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Shelf life of cosmetics: you should know that

Nothing lasts forever and just like food or medicine, beauty products also have an expiry date. But how long does cosmetics really last? And how do you know if it has already expired? We'll tell you how long you can use your cosmetics without worry and give you application tips to keep your all-day favorites fresh for as long as possible.

Cosmetic durability | Five Skincare

Photo by Luriko Yamaguchi

Why can cosmetics go bad?

Cosmetics contain fats and liquids that are perishable. Like cooking oils in the kitchen, fats in care products also react with oxygen in the air and become rancid over time. The water-containing substances in creams, serums and lotions increasingly lose fluidity or become contaminated by bacteria. It is primarily oxidation, drying out and germ contamination that affect cosmetic products and limit their lifespan.

How are cosmetics preserved?

There are various ways to make cosmetic products last as long as possible:

  • It depends on the composition

The basis for its durability is already laid in the formulation of a care product. In general, water-free formulations last longer than water-containing ones because water germinates particularly quickly. With waterless products, the basis for the growth of bacteria and germs is removed and no preservatives need to be added to them. Four out of five FIVE products are therefore water-free .

  • Choose the right container

Packaging plays an important role in the shelf life of cosmetics. At FIVE we use blue glass , which inhibits the transmission of UV light. In order to avoid skin contact with the container and thus the colonization of germs, we use pipettes and pump dispensers to remove the products.

  • Add preservatives

While conventional cosmetics often use synthetic preservatives, natural cosmetics rely on natural preservatives such as monohydric alcohols. But the popular natural preservative ethanol (INCI: Alcohol or Alcohol denat.) also has its pitfalls. Its big plus: It is very effective because it kills pretty much all bacteria and does not cause allergies. Its weakness: from a concentration of around 10% it irritates sensitive skin and dries it out. That's why we don't use alcohol for preservation in any of the FIVE products.

But there are other natural preservatives that do not fail to have their effect. Preservative oils such as jojoba oil or antioxidants from natural plant extracts such as rosemary extract, as well as vitamins, counteract oxidation. In addition to the alcohol already mentioned , essential oils with antibacterial effects and ferments naturally prevent germs and bacteria from making themselves comfortable in your jars and multiplying there.

📖 If you would like to find out more about natural preservatives and how they work, we recommend our blog post on natural preservatives in cosmetics .

How long does cosmetics last?

Cosmetic manufacturers are not required to label most of their products with a best-before date. This only applies to those that have an unopened shelf life of less than 30 months. Even if no expiry date is specified, according to EU guidelines, conventional cosmetics must last for 30 months when unopened .

The jar: The shelf life symbol for cosmetics

This changes once the product has been used. Then the shelf life is between 6 and 12 months after the first opening if stored correctly and used properly. This is indicated by the shelf life symbol for cosmetics - an opened jar - in combination with a number. For example, if a product has a shelf life of up to 6 months after opening, you can recognize this by the jar symbol in combination with the imprint 6M (M=months). If the shelf life is 12 months after opening, that would be 12M.

Shelf life cosmetic symbol jar 6 months | Five Skincare

As a reminder: This information is a best-before date . This does not mean that a product automatically has to end up in the trash bin after this period has expired. Likewise, the durability during this period cannot be guaranteed if the product is stored or used improperly. It is always important to weigh up and observe whether and, if so, how the product has changed.

Tip : ✍️ Write down on the packaging with a waterproof pen when you opened the product for the first time so as not to lose track.

Shelf life of the most common cosmetics

As mentioned above, water-free cosmetics last longer than water-based cosmetics because water provides the basis for the reproduction of germs and bacteria. Here is a quick overview of the average shelf life of the most common beauty products that have already been opened:

  • Waterless make-up can last for several years , e.g. powder, blush, eye shadow, lipstick.
  • Make-up that contains water lasts up to 12 months, e.g. foundation, lip gloss, mascara.
  • Waterless care products last at least 12 months , e.g. solid shampoo, laundry soap.
  • Water-based care products have a shelf life of 6 to 12 months , e.g. eye creams, face creams, sun creams, body lotions and serums.

Shelf life of FIVE natural cosmetics

Contrary to popular belief, natural cosmetics do not automatically perish more quickly than conventional care products. The cosmetics regulation prescribes the shelf life for all products, regardless of whether they are conventional or natural. We now know that cosmetics must have a shelf life of at least 30 months when unopened. However, since we do not know the date of manufacture and stating an expiry date on the packaging is not mandatory, this knowledge is of little help to us. Theoretically, the product could have been on the shelf for 28 months and only have a shelf life of two months when we finally buy it.

Durability natural cosmetics | Five Skincare

Clear labeling of the minimum shelf life

In order to avoid this uncertain gray area and offer maximum transparency, we do things differently at FIVE. Our products are marked with a date in month-year format (MM.YYYY), which indicates the expiry date. This way you can see exactly how long you can use your FIVE product down to the month, provided it is still unopened. From the day it is opened, the shelf life is at least six months , provided the printed expiry date has not been exceeded. We have only omitted this information for our Shea Cream because it is waterless and therefore lasts longer than legally required. We don't want to withhold this information from you and are considering printing it in the future.

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Is expired cosmetics harmful?

It's clear: we don't want to be wasteful and it takes a lot of effort to throw half-full cream containers and tubes in the trash. However, excessive frugality in this case can have unpleasant consequences and backfire. Because expired beauty and care products can cause skin irritations , pimples, spots or rashes and even allergies .

Particular caution is required with self-tanners because of the ingredient dihydroxyacetone, which can release carcinogenic substances when exposed to too much heat. The same applies

Sun protection with the synthetic UV filter octocrylene, which is contained in many conventional sun creams. It is also suspected of having a carcinogenic effect if stored for too long. This risk does not exist with natural sunscreen .

Even if it doesn't seem particularly sustainable at first glance: when it comes to cosmetics, you should turn a blind eye to your skin and say goodbye to expired products. After all, when it comes to food, we tend not to take risks when in doubt - so why should we make an exception for our skin?

In addition, as is often the case: less is more. Because the same thing happens with cosmetics as it does in our wardrobe: we always end up reaching for our favorite jeans that we know fit comfortably and conjure up a tight butt. It is therefore better to buy less and pay more attention to quality . However, it sometimes happens that you simply can't get used to a high-quality care product because it doesn't suit your (skin) needs. Then just give it away before it spends a lonely existence in the bathroom cupboard until its expiry date. That would be a shame!

How do I recognize expired cosmetics?

The signs that your care may be expired come in different ways and depend on the composition of the product. Depending on the ingredients they are made of, beauty products can change significantly in terms of color, texture and smell . A rancid smell or an unnatural discoloration are other unmistakable signs. Then there's only one thing left to do: keep your hands off it and put it in the trash can . The only question that remains is: which one?

👆 An exception is our Shea Cream , which can change its consistency due to heat without this affecting the quality. However, it should be protected from heat and sunlight so that it does not crystallize when it hardens again. This is also the reason why we stopped selling Shea Cream during the summer months.

And goodbye – throw away expired cosmetics

Have you cleaned out properly and would you like to finally get rid of a few “closet keepers” that are ready for the trash can? Then pay attention, here comes our little cosmetic disposal guide :

  1. Very important: First clean the packaging of all product residues . These belong in the trash, NOT flushed down the toilet!
  2. Separate the packaging according to the type of materials : plastic packaging in the yellow bag, glass jars in the waste glass container (sorted into white or colored glass).
  3. Be careful with hazardous waste : nail polish or hairspray cans fall into this category and can be disposed of free of charge at a recycling center .

📝 You can read more about zero-waste cosmetics and reusable systems in skin care on our blog very soon!

Hygiene is the top priority

Regardless of the expiry date of the cosmetics, you also need to be careful when it comes to being able to use creams, lotions, etc. safely for as long as possible. Hygienic handling of tubes and jars is therefore essential to prevent unwanted germs from mixing in or the cosmetics from drying out. To ensure that your care products do not become unusable prematurely, you should avoid these four mistakes as much as possible:


  1. Do not reach into the jar with unwashed fingers .
  2. Do n't leave products sitting open .
  3. Do not expose products to sunlight or heating heat .
  4. Avoid skin contact when using pipettes.

The last point may surprise you, as advertising often shows how a serum is applied directly to the skin using a pipette. This may look aesthetic, but it is not hygienic. Because the pipette comes into contact with the skin , bacteria can get into the product , which can lead to the above-mentioned contamination and thus make it unusable. So follow these 4 tips to enjoy your cosmetics for as long as possible :


  1. Only remove the product with washed hands or, ideally, with a clean spatula .
  2. Seal cosmetics airtight after each use.
  3. Store the products in a cool, dry and dark place .
  4. If using pipettes, place the product in the palm of your hand before applying it to the skin.
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