Communicating Product Shelf Life
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.
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.
The 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.