How to tell the difference? Here’s a quick explainer.
First: Why products expire.
Dates are included on most skincare products for the same reason some foods go bad before others: Preservatives. Especially when it comes to naturally-based ingredients (think shea butter, almond oil, nut derivatives, etc.), fats can oxidize and become rancid. No one wants to spread more free radicals on their skin. To prolong the potency of certain ingredients and/or delay microbiological contamination, most products will contain stabilizers and preservatives that can lose their effectiveness over time.
However, it’s not always required to specifically state an expiration date on a skincare product, which leads to other symbols and dates you may encounter when determining its freshness.
This is a batch code that states when a product was manufactured. Typically an expiration date will be required on a product if a manufacturing date isn’t stated.
Most new and unopened skincare products have a shelf life of about two to three (sometimes up to five) years depending on the preservatives used. Treat this date as your open-by date for staple items such as cleansers, toners, serums and creams. For single-use items such as sheet masks, try to use on or before the date marked on packaging.
You can check the Korean characters in front of the dates to be sure:
제조 = Manufactured date
까지 = Sell-by (or Open-by) date
Expiration Date vs. Open-by Date:
As noted above, a helpful rule of thumb is to use open-by dates more for staple items like cleansers, creams, etc., while expiration dates can be more relevant for single-use items.
Depending on the brands, K-beauty products may be listed using either of these two formats: YYYY MM DD or DD MM YYYY.
A Period After Opening label is required on all skincare and makeup products. This tiny drawing indicates its expected shelf life after opening (so taking note of when you opened it is key), usually in terms of months.
Is your product expired?
Beyond the dates indicated above, there are other signs that a skincare product may no longer be good to use. A change in texture (clumpy, more/less watery), color, or smell can each indicate spoilage, so take care to store your products properly (away from sunlight, excess moisture, cross contamination) to keep them at their best.
Curious about a product on your shelf? Email us for advice at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’re always happy to help!