Shelf Life

Shelf Life

The shelf life is the period during which the manufacturer has determined a cosmetic or personal care product to be best suited for use.

No regulations or requirements under current U.S. law require manufacturers to print specific expiration dates on the labels of cosmetics and personal care products. However, they are required to determine shelf life as part of their responsibility to substantiate safety.

In Europe, cosmetics products with a lifespan longer than 30 months must show a “period-after-opening” (PAO) time. PAO is the time, recorded in months, when the product will remain in good condition after the consumer has used it for the first time. A symbol of an open cream jar is usually used instead of words with the PAO alongside or inside the symbol. Although this symbol can be found on some U.S. cosmetics and personal care products, it is not required.

PAO Symbol. Source:

Any cosmetic or personal care product in Europe with a lifespan of fewer than 30 months must show a “best-before-the-end-of” (BBE) date. The lifespan is usually shown using the “egg timer” symbol followed by the date or with words abbreviated as BBE or Exp, followed by the date. Very few products are labeled with BBE dates because most are known to last more than 30 months.

Some products do not require any of these because the product will not deteriorate during normal use. Examples are aerosols, which are effectively sealed; perfumes with high alcohol content; or single-use packs.

Consumers should be aware that expiration dates are “rules of thumb.” Like food, product quality may decline before the expiration date without proper storage. Products that have been improperly stored (e.g., exposed to high temperatures or sunlight or opened and examined by consumers before final sale) may deteriorate substantially before the shelf life or expiration date.