How to know when it's time to declutter your beauty products

Are you hoarding expired products?

The pandemic’s impact on lifestyle will have changed how people consume their products – for most, the chances are makeup was worn much less frequently, along with other styling products.

This probably means it’s time for a declutter, even if things are unfinished and it feels wasteful to chuck them.

Most products come with a period-after-opening symbol printed on the packaging that will say how many months the item is advisable to use once opened.

This is your best guide for knowing whether it’s time to toss something, but we wouldn’t blame you if the last year has completely done away with your perception of time.

If in doubt, cosmetic chemist Ginger King says there are key signs to look out for.

Across all categories of beauty, including makeup, skincare and haircare, the tell-tale signs usually are the same.

Generally powder-based products outlast liquids, because the higher the water content, the more chance of bacteria growing.

The packaging type will impact the shelf life too. An airless pump for example will keep oxygen out over a tub that you have to open up for every use.

Ginger suggests you pay attention to any changes to your products, checking to see:

  • Has the smell changed?
  • Has the colour changed?
  • Has the appearance changed?
  • Has the texture changed?

If the answer to these questions is yes, ‘these are clear indications’ the product has expired, even if the changes are slight.

One caveat to that is products that have 90-100% natural ingredients.

Sometimes in these cases it’s normal to see ingredients separate (usually it’s indicated on the product if you should expect this) – in which case, you should be able to shake the product well to mesh it back together.

Natural products tend to come with fixed expiry dates too, regardless of when you open them. They’re usually embossed into plastic packaging or printed finely, so take care to spot them.

If your beauty products include active ingredients, usually you can tell they’ve gone bad by a colour change. Take Vitamin C for example, which when oxidized turns a dark orange.

Active products can be more expensive due to their ingredients, but it’s not a good idea to hold onto them beyond their shelf life for this reason alone. It’ll probably be ineffective.

With fragrances it’s a different story. Some can remain unchanged for a decade.

Michelle Feeney, founder of sustainable fragrance brand Floral Street, says: ‘Fragrances don’t expire as such, although their properties and odour profiles can change over time. 

‘The best way to store them is out of direct heat and sunlight.’

No one predicted the pandemic, so you shouldn’t feel too bad if you’re having to bin and recycle lots of products that you otherwise would have used. After all, it could be worse to continue using expired products on your face and body.

But, decluttering can be a good time to take stock and assess how much you actually need.

Even with the vaccine, things are still far from getting back to normal, so you might be wondering how to be a wiser consumer.

Vorn Devaney, from Lush, says: ‘The first sign of a much needed declutter is when you cannot remember the last time you enjoyed using an item.

‘Once you’ve done a real declutter, you’ll likely find that you’re in need of a product refresh, especially when it comes to your liquid formula products.’

Vorn suggests you consider how much is going into landfill, and instead trying refillable products, which mean your packaging is constantly in use.

You can also look for things can come in recycled packaging – some brands are making the switch to using Ocean Waste Plastic for example, such as hair brand Kevin Murphy.

Another thing to ensure is that you only have one of each item type open, such as mascara.

‘Not having more than one mascara on the go is a great way of making sure that you stick to that three-month shelf life,’ says Vorn.

Another way to get around this is by picking multi-use products, such as a lip and cheek stick.

With regards to your old things, Vorn asks: ‘Can you give anything a new lease of life?’ Upcycling is easy to do and means less ends up in landfill.

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