Expiration date of cosmetics, PAO and batch codes

PAO 12 mesi

How do I know if my skin cream is beyond expiration ? Why do some cosmetics have an expiration date and others don’t ? What is PAO and how long, before I purchased it, has my lipstick been sitting in a drawer at the shop ? These are only some of the questions that we, as consumers, seek an answer for, with regards to cosmetics expiration.
Let us have a look at the current legislation and let us talk about a web tool that can help us to find out the production date of our beauty products.


When talking about cosmetics in Europe, the legislation of reference is the European Regulation 1223/2009. Effective as of July, 11th, 2013, has in scope all cosmetics products sold on the European marketplace.
Article 19 regulates the expiration of cosmetics and how this information shall appear on the product’s label.
Essentially, it dictates that labels shall indicate the date “until which the cosmetic product, stored under appropriate conditions, will continue to fulfill its initial func­tion”, however, different rules apply to products with minimum durability more than 30 months or less than 30 months.

Etichetta che riporta la data di scadenza


A simple rule apply to products with minimum durability less than 30 months: a specific date must be printed out on the label. Beyond this date, they should be thrown away.


A different logic applies to products with minimum durability more than 30 months. The definition itself can raise some eyebrows. Basically, we are talking about products that, if properly sealed and preserved, are still usable after 30 months. That means that, counting from their production date, they are still able to fulfill their initial function for 32 months, or maybe 3 years or, why not, 7 years.
Now, that is fine, but for exactly how long, well this remains unknown.
What is known, is that those products deterioration process starts from the moment they are unsealed. This is the reason why the indication of the PAO (Period After Opening) is compulsory.

Il simbolo del PAO

PAO’s icon can be easily located on a cosmetic article. It’s the familiar image of an open jar with a number on it followed by the letter M (for Months). The number specifies for how many months, after the initial opening, the product is still safe to use. As an example, if we read 12M in the open jar icon, that means that the product is safe to use for 12 months after the first opening. For the sake of precision, it is correct to point out that deterioration starts as soon as we open the container for the first time and microbes and bacteria get in touch with our product, even if it is then “properly preserved”.


This poses another question mark: can I be sure that my article has been opened only by me and, therefore, PAO starts from that moment I started to use the product ?
For merchandise without a sealed packaging, the answer is no.
Several times I have seen sales associates opening boxes to check the color of a product or let their customer smell its scent. The product deterioration starts in that moment, if it doesn’t get sold at that time, next customer will unknowingly get something that is potentially spoiled.
Once I returned a product that was not what I had asked for, and the sales associate candidly admitted she was going to sell it back, although I had repeatedly mentioned that I had opened the jar. The situation can get worse in large department stores, where customers wander around freely, opening jars, smelling in scents and touching things, thus compromising products integrity… and their own interests.


What to do then ? when it comes to products with an explicit expiration date, there is not much to think about: once the expiration dates comes, throw away the product.
If your article has a PAO, some easy tricks can help: stick a label to the jars, when you first open a product; buy stuff only if still sealed; pay attention to abrupt temperature changes and don’t leave your cosmetics open; finally, irrespective of PAO or expiration date, do not trust products if color or odor have changed.
Using an expired or spoiled product is risky and can lead to allergic reactions, rash or other issues.

Batch code
Batch code


In those cases when we really can’t figure out when we first opened a product, let’s take the help of a tool to determine the production date of a something. Two tools available on the net, Check Cosmetic and CheckFresh, are able to calculate a product’s production based on the batch-code. Article 19 quoted above dictates that the batch code, essentially the production lot of a cosmetic, need appear on its label or on its external packaging, if this is necessary for practical reasons (i.e., the label is too small). Every brand form their batch codes differently, however, the algorithm used by the sites mentioned above is able to analyze them and to determine when a product was manufactured.

As I was curious to find out how long a product can stay in a shop before it gets sold, I have spent half a day to check out the batch codes of my cosmetics. Although the sites themselves warn against the fact that their algorithm may not always be reliable, my impression is that results are often valid, for instance in case of limited editions, where the batch-code date matched the market timing.

Well, I have had my share of surprise: a lipstick purchased recently and produced more than 5 years before and a blotting powder still sitting in my beauty-case 6 years after it left its production line.
Give it a try !


Giornalista, blogger e video editor. Dopo aver vissuto in Italia e Germania, si è trasferita in Svizzera, a Ginevra. Nel 2015 fonda LipstickPost dove scrive di bellezza, viaggi, alimentazione e lifestyle.

1 Comment
  1. Where can I check out the batch codes for Morphe cosmetics (That are sold in the U.S. but made in China)?

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