Has it changed color?

If it has changed color then it has either dehydrated or oxidized, either way, it should be in the bin.

Is there any benefit?

There is a high chance that a simple and inexpensive cream would be more effective than an expired expensive cream.

Will it protect me?

If it is an SPF moisturizer, are you sure that it still gives you the level of UV protection that you expect?

5 Easy tips for using a moisturizer safely

tips for using a moisturizer safely

1. Make sure it’s the real deal

There are unfortunately too many fake products out there on the internet. The problem gets worse the more expensive the product. Fake products are going to be of poor quality and could be unusable before they even touch your skin.

2. Keep in a cool, dark place

We all know we should do this but it’s easy to leave bottles and jars piled up near heat sources like a radiator. Keep everything in a cool cupboard away from light, heat, and moisture to keep your products fresh and effective for as long as possible.[4]

3. Use clean hands!

If your moisturizer is kept in a jar, are you keeping the contents fresh and germ-free?

Washing your hands before moisturizing is something that most of us naturally do anyway, but sometimes we need a quick top-up before heading out of the door. Even if your hands are ‘clean, they will likely have some oil and grime invisible to the eye that will get transferred into the cream. To avoid this try using an applicator or cosmetic stick instead of your fingers.

4. Check SPF expiration

If you live in a very seasonal climate then there is the chance that you only use SPF in the summer months. While you should use sun protection all year round for skin aging reasons, doing this also increases the chance that you find yourself every year with last year’s creams. Double-check the date and for any opened tube and bottle check the liquid or cream smells and looks alright before using it.

5. Is it sealed?

This should be a given, but check items are sealed in the shop before you buy them. If you have found an old moisturizer at home unused but the seal is already broken then it is best to just throw it away.

Conclusion: Moisturizer best practice

While we can’t help the occasional build-up of products when testing things out at home, making a habit of using old, opened products from the back of the cabinet probably isn’t the best idea for our skin in the long run.

As long as you keep items sealed and keep your hands as clean as possible when using jar contained creams then your moisturizers will be fine for months to come.

The bottom line is to not be tempted by creams that are discolored, smell, or are clearly years old.

Do your skin a favor and refresh your inventory with a good quality moisturizer that will set up your skincare routine for success.

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  1. Halkier-Sorensen L, Thestrup-Pedersen K. The e§cacy of a moisturizer (Locobase) among cleaners and kitchen assistants during everyday exposure to water and detergents. Contact Dermatitis1993; 29: 266 ^ 271.
  2. Ramsing D, Agner T. Preventive and therapeutic effects of a moisturizer. An experimental study on human skin. Acta Derm Venereol(Stockh) 1997; 77: 335 – 337
  3. Frosch PJ, Kurte A, Pilz B. Effcacy of skin barrier creams. (III).The repetitive irritation test (RIT) in humans. Contact Dermatitis1993; 29: 113 – 118
  4. Blichman C, Serup J, Winther A. Effects of single application of a moisturizer: Evaporation of emulsion water, skin surface temperature, electrical conductance, electrical capacitance, and skin surface (emulsion) lipids. Acta Derm Venereol (Stockh) 1989; 69:327 ^ 330

About The Author


Board-Certified Doctor and Educator

Bachelor of Medicine Bachelor of Surgery MBBS (Cardiff University)

London, United Kingdom

Dr. McKeown is a UK based NHS clinician with over 10 years experience in both hospital medicine and surgery. After an initial career in maxillofacial surgery his focus now lies in elderly care and rehabilitation medicine. A board member for Wadham College of Science, Dr. McKeown is passionate about widening access to both education and healthcare around the world and as a result, outside of his clinical work he spends much of his time either teaching or providing medical consultancy to healthcare startups. Commercially, his interests lie in helping research and promote novel, evidence-based medicines originating from natural sources and processes.

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