It’s easy to forget that many active ingredients—found in anti-aging creams, acne treatments, peels, and more—are surprisingly fragile. It’s only a matter of time until oxygen and heat render them useless. We asked Amy Wechsler, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, to guide us through the various expiration dates.
ANYTHING IN AN AMPOULE
Toss after: One day, since formulas packaged in these single-use tubes typically contain vitamin C or E or other ingredients that oxidize upon exposure to air.
Toss after: They turn brown (usually around the two-month mark). Choose products in an airtight pump and store them in the fridge, which will add another month to their life span.
SWIPE-ON PADS (GLYCOLIC PEELS, ACNE TREATMENTS)
Toss after: Two months, unless they’re packaged individually—by then most will start drying out.
PEELS AND MASKS
Toss after: Three months. At that point their buffering agents can start to evaporate, making active ingredients such as glycolic and fruit acids more potent (and irritating).
Toss after: Four to six months. Benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid, two of the most common pimple fighters, decay quickly. Keep them in the refrigerator for maximum potency.
Toss after: Nine to 11 months, when their collagen-producing power starts to conk out.
Toss after: One to two years—it varies, so check the expiration date on your tube. Wechsler suggests keeping sunscreen in a cooler when at the beach and trashing any tube that’s been left sitting in a hot car.
Toss after: One year. Though a plain moisturizer without anti-aging ingredients will last well past this mark, you can contaminate it by dipping repeatedly into the jar.
Toss after: Two years. These hearty exfoliants are made of virtually indestructible materials, but an open tub will still become a breeding ground for bacteria over time.