Use It or Lose It

Why do so many skincare companies put products in 1-to-6 ounce containers? Why not supersize them, like some discount retailers do?

The problem is that supersized products may be false economy. Here’s why:
1. Just about all personal cosmetic products have a shelf life. You can see that date printed on the jar; it’s called the PAO (Period After Opening)—an illustration of a little open jar, with a number inside, like 6M, 12M, etc. This number stands for how long the product will stay fresh after it has been opened. Skincare companies are not required to include the PAO on the package, but ZO does.

2. Some products will lose their potency after repeated exposure to light or air. Vitamin C, retinol, glycolic acid, and hydroquinone—some of the best and most effective ingredients—are all particularly vulnerable. Airtight, opaque packaging helps, but it’s not fail-safe.

3. Products that are applied directly to your face—like lip gloss, lip balm, eyeliner, and mascara—become breeding grounds for bacteria. You’re not doing yourself any favors by keeping them long past their expiration date.  That’s why so many skincare products are sold in airtight pumps, to reduce the possibility of contamination.

4. Cosmetics and skincare products need to be stored properly: away from direct light or heat, and with the jar firmly closed. Don’t keep them in your car—especially during the summer.

5. Loofahs and sponges are frequently the host for bacteria. All of those nooks and crannies—and the moist bathroom environment—are conducive to bacterial contamination. According to Dr. Obagi, the bathroom is “a fertile ground for mold, bacteria, fungus, and streptococcus, and these things make you vulnerable to acne and infections.”

Here’s what Dr. Zein Obagi recommends for the useful life of skincare and cosmetics:

  • Cream and gel cleansers: 1 year
  • Serums:  6 months
  • Liquid foundation: 6 months if it is in squeezable packaging, 2 months in any other form
  • Concealer:  3 months
  • Loose powder:  2 years
  • Pressed powder:  18 months
  • Eye shadow: 2 years if powder, 2 months if it’s cream (unless it is in a squeezable or airtight container)
  • Mascara:  3 months (but discard sooner if it dries out)
  • Eyeliner: up to 3 years for regularly sharpened pencils, 2 months for cream or liquid eyeliners
  • Blush:  2 years for powder, 2 months for cream
  • Makeup sponges:  wash after each use and throw away after 2 weeks
  • Lipstick:  1 year
  • Lip gloss:  18 months
  • Lip liner:  up to 3 years if sharpened regularly
  • Nail polish:  1 year