Featured Skin

Cosmetics Ingredients: What — and How Much Of It — Is Really In a Product?

Marcie Mom from interviews Laura, CEO of VMV Hypoallergenics, to find out more about product claims and why they’re important when choosing your skin care…particularly if you or your child has eczema.

Q: Is the Ingredients List on cosmetics packaging compulsory and regulated? Does the it cover all ingredients? Or can companies pick and choose what they want to reveal?

A: In many countries, cosmetics are regulated by the local Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or an equivalent governing body. If regulated, the rule is usually that cosmetics must list all ingredients, following a specified format, and must use only the INCI (International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients) names of ingredients. A few countries do not require that ingredients be listed — in full or in part — and/or do not have requirements regarding the names used or formatting.

Q: Why is there no percentage beside each ingredient?  That way parents can compare and choose the product with the least amount of an allergen. Also, I read that if a product contains an allergen it might not trigger a reaction if its concentration is too low. I also read that some products use an exceptionally high concentration of certain irritants. How can consumers find out the concentration of an allergen or irritant in a product?

A: Concentrations are not included in part because of proprietary concerns — a company would not want its exact formulation copied and some FDAs have rules prohibiting the registration of the same formulation under different brand names. If a product is a drug, however, it usually does have to disclose percentages, but only of the active ingredients.

An easy way to get an idea of how much of an ingredient is in the formulation is to look at where it is on the ingredients list. Many regulatory bodies require that ingredients be listed from most to least.

Finally, the percentage of an irritant or allergen is relevant mostly if someone only has an irritant reaction to it. Irritant reactions do have a relationship with the concentration of the ingredient, frequency of exposure, time on the skin, etc. For example, you could be using an allergen most of your life and not really react to it or just have mild irritant reactions like dryness. But if you are allergic to a substance or develop an allergy to it, any percentage of it for any amount of time on the skin will cause a reaction. Which is another reason why a patch test is so important.

This article was originally published in as one of a multi-part series focused on understanding and using products for sensitive skinInspired by her daughter Marcie who had eczema from two weeks old, Mei (aka MarcieMom) started with the mission to turn eczema blues to bliss. In this series of interviews, MarcieMom interviews Laura, CEO of VMV Hypoallergenics, to learn more about product claims when choosing products to care for skin with eczema.

Family Blog Healthy Living Skin

Do Cosmetics Expire?

by Laura Verallo de Bertotto

One of the most frequent questions I get from friends is: can I still use a product if it’s past its expiration date? Do cosmetics really expire? The short answer is…very often, yes!

In our home, we frequently, and happily, use “expired” stock for a few reasons, some of which you might find surprising.

It’s Not Food

Most cosmetics — including VMV products — don’t “go bad” the way food does. Skincare and makeup actually “lasts” — meaning they don’t exhibit changes under normal conditions — a really long time: two years, five years, or more. Formulations with little to no water or that have preservatives (more on this below) can last even longer.

When Things Do Go Bad

Unlike fresh food that naturally rots over time, if something funky happens to a product, it’s frequently due to contamination…some organism got into it. This can happen if water or another substance makes its way into the product, or if remove product was put back into the container, when sharing products with different people….you get the gist. But left alone, closed and stored well, and hygienically  used? Most products last a really, really long time.

IMPORTANT: if you do notice funky changes, expired or not, trash the product as it may have become contaminated.

Expiration Dates

Why do some cosmetics have expiration dates? This depends in part on different countries’ FDA rules and on a store’s preferred shelf life.

Expiration dates are sometimes required by the FDA if a product is a drug, or if its tested shelf life is less than a specific amount of years.

For drugs, the expiration date refers to efficacy. ALSO IMPORTANT: expired sunscreens might not protect at the tested protection factors so it’s best to use them before the expiration date.

Otherwise, an FDA may not require an expiration date for cosmetics at all.

For other products, “expiration” or “sell-by” or “shelf life” can refer to how long it can sit in storage without changes in “organoleptic properties” (how it looks, smells, etc). Stores use this information to plan how long to keep a product in storage, and how much of it to stock.


Many products use preservatives to be able to stay on shelves longer without manifesting organoleptic changes.

Pro tip: some “preservative-free” products use fragrances or other allergens with preservation properties.

Due to the highly sensitive/allergic skins of our customers, with the exception of very few products, VMV Hypoallergenics does not use preservatives. Instead, we use a proprietary mix that has zero allergens. This is great for skin, but it also means our shelf life is shorter than most. We’re constantly testing to try to push it further (hence the constant “skinnovation!”).

Prevent Contamination

Some best practices to prevent contamination are:

  1. Never pour water or anything else into the container. Sneeze and cough away from the container to prevent droplets entering the container.
  2. If some of the product spills or you take out too much by mistake, do not put it back in (even if it was just on your hand).
  3. Store your products in a cool, dry place away from light. Many ingredients are photosensitive and can change color with light exposure. For the most part, storing products in the refrigerator is fine (check with the company, though).
  4. Try not to share your products. If you need or want to:
  • Don’t “double dip”: your fingertip or applicator should touch the product once at a time;
  • Do not share mascara, lip gloss wants, or other products used near the mucosa (membranous or “wet” parts of eyes, mouth, nostrils);
  • Apply makeup (especially lipstick) with your own applicator, and disinfect makeup brushes before using a product (and wash makeup brushes regularly).
  • If someone has an infection or may have an infection (sore, blister, cut, wound, fever, cough, or cold, etc.) put the sharing on pause until it’s cleared.

The “Skinny”

  • As a rule, cosmetics are not food and do not tend to naturally “rot” or “go bad” when properly stored and used.
  • Most cosmetics, especially if they use preservatives or have little water in the formulation, last a really long time: two years or more.
  • If a product shows an expiration date, it might be because your country’s FDA considers it a drug, or it has shown organoleptic changes after a certain number of years in stability tests, or because retailers require an expiration date to tell them long they can store a product. Expiration rarely refers to “rot.”
  • If a product shows an expiration date, do you trash it?
    • NOT NECESSARILY if it is a cosmetic product and shows no changes in smell, texture, consistency, color, etc.
    • YES if you notice “funky” changes (it smells rancid, there’s a notable change in color or texture). If you notice any of these, whether or not the expiration date has passed, trash it as it may have picked up a bug.
    • YES if it is a drug or sunscreen! Do not use a drug after the expiration date — not for “rot,” but to make sure you’re getting the tested potency of the active ingredients.
  • As usual and especially for sensitive skin, skin that’s prone to infection, or if you are immune-compromised, when in doubt, ask the manufacturer and your doctor.


Laura is the CEO of VMV Hypoallergenics and eldest daughter of our founding dermatologist-dermatopathologist. She has two children, Madison and Gavin, and works at VMV with her sister and husband (Madison and Gavin frequently volunteer their “usage testing” services). In addition to saving the world’s skin, Laura is passionate about learning, literature, art, health, science, inclusion, cultural theory, human rights, happiness and goodness.