When Stuff Goes Bad

I mean skincare products, not like LIFE or whatever

Hello you gorgeous glowing creature, and happy new year. January is when I personally do a lot of cabinet-clearing. Well really, it’s the freezer that I get all purge-y about, and then inevitably that makes me look through the condiments in the fridge and next thing you know I’m emptying out the medicine cabinet and throwing away any pills or potions that I only kinda vaguely remember buying mumblety-mumble months ago.

Out with the old, that’s what I’m saying.

So the question has arisen: how do you know when some skincare item is expired? Because it’s not always indicated. And look, I’m going to be really practical here and assume many of you are like me and will not be faithfully taking a Sharpie to every damn thing you open to write down its purchase date. For those of you who do that - I mean, congrats on being a Virgo, I guess. The rest of us just rip into the box like animals and smear stuff on our face without keeping one eye trained on our mortality. Or so I assume.

Expiration Dates

Okay but having said all that, the first step is to [try to remember to] look at the box it comes in for any kind of date, because often an expiration will be printed on the outer packaging but not on the actual bottle or tube or whatever. You’ll also sometimes see the little symbol to tell you how long it’s good for once opened. Which looks like this:

I put this here because I was never taught it and only learned it a little while ago, and if anyone says to you “omg how could you not know that” please feel free to give them a hearty “oh go fuck yourself, smartypants” from me, thanks. The above symbol means that it’s good for 12 months after opening it, and that is a handy thing to know. (You’ll also see 3M and 6M and 18M and whatever else, I trust you to understand the pattern.) In general, I make it a rule to use something up when I open it, not just let it languish unused for months at a time - so this is useful but not as important to me as empirical expiration dates.

And look, lots of times - LOTS of times - I forget to inspect the outer box before tossing it in the trash. Therefore I basically rely on my wits, like an alley cat.

I will say it’s very helpful that I order so much online, because then I can at least do a gmail search for the order confirmation to see when the hell I bought a thing. And you can always check a product’s website to see if they have guidelines there, and never hesitate to contact the customer service and ask - especially BEFORE hoarding a 2-year supply of something that is only good for 6 months, okay? Sometimes we lose our heads when there’s a great sale, so just try to keep that in mind, loves.


Right, so for those times when you’re just not sure, here are my general guidelines!

The Sniff Test: If it stinks, then probably it’s not good anymore. And I don’t just mean a heavy scent, we all know what mildew or rancid or funk or spoiled smells like. If it smells weird but not necessarily spoiled, internet reviews are our friend: look it up and see if anyone complains about the scent of it.

Cleanser: It’s basically immortal. Obviously it’ll eventually undergo some kinda texture change. Like, I once unearthed a gel cleanser that had hidden from me FOR YEARS - like through a couple of moves, okay - and when I went to pump it out it just felt a little gummy. It still worked, but it felt gross and no way was I putting that on my face. I just used it as my hand soap, it worked fine.

Moisturizer: As long as it’s standard - as in, no active fancy ingredients in it like retinol or antioxidants or what have you - it’s like cleanser: pretty immortal. However, if it DOES get old enough to undergo a texture change, it’d likely be because some of the moisture in it had evaporated, and then I wouldn’t trust it. Because moisturizer should have moisture in it. But honestly, it’d take years for that to happen.

Vitamin C: I mentioned oxidation in my Vitamin C post but I realize I didn’t really explain how to interpret its profound meeeeeeeaning. A good Vitamin C serum starts out clear, or maybe with just a tiny tiny bit of an pale yellow cast to it. Then it gets cloudy and gradually goes darker. So:
Cloudy = perfectly good
Yellow = fine
Dark Yellow = getting iffy
Orange-y = super stale, has lost much of its power
Rust = useless, chuck it in the bin
Brown = you’ve eaten all the funeral potatoes at this point, why are you still hanging on to the corpse

Sunscreen: This is one where it’s usually stamped onto the bottle/tube somewhere, thank goodness. But also if it’s printed on there, it’ll get smudgey and/or disappear, so try to pay attention! The general rule around the world is that it’s good for 2 years. Even if you never open it, if it’s 2+ years old, throw it out. Don’t fuck around with this one, SPF is regulated like a drug for a reason, okay, and you know my stance on UV radiation, people: don’t fuck around with it.

Oils: It can be anywhere from 3 months to 3 years, depending on the oil - and the good thing is that oils helpfully get smelly when they go bad. When you first open a fresh oil, take a whiff so you know what it’s supposed to smell like, that’ll help you to judge. But really, the smell of rancid oil is pretty distinctive, so trust your nose.

Serums and Retinol and Mudmasks and All Other Stuff: It’s just really gonna depend, and when you’re in doubt but you REALLY want to use the stuff, just contact the company’s customer service for guidance. If I spent a lot on something or it’s impossible to find anymore, I will probably risk it tbh - I just follow my Two-ish Year Rule, which is basically “it’s been at least 2 years so I’ll throw it out except I really want to use it and it’s not THREE years so maybe I’ll risk it if it doesn’t smell/feel weird.”

A Note

So I have a lot of beefs with this “clean beauty” trend - chiefly that it’s nonsensical bullshit and every brand that engages in it as a marketing tactic should be ashamed of themselves, but ANYWAY a really big problem with it is that there’s this idea that preservatives are bad. Specifically, parabens. Allow me to be very emphatic here:


They are very good and very safe and they’ve been used and researched for longer than I’ve been alive.

But someone decided to demonize them and now here we are, in a world where people will shun parabens but happily spread goddamn baking soda and bird poop and on their face. As a result, a lot of the “clean” products you see have newer, less reliable preservatives, or none at all. And mold grows. I’ve seen it. It’s revolting. Always keep any eye out - and a nostril - for evidence of mold. (If something started off clear and then one day has wee specks floating in it? Be afraid.)

The only way to avoid it is to either analyze the ingredients list of a product - which is, let’s face it, pretty extra - or to hunt through online reviews to see if anyone says they got moldy product. Or actually google ProductName + mold, that works too.

Yes, I’m telling you to be suspicious of products that declare themselves Paraben Free. There are alternative preservatives that work fine, but there are also a shit-ton of companies looking to cash in on the clean beauty trend. That’s all.

I am pretty sure that’s all I have to say about that. I’ve reminded myself to throw out a sleep gel mask and a mud mask and some old grapeseed oil, so this edition of Husk Weekly was at least useful to me, and I do hope it’s a little useful for you too.

Random bonus tip: Get a hydrating face wash in a pump to use as your hand soap, especially in winter. It’ll help keep your hands from drying out. I got some Olay Sensitive Wash that was okay for my face but kinda stung my eyes and left my skin feeling a little tight, and now it’s on the side of the sink (a) not being wasted, and (b) keeping my hands clean. That antibacterial Dial shit will give you sandpaper fingers.

Until Next Time!