Look. I buy a lot on line. Most of my clothing and many of my cosmetics. Generally, when I buy makeup I buy directly from the sellers website, from a pro site like Camera Ready Cosmetics, or from a place that has convenient return locations like Sephora.com. But sometimes for my more basic skincare needs I just opt to use my Amazon Prime account.
Now, I love my Amazon, and I love getting things in two days, but I feel taken advantage of after my last order came. Now, I do have faith that Amazon customer service will be good to me, and I understand that Amazon is a complicated world where sometimes it is easy to have your products coming from places you didn’t expect, but that is why it is important to be proactive and look out for yourself.
When I got my package there was an immediate red flag. The package looked a little beat up and said “New” on it, when I knew the product had been around for a decent while… DIVERSION!, my heart yelled! And as all the horror stories beauty professionals hear about people dumpster diving to obtain and sell old product, sometimes changing the products composition by adding water or even more questionable substances. But I kept it cool, because I knew the logical next step which is…
Checking the batch code
I highly recommend checking batch codes on products you buy, especially if you feel like you really scored a deal at one of those stores that buys last seasons clothes and sells them at a super cheap price. And you know what, some of the products under your sink that you’ve had for awhile, it really wouldn’t hurt to see how old they are. I’m not saying you need to throw out everything that’s expired… but wouldn’t you rather know?
So when you look at the bottle there is usually a barcode somewhere and then an area where the company lists all the company information (address, website, etc.) with some random numbers. Neither of these are the batch code.
The batch code is between 3 and 11 numbers (sometimes letters) and is usually either located near the barcode, near the company information, or on the bottom. The way you can tell it is the batch code is that it looks like it was stamped on after the packaging was made. The other numbers are part of the packaging.
They look like this:
or sometimes this:
All these pictures are from CheckFresh.com, which brings me to the next point: what to do with batch numbers. Go to Check Fresh, or other sites (Google “Check Batch Code” and you will find some). Check Fresh will have more examples of what to look like if you aren’t sure where the code is, and then you can select the manufacturer from the drop down menu and it will tell you what the batch code means.
Don’t try to figure it out yourself unless you know first hand about how batch codes work for that specific company. It’s really complicated and convoluted, and every company does it in a very strange and different way.
In some cases you may need to find the “parent company.” For example, when I was checking my Philosophy products, I couldn’t select “Philosophy” from the drop down menu, so I looked up who they are owned by and sure enough, “Coty” was on the drop down menu.
Looked REALLY hard and can’t find a batch code? Run! In some cases of diversion, batch codes are scratched off. To me, if the product is trying that hard to conceal its age, it is probably much, much older than it looks. And probably smells funny too.
So now you have the date the product was made, so what?
Different types of products have different shelf lives. Some will have a label for how long they last after opening, which is called the PAO (period after opening). It looks like this:
The FDA doesn’t have any specific requirements for how old is too old. They leave it up to the manufacturers.
Generally cosmetic companies print an expiration date if the product is expected to expire within 30 months (2.5 years), so if the batch code is within a couple years you are probably good. You can always contact customer care if you want to know about your specific product’s shelf life or PAO. (But who has time for that?)
If you ask CheckCosmetic.net, another good batch code site, about PAO, they say that generally:
Perfumes, perfume, edp – up to 3 years;
Powders (including blush, eyeshadows powdery texture) – 1 to 3 years;
Foundation in a jar or a cream powder – 1 to 3 years;
Liquid tone means (in tubes or jars with dispenser) – 1 year;
Nail polish – 1 year;
Sun cosmetics – 1 year (but no more than one season);
Lipstick, lip gloss – 1 year;
Pencil (Eye, Lip) – about 1 year;
Skin care products (hydrating cosmetics, wrinkle, eye contour) in a sealed packet with the pump – about a year, in a jar – from 6 to 10 months;
Solid eyeliner and eyebrow pencil – from 6 to 8 months;
Bronzing – 6 months;
Mascara – 3-6 months;
Liquid eyeliner – from 3 to 4 months;
Natural/Organic products – up to 6 months.
This is fairly standard but some will say that powders can last longer. General rule is once you notice a change in the product it is probably bad. For example, the texture of a foundation getting really clumpy or a funky smell in your skin cream.
But this is for how long after opening. If it is a new product that you’ve never tried before and so you don’t really know the texture it is supposed to be… use your judgement. I mean no matter what use your judgement. Don’t listen to me! Use your senses and see if it feels ok. But if you ask me, buying something new that was made five years ago, it probably isn’t going to work as well and may be full of bacteria and other nasty stuff, so watch out! I think 3-4 years for skin care is grey area but a lot of cautious people would say to throw it out!
Also think about the type of product. Some say powders can be relatively fresh for 5+ years, where foundations and skin creams would ideally have been made within 2-3 years. Mascara? I probably wouldn’t touch it if it was made over 2 years ago. It’s in your EYES every day! Gross.
Too lazy to check batch codes, but don’t want to use rancid products?
I’ve probably made all this sound like a lot of work. Too much hassle? That’s fine. Buy from trustworthy sources and you don’t have to worry about it. For hair (and usually makeup and skin care), buy from local salons and beauty stores you trust. Places that specialize in beauty and take pride in their reputation. Target is great for a lot of things, but I have seen diverted haircare there. CVS or other pharmacies? Some are probably squeaky clean on this, but I have seen some pretty old looking product at some of these places.Everything I’ve said should be combined with your own common sense. Don’t just trust random online suppliers. Use old product if you want to (yes, I’m talking to YOU middle-aged woman who stockpiled 10 years worth of foundation and/or lipstick when you found that your shade would be discontinued). Just understand that old product will, best case scenario, not perform as well as intended, and worst case scenario, be full of bacteria or even be toxic to the skin.