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Period After Opening & Shelf Life

Period after opening (PAO)

EU Period After Opening (POA) Symbol
Period after opening (PAO) refers to the amount of time a product will remain stable and safe for human use after it has first been opened. As such, it is very much involved with the scale of degradation a product faces in the same way as the shelf life is, however it is directly influenced by its first use or first interaction with the consumer (and the inevitable risk of microbial contamination therein). Determination of PAO takes a number of factors into account, including product type and its claimed effects. Extremities in certain factors can heavily influence a product’s PAO, including use on children or use on sensitive body parts.

In Europe, cosmetic products with a lifespan longer than 30 months must show a "period after opening" (POA) time. That is, the time in months when the product will remain in good condition after the consumer has used the product for the first time. Some cosmetics should be used within a specified period of time after opening due to oxidation and microbiological factors. Their packaging has a drawing of an open jar as above, containing a number representing a number of months. In our example above, we show POA of six to twenty-four months.

What are Shelf Life and Expiration Dates?

EU Best Before Symbol The shelf life, or expiration date of a cosmetic or personal care product is the period during which the manufacturer has determined a product to be best suited for use. Regulations vary from couny to country that require cosmetic manufacturers to print expiration dates on the labels of cosmetic products. However, manufacturers have the responsibility to determine shelf life for products as part of their responsibility to ensure product safety.

In Europe, any cosmetic product that has a lifespan of less than 30 months must show a "Best before the end of" date. This can be shown using the "egg timer" symbol followed by the date, or the words, which can be abbreviated to BBE or Exp, followed by the date. The fact is there are very few cosmetics that are labeled with ‘best before’ dates because the majority of products are known to last more than 30 months.

Some products do not require any of these times to be shown because the product will not deteriorate in normal use. Examples are aerosols, which are effectively sealed; perfumes, which have high alcohol content; or single use packs. Consumers should be aware that expiration dates are simply "rules of thumb," and that, similar to foods, a product's quality may decline before the expiration date if the product has not been properly stored. Cosmetics that have been improperly stored - for example, exposed to high temperatures or sunlight, or opened and examined by consumers prior to final sale - may deteriorate substantially before the expiration date. On the other hand, products stored under ideal conditions may be acceptable long after the expiration date has been reached.

Typical periods of suitability for use from the date of manufacture:
Perfumes with alcohol - about 5 years
Skin care - minimum 3 years
Makeup - from 3 years (mascara) to more than 5 years (powders)

Why does eye makeup have a shorter shelf life?
The shelf life for eye-area cosmetics is more limited than for other products because it is more susceptible to microbial infection during use by the consumer and the risk of eye infections. Manufacturers typically recommend discarding mascara three to six months after purchase. If mascara becomes dry, it should be discarded. Do not add water or, even worse, saliva to moisten it, because that may introduce bacteria into the product. If you have an eye infection, consult a physician immediately, stop using all eye-area cosmetics, and discard those you were using when the infection occurred.

Best practices for using cosmetics and personal care products:

  • Read the instructions carefully and take note of any warnings for use
  • Tightly close lids on products when they are not in use.
  • Use products within the lifespan indicated by the Period After Opening symbol or best before date
  • Avoid storing products in direct sunlight or near sources of heat; choose cool (not freezing) areas where possible
  • Never dilute products (e.g., mixing water in mascara)
  • Apply products with clean hands or an applicator
  • Wash applicators thoroughly with soap, detergent or a mild shampoo then allow to dry completely before use
  • Avoid sharing cosmetics and personal care products with another person
  • When in doubt, throw it out!

More Information

The links below will open in a new browser window:
Check the date of manufacture of perfumes and cosmetics - CheckFresh.com
Understanding your label - thefactsabout.co.uk
EU Cosmetic Labels - cosmeticseurope.eu

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