All personal care products have a shelf life. You can usually find out how long the product will remain fresh by locating a “best before” date stamped on the sealed end of a tube or directly on the bottle’s label. Have you ever noticed a sketch of an opened jar on a box of a beauty product? Sometimes there is a symbol of a jar along with a number preceding the letter: 6Mmeans six months while 12Mmeans twelve months.
If these numbers accompany a jar with a closed lid, it means that a product will remain fresh for six months from the manufacture date (as long as it remains closed and sealed), while a jar with an open lid indicates that once opened, with normal use the product will remain fresh for six, twelve, or more months.
Preservatives contained in beauty products ward off bacteria, fungi, microbes, and oxidation. Such preservatives halt enzyme activity in the formulation, stop the oxidation process, or kill bacteria and any living creatures that wandered inside the bottle.
The more preservatives that are loaded into the product, the longer it can remain “pure” and uncontaminated. This way, beauty products can be manufactured in mass quantities and be warehoused for a longer period. Of all cosmetic ingredients, preservatives are the most frequently targeted by open-minded research doctors, consumer groups, and nongovernmental organizations.
Preservatives keep products clean and fresh, which is a good thing because we often store our beauty products in bathrooms, which tend to be warm and moist. Also, family members may share cosmetic products, which often come in wide-neck jars—think body balm used as an aftershave lotion and hand salves doubling as creaking door menders.
Under such conditions, even the most stable formulation can grow some fussy colonies. Microorganisms can do much more than make the cream smell weird. While using out-of-date products may not please your senses, decaying ingredients can actually affect your health. The bacteria growing in outdated products can cause rashes and breakouts when applied to skin that is irritated or scratched, or to the fragile, thin skin around the eyes.
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