Does Retinol *Actually* Expire? (And How Do You Know?)
Main Image – Liubov Levytska
In the quest for youthful, radiant skin, few ingredients have achieved the cult status of retinol.
Now a *firm* fave in the realm of beauty products, this vitamin A derivative has garnered a reputation for its remarkable ability to reduce fine lines and wrinkles, combat acne, and rejuvenate our skin’s natural glow.
But amidst the popularity of this powerful potion lies a burning question: Does retinol expire and, if so, how can we discern its age-defying prowess from its twilight years?
Unlike fine wine, unfortunately, retinol does not improve with age. In fact, it can *actually* lose its effectiveness over time (and can leave us feeling like we’ve been shortchanged on its extraordinary benefits).
As we embark on this investigative journey, it’s *essential* to dispel any misconceptions about retinol’s potency, so Live That Glow HQ spoke with nurse practitioner, aesthetic injector and the founder of Nu Glow Aesthetics, Deidre ‘Dee’ Albanese, to get the lowdown on all things retinol and how to get the best out of your products.
So, let’s get into it!
Does retinol expire?
Simply put – Yes, retinol does expire.
Dee tells us that “Retinol creams typically have a shelf life of 2 – 3 years, and retinol serums will expire after 12 months.”
After this period, retinol products may become less effective and cause skin irritation, bacterial infections (in rare cases) or other side effects. Literally everything we want to avoid in our skincare routine!
What is retinol?
Retinol has gained its name as somewhat of a skincare superhero over the last decade, with *tonnes* of brands using it in their products – from professional derms to high street companies.
But what *exactly* is retinol?
This magical ingredient is derived from Vitamin A and works wonders to promote cell turnover, revealing a youthful complexion that’ll leave you looking fresh and fab.
You can say goodbye (to a certain extent, this isn’t a miracle product) to fine lines and hello to a radiant visage!
Can I use retinol after the expiry date?
Like all skincare and makeup products, we really don’t advise using retinol after its expiry date, and Dee agrees. She tells us that she “Wouldn’t recommend using expired retinol. Not only will the product likely be less potent, but it may also cause skin irritation and breakouts.”
So, in short, not only will expired retinol have no benefits for your skin, but it could actually be HARMFUL.
As annoying as it can be to have product left in the bottle that you can’t use, suck it up and Throw. It. Away – your skin will thank you for it!
How do I tell if my retinol has expired?
“Looking at the packaging is the quickest way to know when your retinol is set to expire,” says Dee. “The date will be printed on the box it comes in or on the tube itself. Start the clock on expiration when the product is made, not when it is opened.”
There should be a PAO symbol on the packaging (an open jar symbol), which identifies the useful lifetime of a cosmetic product after its package has been opened for the first time.
Unfortunately, some brands opt for an enigmatic batch code instead, leaving consumers puzzled like detectives in search of clues. So, “If you can’t find an expiration date, you might be able to tell by the smell,” advises Dee.
“Retinol does not have much of a scent when it’s within its expiration time, but once it expires it can take on a chemical-like smell.”
As a general rule with most skincare products, if the scent changes this can be a sign of expired product.
You should also consider the texture – has it turned grainy, lumpy, or discoloured? If so, it might be high time to retire your retinol. Additionally, “Retinol can also start to change colour from clear or white to yellow or brown as it gets older and is exposed to the elements,” says Dee.
“Another sign your retinol has gone bad is that your skin may stop responding to the product,” meaning you’re just wasting precious time on a product that won’t work.
To maximise the product’s shelf life, you should store it away from direct sunlight and extreme temperatures, as excessive exposure can expedite its expiration. A cool, dark drawer or cabinet can act as the ideal place to preserve its potency.
What should I do with expired retinol?
In short- and as we’ve already mentioned- throw any expired retinol away.
Older products are a breeding ground for bacterial growth and can cause adverse reactions.
?Always check the product’s expiration date on your retinol-containing products and make sure to throw them away once they’ve passed this date.
When do my other skincare products expire?
Sadly, most products will expire – sigh – and as a general rule you’ll want to throw them away after around 6-12 months after you first opened them.
But if you want to know exactly when your fave face mask, bottle of retinol, glycolic or hyaluronic acid expires, you should look for the number of months shown on the back of the packaging (or the batch number), this will tell you how long a product will last after opening.
Some products expire quicker than others, for example, any product that is used around the eye or is liquid formula tends to go bad faster. And the same goes for vitamin C.
Moisturisers will expire around 1 year after opening, and sunscreen will last around 6 months to 1 year. This one is *really* important, if you wear expired sunscreen you could be surprised with some nasty burns because the product will have lost some of its effectiveness.
In terms of makeup, water-based foundations and concealers will last up to 1 year, whereas oil-based concealers can last up to 18 months as oil is a natural preservative.
Treatment products like facial serums, retinoids, and AHAs that come in a pump or tube won’t last longer than a year, and those with active ingredients will last for around a year after opening – so use it or lose it, guys and gals!
There are a few tips and tricks you can use to help your product last longer, such as storing it out of direct sunlight in a cool, dark place. Know that storage conditions here are a big deal and will definitely improve the shelf life of your retinol serum.
Limiting the amount of time they are open will help them last longer – especially products like natural clay masks that dry out really quickly – so pop the lid back on while you’re applying the product.
You’ll want to prevent bacteria from getting *anywhere* near your products by using a spatula rather than your fingers, this will help your product to last longer as well as prevent any dreaded infections. If you are going to use your fingers, always make sure to have clean hands when using skin care products.
If products start to change in colour, smell or texture, throw them out immediately.
You heard us!
Retinol, like most things in life, is *not* immune to the effects of time but understanding the signs of expiration will prevent you from using products that are past their best.
The good news is that adopting a few protective measures can help you to savour the transformative powers of retinol, empowering you with skin that defies the clock!
Make sure to check the date when you open a new skincare product because the countdown will start from there. Search for an expiration date on the packaging and, if you can’t find one, you can always look on the manufacturer’s website to find out whether it can give you some information on how long the product will last.
Keep an eye on the smell, texture and colour of your products because these are all tell-tale-signs and, if you think something looks a *little* strange, throw it away because there’s a good chance it’s past its prime – it’s not worth the risk!
As a rule of thumb, products usually last around 1 year before you should chuck them away, with more natural products lasting around 6 months. Got some old products lying around that you’re thinking of using? Throw. Them. Out!
Meet the expert
Deidre ‘Dee’ Albanese is a nurse practitioner and aesthetic injector who founded Nu Glow Aesthetics in 2019. With her conservative approach to injectables, Deidre has a passion for making people look and feel like the best version of themselves.