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Communicating Product Shelf Life

March 30, 2013

Helping companies to either establish or validate their products expiry dates is something that I do as part of my Realize Beauty consulting work.  Generally speaking once a new product has been signed off ready for manufacturing we make a pilot batch under factory conditions (50-100Kg usually) and use some of this to run stability tests.  These stability tests involve placing samples of the new product under different environmental conditions – 4C, 22C and 40C are pretty normal.  The product remains in these test conditions for 12-24 weeks during which time they are monitored and tested to ensure that things like pH, appearance, smell, viscosity (thickness), rheology (flow) and weight don’t change outside of usable limits.  We also carry out freeze/ thaw stability and whizz our products around in a centrifuge if they contain particles or are an emulsion as this simulates the forces that a product endures during export transportation.  It’s all quite interesting and can yield unexpected results and most importantly results in either a pass or fail for the product plus a projected shelf life.   A 12 week protocol allows us to predict a 1 year stability and 24 weeks a 2 year.

Anyway, all of that is done to give the brand owner some evidence to back up their shelf life claim and to give you, the public a relevant and proven figure to work off.  Different countries have different laws on how this information should be relayed to the public but I generally work to EU regulations as Australia tends to lean that way and many of my customer’s end up exporting to the EU so in the long run it makes sense.  Therefore my info below is related to the EU market.

An important bit!

In the EU 30 months is the benchmark stability for a cosmetic product and in the absence of an expiry date, 30 months stability is assumed. This should be something that the brand owner can validate either through stability testing results using a test protocol like the above OR by real-time stability – literally keeping a batch for 30 months and monitoring it for changes. 

So, once the brand owner knows where they stand they use this information to communicate with you, the customer in one of two ways:

1)  Products having a shelf life of less than 30 months display a  manufacturing date or batch number  plus a product expiry date is popped onto the product.

expiry date


2) Products having a shelf life of 30 months or more display a manufacturing date or batch number plus a ‘period after opening’ symbol is placed on the pack.

Period after opening garnier

The Period After Opening symbol:

period after opening symbol

is an EU symbol and not part of Australian requirements. However, it has become widely used due to the fact that its meaning is clear – once you open the pack you have that many months to use it as long as that period after opening doesn’t take you past the un-opened product shelf life.

Only its meaning isn’t fully understood here in Australia and as such we still see it on products with no shelf life validation data and with products also displaying an expiry date. Unfortunately this only leads to confusion over what the symbol really means and an erosion of its impact.  That said do remember that it isn’t a legal requirement here in Australia to display this. 

  • As I stated above, that little open jar symbol is only relevant to products that pass a 30 month shelf life AND CAN PROVE IT!
  • The little open jar symbol should not be used with a printed expiry date and especially not an expiry date that is less than 30 months after manufacturing.
  • The little open jar symbol should not just be used because it looks good – it has legal meaning (in the EU).

So how long SHOULD a cosmetic product last?

Un-opened most cosmetic products SHOULD last for three years with the exception of organics and some natural based cosmetics which generally last from 1-2 years in their un-opened packaging.   Retinol containing cosmetic products also have a shorter shelf life with 1 year being closer to the norm.

Once Opened I have found this website to be useful. It is also good for checking batch numbers to find the manufacturing date of many larger brands.

  • Mascara 6 months max
  • Sunscreen – 1 year max but no more than 1 season
  • Liquid eyeliner – 6 months max.
  • Organic/ Natural products – 6 months.

So much confusion!

Communicating and understanding product shelf life and usability doesn’t have to be hard and with a little investment in finding out the true meaning of these symbols then communicating it to our customers is all that it takes to make the cosmetic world a safer and better place.



13 Comments leave one →
  1. April 13, 2013 8:05 am

    I never realised what the little open jar symbol meant!! Thanks for this! xo

  2. Jenny permalink
    April 20, 2013 3:17 am

    I’m looking into selling my products in the EU. When determining the PAO, does Stability Testing require Challenge Testing when a product is in powder form, containing inorganic ingredients, and is anhydrous? It’s a cosmetic powder.
    Thank you!

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink
      April 20, 2013 4:46 am

      You can’t challenge test powdered ingredients but may have to test free water content to prove that it wouldn’t grow micrboes during the shelf life. You may also have to do some kind of testing to make sure the packaging doesn’t let condensation in which could grow microbes during the shelf life or under normal use conditions. Products containing inorganic ingredients (foundations, lipsticks etc) usually do need PET testing as part of this process but if they are dry powders the above would apply. If a product is anhydrous again I’d suggest a free water test plus stability looking at pack compatibility. That’s all.

  3. Jenny permalink
    May 15, 2013 2:38 am

    Should Photo Stability Testing be apart of Stability Testing for cosmetic products that are anhydrous (with no claims of being a drug product)? From what I’ve read, it seems that test is geared more towards drug testing.

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink
      May 15, 2013 2:43 pm

      Testing for photostability is a wise thing to do but due to money/ space constraints it is often left off from cosmetic testing protocol (other than a window sill type of scenario which isn’t very ‘controlled’). I usually advise people with known problem ingredients to choose their packaging carefully as you can get UV protective packaging quite readily now plus products can be boxed for shop displays and transportation. Products most at risk of failing (in a customers eyes) due to photostability are things that are left out on display at home such as perfume bottles on window sills (smells can change), liquid hand soaps and moisturisers (kitchen benchtops) and reed diffuser oils.

  4. Jenny permalink
    February 25, 2014 7:35 am

    So, for the RT stability test – it should be set at 30 months instead of the traditional 24 months? Can the open can symbol be used if the 30 months RT testing is not completed, but is on target for the 30 months of ongoing testing?

    Also, for bath bombs that have a matrix of sodium bicarbonate, citric acid, shea butter, and essential oils – do these types of products have to under go dermal testing of some sort?


  5. RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
    February 25, 2014 2:42 pm

    The open jar symbol is basically saying that your products have a 30 month shelf life but if you open the product inside that time frame you only have what the open jar says left. You would be expected to have data to prove the shelf life if tested. All cosmetic products that display a shelf life should have data to back up that claim. Dry products are less likely to go off but if you claim something you need to prove it. I don’t actually know if bath bombs HAVE to be stability tested….

  6. Tanya permalink
    May 7, 2014 12:40 pm

    Hi there i have a range of private label products that I sell in Australia but now I have customers wanting to purchase from the uk and use to sell it retail. Can I do the stability testing myself if I have the data to back it up and if I need 3 years shelf life do i need 3 years real time to enter that market or can I have an excelerated test done? What if I only want 18 months as my products are natural? Or can I sell the product to my customer with stability data of 18 months and australiam standards and they have to make sure it is ok in their packaging and make sure they comply with their country guidelines?

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      May 7, 2014 12:51 pm

      Hi Tanya,
      In this case you will need a proper stability protocol that is reproducible so best to get a lab to do it. You will also need to complete safety assessments for your product and load your data into a central EU database before selling starts. The products also need compliant MSDS sheets. These are substantial costs that will need looking into before taking up the offer of selling to the UK. You also need micro results – PET (preservative efficacy testing data). You can have whatever shelf life you want – if less than 3 years you just need to mark your products with an expiry date. Just keep in mind the shipping time from Australia to Europe (allow 3 months minimum from manufacture date to arriving in store). People get upset when receiving stock with less than 1 year shelf life remaining. All up you might be looking at a cost of around $3600 plus GST per product to make this happen.

      • Tanya permalink
        May 7, 2014 12:57 pm

        Ok thank you. Can you recommend where i could get all this done? Does the customer selling in the UK need to register as I’m just selling wholesale?

      • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
        May 7, 2014 1:01 pm

        These services are all offered by Realize Beauty. Send me an email and I’ll fill you in on the details if you like:

  7. March 29, 2017 10:18 pm

    do we need to put production date and expiry date on the perfume sprays bottle if there is no open jar symbol if its shelf life more than 30months?

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      March 29, 2017 11:31 pm

      The PAO symbol is only for EU brands although other people use it. If your product is stable for 30 months or more and is heading for the EU market then that’s all you need and a batch number. If not then you can put either the production date or expiry date on the bottle here in Oz but I’m not sure about other countries.

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