Use By: Understanding Expiration Dates

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Whether you purchase your skincare products from  Quintessa Medical Spa, a drugstore, or a cosmetics counter, odds are you’re paying a fair amount of money for them and want them to last as long as possible. Unfortunately, even the priciest of cosmetic and skincare products have a shelf life, and that shelf life is often shorter than you’d hope.

While you might be able to get away with using some types of products for longer than recommended, others start to lose effectiveness after a certain amount of time. Your skincare products can also become contaminated after time, making them no longer safe to use.

Type of Product

The shelf life of a skincare product depends on the type of product it is and the ingredients it contains. Some ingredients may be fantastic for fighting the signs of aging or reducing skin hyperpigmentation, but they are also very fragile.

One example of a fragile ingredient is hydroquinone. Hydroquinone helps lighten your skin, reducing sun spots or dark circles. It’s found in products such as the Skin Brightening Cream from Quintessa‘s skincare line. Hydroquinone has a pretty short shelf life. After a couple of months, it can start to break down and lose its potency, meaning it becomes less effective.Other ingredients with a brief life span are benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid, often found in products designed to treat acne, as well as vitamin C and retinols.


If you’re using sunscreen to protect your skin from UV rays, it’s important to know how old the product is. Sunscreens are one of the few skincare products that actually include an expiration date. If you look at your sunscreen bottle and see that the date has passed, you may want to discard and repurchase the product. Like other ingredients, the active ingredients in sunscreen breaks down with time, meaning it’s less and less likely to protect your skin. Usually, sunscreen will last for about a year, if not longer.

Product Format

The type of product you’re using also plays a part in determining how long it will last. Pre-soaked pads and cloths can be very convenient, but they can dry out if they aren’t kept in an air-tight container. The ingredients won’t so much lose their effectiveness as they will simply evaporate away.

In some cases, the  non-active ingredients in a product can be what breaks down or evaporates,causing  your serum or lotion to become too strong. If that happens, you might notice that your product starts causing irritation to the applied area.

The bottle or packaging a product comes in is often designed to increase or maximize its shelf life. Light is often a culprit when it comes to ingredients breaking down. For that reason, a lot of skincare products are packaged in opaque containers. Also, exposure to the air speeds up oxidation. Products that come packaged in a pump container are less likely to oxidize as quickly, as the airtight pump offers some level of protection.

What to Look For

What if you’re not sure how long you’ve had a product or whether it’s worth it to keep using it? There are a few tell-tale signs that a product should no longer be used, including if the product smells differently than it did at first or if the product’s color has changed. A white lotion might turn yellowish or develop a grey tinge, for example.

Sometimes the physical form of the product might change, showing it’s gone bad. A smooth moisturizer might develop lumps, or your mascara might become clumpy. Semi-liquid products might start to separate, meaning a layer of watery liquid sits on top of a thicker substance.

A good rule of thumb to follow when it comes to your cosmetics and skincare products is to sort through them every season. Discard anything you haven’t used all season, as well as any products that have changed in texture, color or scent. You can also label your products with a date when you first use them, so you have a good idea of how long they’ve been sitting around.

If you have any questions about the shelf life of product you purchased at Quintessa Medical Spa, the staff is available to answer them. Quintessa has two locations: 10604 N. Port Washington Road, Mequon, WI, and 2124 Kohler Memorial Drive, Sheboygan, WI. Call (262) 242-QSPA to reach the Mequon location or (920) 458-QSPA for an appointment in Sheboygan.

Begin Your Quintessa Story

Whether you’re interested in plastic surgery or exploring non-surgical alternatives, we’re confident Quintessa’s team of certified specialists can help achieve the results you’re looking for. Schedule a consultation today or visit us in person at one of our southeastern Wisconsin locations in Delafield, MadisonMequon, Middleton and Sheboygan to learn more.