When people find out I’m a beauty writer, there are some questions I get asked A LOT:
Just tell me the magical serum that will make me look 25 again (uh, not possible, not realistic, but everyone loves Vintner’s Daughter)
Is green beauty really worth the money? (yes)
Do I need a toner? (it depends, but this Josh Rosebrook one is my favorite)
But it’s the questions I *don’t* get asked much that really concern me. Like, how long is my face oil good for once I’ve opened it? Why is this product green, but online it looked blue? Can I still use this unopened cream I found in the back of my closet from, like, two years ago?
These are the questions we need to be asking! And the three questions above are just barely scratching the surface! Here at Integrity Botanicals, we complied a ton of questions we get occasionally, but that we think we should all be talking about a lot more, and there are so many of them that we’re making this a three-part series!
We’ll be covering all your burning questions (and, by the way, if a product makes your skin feel like it’s burning, definitely stop using it!), plus a bunch of questions you probably never even thought to ask. We’ve interviewed founders and formulators from over two dozen brands, and complied their wisdom, years of research, and incredible depth of knowledge.
Today’s blog post will cover the lotions and potions: all your questions about skincare potency and freshness and quality.
Next time, we’ll cover makeup— when (and WHY) to replace each type of product, how to store them, and how to know if they’ve “gone bad.”
And the final part of the series will cover Natural Variations: why some products have different colors or textures from one batch to another, and why this is really a good thing! And, if you have questions you want to get answers to between now and then, we’ll also be tackling some of those in this final installment! Feel free to post your questions in the comments of this blog entry, or find me or Integrity Botanicals on Instagram!
Let’s begin with the question that started it all: How long can natural beauty products be open and still retain their potency and avoid bacterial growth?
This is one of my favorite questions, because it leads to about a hundred other questions, and I LOVE questions, especially ones about green beauty and skincare! And I particularly love questions about skincare because I have the unique privilege of being able to go right to the sources, the founders of the brands we carry at Integrity Botanicals!
To answer the question of how long a beauty product can be open and still retain it’s potency, we must actually back up one step and talk about expiration dates. An expiration date can tell you how long the product is good for unopened. Once you open the product and expose it to air, a different clock begins.
Not all beauty products come with expiration dates. Ayuna, for example, labels each product with a lot number, and if you need to find out the timeline, you can reach out to the company at firstname.lastname@example.org with the product name and lot number to find out when it was made. At Kari Gran, they have always hand-written the expiration date on each product for easy info. (I’ve always loved that, because it adds a personal touch to each Kari Gran product!) Some brands, like Blissoma, offer a combination of the two previously mentioned methods: most Blissoma products include batch information on a sticker on the product, and both the lot number and expiration date are included so that clients know when products are past their freshness dates.
Now that we’ve established the baseline of expiration dates, let’s say you opened a new face cream. Hooray! It smells amazing! It makes your skin look smooth! You feel moisturized day and night! Awesome!
But how long can this magic last?
Of course, there is no one right answer– it varies from brand to brand, depending on the ingredients used, the type of preservative system, and the way it’s manufactured. But we did find a general consensus to start with. Suzanne LeRoux, founder and formulator of One Love Organics, tells us, “With green beauty products, you want to follow a general rule of ‘use it or lose it’ within 12 months.” Kari Gran agrees. “We’ve got the use within 12 months symbol on our products. Even without this, 12 months is a good guideline.” Kari adds that, “if it’s mascara, I always toss after 3 months,” which is great advice, and we’ll be covering all things makeup in part two of this series, so stay tuned for that, because the rules for makeup are different!!
So, the 12 month guideline is always a great place to start, when in doubt. However, with more research, you can find that some brands and some products have different timelines. This variation, as mentioned earlier, has to do with the type of ingredients used, the way the product is made, and the manufacturing and bottling processes, among other things. Susanne Norwitz of Maya Chia tells us that, “our face oils are good up to 18 months. For the rest of our products, a year long shelf life.” While One Love Organics’ LeRoux says that, in general, 12 months is a good guide, water-based products, like her brand’s Skin Dew Coconut Water Cream, should be tossed within 9-12 months of opening. The team at Laurel Skin suggests an even shorter timeline. “In the same way fresh-picked fruits and vegetables better nourish our internal organs, we believe in supporting our skin with nutrient-rich, fresh whole plants. Due to the unique quality of our whole plant ingredients, our handmade-to-order products are the freshest and most potent upon opening. We recommend using our products within the first 6 months of opening for best results.” This is a good reminder that it’s really important to research each individual product to find out for how long it’s good. It would be a shame to toss it too early, while there’s still plenty of good use in it, and, on the other hand, you certainly don’t want to use product that has gone bad.
The best way to know if your product is still good is to both check the expiration date and to look for the symbol on the packaging that tells you how long it should last after opened. This symbol looks like a little jar with the lid opened, and has a number printed in it, which is the number of months it is still viable after opening. I, personally, like to write down the date I open a product on a piece of masking tape and affix it to the container so that I can keep track of when I started using it, but that’s because, as a beauty writer who is constantly testing and researching, I often open more containers than I can possibly use up in the appropriate amount of time. It can be hard to remember exactly when you started using a new product.
How do we know if a product has, indeed, gone bad?
“Products can go rancid, the antioxidants and actives can degrade, and problematic microbial life can flourish like molds and bacteria,” says Blissoma founder Julie Longyear. “Unfortunately unless the overgrowth of bacteria and mold is extreme it won’t be visible to the eye. A product can be heavily contaminated and still look perfectly fine. The only way to tell is with an actual test where a sample of the product is grown on a slide or plate. For rancidity in oils a sharp, acrid aroma will be detectable and the texture of the oil will change and become more sticky. Loss of vital actives can be indicated by a change in color.”
Dr. Sarah Villafranco, founder of Osmia Organics, suggests this. “If the product has changed in texture, appearance, or scent, there may be cause for concern. That said, those signs do not have to be present for bacterial or fungal growth, so it’s smart to buy from companies with a solid reputation and history.”
Of course, we love our Green Beauty founders for their incredible innovations, and May Lindstrom tells us some of the ways her company has worked to ensure safety and efficacy, by preserving their products thoughtfully. “We have utilized multifunctional, skin-beneficial natural ingredients in order to safeguard our collection while optimizing the results your complexion receives — versus opting for a standard synthetic that only adds value as a preservation system. By utilizing ‘hurdle technology,’ which is basically intelligent formulation using several different natural preservation factors, we can control microbial growth in the absence of traditional preservatives. The final formulas for each of our products are put through rigorous stability and preservative-effectiveness challenge testing and all have received their ‘pass’ mark.”
Even if the products in question have passed their expiration date, Lindstrom has a solution for making sure nothing goes to waste. “The products in our collection are generally safe to use after their expiration date, but they won’t impart the same nutritional benefit on the skin years after bottling. Using our formulas at their freshest is where the magic is, this is what our clients invest in and where they will see the results they are seeking. If caught with products past their ideal window, we sometimes recommend that clients use these for full-body care, and indulge in a fresh batch to care for their more delicate facial skin.”
None of us can stop or slow time, so we can’t control the longevity of our products that way, but what about making sure they stay as fresh and safe as possible while within the “use-by” time limit?
“Use clean hands each time you use any personal care product. This is good for your health and for maintaining the integrity of your products,” says Suzanne LeRoux of One Love Organics.
Lastly, one way to make sure we don’t waste product or throw away good money is to limit the amount of things we buy (and open!) at one time. You all know I’m a complete product junkie, and I often bemoan the fact that I only have one face on which to use all this amazing skincare, but even I can suggest opening only one type of product at a time. I might have a face oil, face cream, balm, and serum open all at the same time, but I try to keep it to just one of each. That way, less goes to waste, and your skin has time to take in the messages and instructions each product is giving it. Consistency matters with skincare— you have to use a product regularly for a period of time to see results! As much as I want all the skincare all the time, it does make sense to focus on one type of each product at a time.