Okay, confession time. Do you ever bother to check the expiry date on your beauty products? Well, I don’t. I’ve not given this much thoughts plus there isn’t an expiration date for most products anyway because there’s no legal requirement to use expiry or use-by dates on the majority of products.
In fact, only products that won’t last longer than 30 months need to show a use-by date in the form of a month and year, whereas all other products don’t need one. But of course, all products do have a shelf live especially skincare products that contains preservatives or “all natural” products that contain plant-derived ingredients.
3 years shelf life
From what I read, most products without a use-by date should be used within three years of leaving the factory. If you keep them longer than that, they no longer work well and you increase the risk of contamination, particularly because of the repeated microbial exposure during use. In fact, eye care products have even shorter shelf life and items like mascaras are recommended to be replaced 3 months after purchase.
So how do we know when the product was manufactured? The answer is to look at the batch code on the product package. Batch codes are always printed on the package with different font from the product specification. If the package is a bottle, the code can be found at either the bottom or the side of the bottle. But figuring out the batch codes can be tricky. An example is this that I picked out from various beauty forums.
The batch code on brands under Estee Lauder Group such as Mac, Estee Lauder, Clinque, Origins or La Mer uses 1 letter + 1 digit (or letter) + 1 digit. The letter refers to the location, the fist digit (or letter) corresponds to the months from January to December respectively while the last digit denotes the year (1: 2001, 2: 2002, etc).
The batch code on brands under the L’oreal Group such as L’oreal, Lancome, Biotherm, Helen Rubinstein, Kiehl’s or The Body Shop begins with a letter for location, and a letter for year, and 3 numbers for days. A stands for 2004, B stands for 2005. Z is skipped, because it looks like “2”, so “Y” would denote 2003. The digit stands for the number of the day in a year (eg. 200th day) when the item was manufactured.
L’Occitane uses 3 digits and the first two denotes the week while the last refers to the year. Christian Dior uses a combination of numbers and letters but only the first two are important with the year as denoted in the 1st digit, followed by a letter denoting the month starting with A for January up to M for December (the letter I is skipped). On the other hand, Clarins uses a number to denote the year, followed by two numbers for the month and another three numbers to identify the specific batch.
If you think this is too complicated, think about the fact that there are so many different manufacturers and they actually use different coding system. It’s almost like a secret coding, probably used to track counterfeits.
The good news is that there are now online resources to help you figure out although they’re rather limited at this stage. Like the Cosmetics Wizard which is a calculator to help you calculate your cosmetics’ production date from the batch code on product package. It’s still a beta version and currently only tracks 27 brands. But hopefully, with increased usage, the database will expand to include more brands.
At the end of the day, I believe there is a bit more self learning to be involved. It depends if we want to be proactive in finding out if the products we use on our skin is indeed safe or fresh. Or are we just leaving it to chances because we’re not aware, or worst, can’t be bothered. (Okay, I’m talking about myself here.)