Popular cosmetic ingredients vulnerable to heat and sunlight are plant extracts, antioxidants, retinol, glycolic acids and vitamin C.

Associated Press ,

Beauty products face aging process

  • Article by: ALIX STRAUSS
  • New York Times
  • February 20, 2013 - 1:44 PM

Should beauty products be stamped with expiration dates as cartons of milk are, indicating how long they will last before turning bad?

Some industry professionals say yes, pointing to the rising number of all-natural and organic products that shun preservatives. Conversely, there are those multi-tasking unguents that layer chemical upon chemical, which can increase volatility and shorten the product’s life span.

“As companies create more complex products to simplify consumers’ regimens, they end up with a plethora of problems,” said Dr. Joel Schlessinger, an Omaha dermatologist. “Instead of applying two creams, you’re applying one, and there are certain products that simply don’t play well with each other,” he said.

Benzoyl peroxide, for example, has a shelf life of three months once opened, Schlessinger said, and can degrade the antibiotics it’s sometimes paired with even when sealed.

“That doesn’t mean it doesn’t work, but if it’s benzoyl peroxide plus an antibiotic, you’re losing the other product’s effect,” he said.

Other popular ingredients vulnerable to heat and sunlight are plant extracts, antioxidants, retinol, glycolic acids and vitamin C. Packaging also is important: Eye cream, for example, often has a high bacterial growth rate because it tends to come in jars, said Ron Robinson, a chemist in Manhattan who specializes in the technology of cosmetic ingredients. He’s also the founder and chief executive of, which reviews new products.

“Ingredients may not coexist well if they have different pH levels,” said Dr. Ruthie Harper, an internist in Austin, Texas. “One may be low-level or more acidic, and another might be too high, or have more alkaline. The mixture may render them neutral or inactive. Other ingredients may not be chemically compatible. The truth is, the more ingredients, the shorter the usage.”

How short is rarely clear.

With the exception of sunscreen, which is classified as a drug, expiration dates on over-the-counter cosmetics or skin care products aren’t mandated by the Food and Drug Administration. Companies can perform stability tests and stamp their products accordingly, but it’s costly and time-consuming.

“Most companies do not want to delay the launch of their product, which could take six months to a year,” said Schlessinger.

To complicate matters, dates are not always reliable. Just as with milk, dates can be negated by improper storage or handling.

Lush, the Britain-based all-natural company, considers the manufacture and use-by dates it places on every item in its catalog a major selling point. While most of Lush’s goods have a 14-month shelf life, their BioFresh Face masks, the cornerstone of the brand, expire after 21 days, said Erica Vega, Lush’s lead product and brand trainer.

“We make them fresh weekly with fruits and vegetables, essential oils and cleansing clays, and deliver them to the shops where they sit on ice, like a fresh buffet,” Vega said.

Lush uses minimal packaging, but some companies are going in the other direction, with active ingredients sold together but in separate compartments.

“Air and bacteria begin to break down the purity and efficacy of ingredients once the product has been used,” Robinson said. “Sterile packaging and new one-way pumps that block air from coming into the product extend the life.”

In January, Decleor released Life Radiance Double Radiance, which contains one part cream and one part gel — packaged together, but in separate tubes. SkinMedica, Jan Marini and La Prairie also offer double-packaged products.

“In this case there is no shelf-life risk because the customer is mixing gel and cream just before use,” said Michel Sabadie, director of research and development for Shiseido International France, which owns Decleor. “If they were already mixed together, the shelf life would be less than one day.”

Dr. Joshua Zeichner, director of cosmetic and clinical research in the dermatology department at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York, said there was scientific validity to keeping active ingredients separate until the moment of application.

“Because we are using more and more combination therapies and ingredients that can potentially inactivate each other, it’s only logical for companies to create new ways to distribute them,” he said.

But he also said this was clever marketing.

“It’s more of a visual cue,” he said. “The consumer take-away is, ‘Two products in one, it must be delivering two benefits.’ ”

Regardless of whether your products bear expiration dates, he said, extending the life of these products is as easy as storing them in a cool place rather than in your bathroom, which tends to be hot, humid and wet. Using an applicator or cotton swab instead of your finger will decrease bacteria. And adding water only invites germs.

As with any relationship, you need to know when to say goodbye.

Robinson said, “A product that’s separating, has changed in color or smells differently are signs they’re ready for the trash.”


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