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Are expired toiletries and beauty products still effective and safe to use?

From toothpaste to facial cleansers and sunblock, CNA Lifestyle asks the experts. Hint: The expiry date isn’t relevant once you’ve opened it – look for the "PAO" instead.

When it comes to expired medicine, we all know it has to be discarded. But what about toiletries such as shampoo or that bottle of moisturiser at the back of the shelf that you completely forgot – do the rules apply, too? How do you tell if something is still useable, especially the expiry date on the packaging has already faded?

For a start, the expiry date only applies to unopened products, reminded Dr Gan Heng Hui, a senior specialist in Food Chemistry & Safety at Nanyang Polytechnic’s School of Chemical & Life Sciences.

READ: Can you – should you – eat food that has passed its expiry date?

But once you've opened the item, you'll need to look for the Period After Opening or PAO to determine how long you can use it for. The PAO is usually represented by a jar icon on the packaging, with a number followed by "M" to indicate months. For instance, if the icon has "6M", the product is good to use for six months after opening; "12M" would mean a period of 12 months.

But what about instances when a product might possibly spoil before reaching the PAO limit, because of how we’ve stored it? CNA Lifestyle checks with the experts on when to keep or chuck partially used toiletries in your bathroom.

READ: Why you shouldn't use eye drops that are not meant for contact lenses


Once past the PAO, the bacteria-killing chemicals in the solution don’t function properly. This can allow germs and impurities to build up on the lenses. 

Furthermore, the solution may become contaminated over time and “can lead to severe infection, vision loss, or blindness”, said Dr Bernard Lepri, an optometrist in the US Food and Drug Administration's Contact Lens and Retinal Devices Branch.

When to discard: Get a new bottle if you detect a colour change or strange odour.


You may have bought the big bottle because it’s more bang for your buck. But now, it’s taking you forever to finish it, especially when you don’t use just one shampoo or conditioner.

When to discard: Water and air can enter the bottles and break down the formula over time, said cosmetic chemist Ni'Kita Wilson, who is a member of the New York Society of Cosmetic Chemists. Don't take your chances if the product has already passed the PAO, and especially if you notice the scent or texture is off, said Dr Tsippora Shainhouse, a US board-certified dermatologist at SkinSafe Dermatology and Skin Care in California.


Like toothpaste, an expired facial or body cleanser is still useable but it will be less effective than a version that hasn't passed the PAO, said Dr Gan. “However, individuals with sensitive skin should avoid expired products completely.”

When to discard: Chuck it if you notice changes in appearance, colour, smell or texture, or if the product separates, said Dr Shainhouse.


You may have bought that bottle of “miracle water” or other fancy facial essence to pamper yourself but you can’t bear to use it regularly. Before you know it, the product's PAO is over. Should you risk it? Don't, especially when you have open wounds on your face, said Dr Gan. Old essences can become “playgrounds” for microbes due to their high water content, she said.

When to discard: It may have cost you a pretty penny but if there are changes in the essence's appearance, colour, texture or smell, don't keep it. 

But what if the essence originally smells a little funky to begin with? Take your cue from the manufacturer’s guidelines. For instance, SK-II Singapore’s Facebook page advises users to use their products “within three years of the expiry date and within one year of opening”.  


These come in various textures, from lotions to light gels and rich creams. And the more water-based your moisturiser is, the more germ-friendly it is, said Dr Gan. Since most people prefer water-based moisturisers in Singapore (less greasy than an oil-based one), stop using them once they're beyond the PAO. By then, the jar may already “contain an unacceptable count of microbes”, she said.

When to discard: Once opened, the active ingredients start to depreciate at about six months, said Dr Joe Cincotta, an adjunct professor of chemistry at Housatonic Community College in Connecticut, US. But as long as the moisturiser looks and feels as it did when you first popped open the container, you’re good to go, said Dr Shainhouse.


You wouldn’t go through a tube of sunblock as quickly as facial cleanser, so there’s a high chance you still have some left from your last beach outing. “Physical sunblock such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide would be fine even after they have expired,” said Dr Gan. 

However, for chemical sunblocks that use oxybenzone, avobenzone, homosalate or combinations thereof, these ingredients can oxidise and become less effective after expiration, said US-based independent cosmetic chemist Perry Romanowski.

When to discard: Pick up a new sunscreen if it has changed colour, has become watery, has a strange odour or has separated. "Sunscreens must be uniform to be effective," said Wilson.


While expired toothpaste is not harmful, it may not be as effective because of its lowered levels of active ingredients, such as fluoride, tartar control agent, and anti-bacterial agent, said Dr Gan. 

But don't count on using expired toothpaste for long. Brushing your teeth without toothpaste is actually better than brushing with expired toothpaste, said Dr Gan. That's because "there could be risks of unwanted bacteria growth" in the old toothpaste.

When to discard: Toothpaste that is 12 to 18 months past its expiration date is still useable if you are desperate, said Dr Gan. But throw out the tube if the content is runnier than usual, has changed colour, there is liquid oozing out when you squeeze the tube, there is an odd taste, or you notice mould.


There’s a reason why many shaving products are in foam form – they make “a superior lubricant with added moisturisers to help protect the skin from razor burns”, said Dr Gan.

When to discard: If the can no longer dispenses light, fluffy foam, it is no longer effective in helping you prevent razor burns, said Dr Gan. Get a new can.

Source: CNA/bk