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You’ve opened a product, and it’s been some time, and you’re not sure if you should still use it — or you’ve just bought a new product, and you’re confused because there are two dates written on the bottom.

What do those numbers mean?

And how do you know when your products have expired?

Skincare products don’t all include expiration dates — because they don’t have to.

In the US, only products that are regulated as over-the-counter drugs, like sunscreens and acne products, have official expiration dates printed on them, but other skincare (which is considered cosmetic) is kind of up to the discretion of the manufacturer. Korean brands that sell in the US will obviously operate under US laws, so the same thing applies — printing the expiration date is up to the brand.

To add to that, Korean brands sometimes opt to print manufacturingdates on their products because that helps consumers know exactly how fresh their products are, as opposed to an expiration date, which indicates when a product is likely to be no good. We can go back and forth on which date is more useful, and, of course, having a number at all is nice.

The main thing to remember about products and expiration, though, is that, it’s important to remember when you’ve opened a product. Even if you get a super fresh product, once you open it, the clock that is that product’s shelf life starts ticking. Opening a product starts exposing it to oxygen and bacteria, which means that the product is now open to contamination.

That’s why Korean brands usually include the PAO (“Period After Opening”) — a little jar logo with a number and the letter “M” written in it — indicating the period after opening that a product will be good. Which means, if you open a particular product that has a PAO of “12M”? You should try to use that product within twelve months because it may no longer be good for your skin after.

Korea formats dates differently — and uses, well, Korean.

In the US, we write our dates as month, day, year — aka, February 13, 2019, or 02132019. Asian countries format their dates as year, month day — aka 2019 February 13 or 20190213 or, even abbreviated, 190213.

And then there’s the language difference — for products sold in the US, Korean brands will print labels with ingredients, how-to-use directions, and brief product descriptions in English, but, oftentimes, that’s it. That means that, if there’s a date printed on the product, it will be include a qualifier explaining what that date means … in Korean. Sometimes, there might be two dates because some brands like to include both the manufacturing and expiration dates on their products, and they’ll clearly indicate which date is which … in Korean.

Luckily, they’re very short words, so, to make it super easy, we have this graphic for you.

Don’t just rely on dates; follow your intuition.

If you’re not sure when you opened your product, also follow your intuition.

If your product is separating (like, if your moisturizer no longer looks creamy, but instead has a layer of oil sitting on top of a more solid, gloopy mass), it’s probably no good. Similarly, if your product has a weird smell, it’s probably no good. If it feels weird on your face, it’s probably definitely no good.

It’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to applying things to your skin, so, if you suspect that a product has gone bad, throw it out. We know it can feel wasteful, but applying bad products to your skin can cause irritation, sensitivity, and other kinds of skin problems.

For general guidelines, though, an unopened product generally has a shelf life of three years from the manufacturing date. An openedproduct generally has a shelf life of one year, unless that PAO label tells you otherwise. Even so, trust your instincts. The PAO isn’t a hard-and-fast rule because there are a lot of factors that can impact how quickly a product gets contaminated.

Here are a few tips to get the most shelf life out of your products.

First, store your products properly! Don’t let them sit out in direct sunlight or expose them to extreme temperatures, including the refrigerator. This isn’t a rigid rule to follow (like, we do like storing our sheet masks in the fridge because the cooling sensation helps depuff), but, generally, the refrigerator can be too cold an environment for your skincare products, which are formulated to be stable at room temperature. Of course, though, if your product specifically says it needs to be stored in the refrigerator, of course, you should do as it says. For most products, though, we like to keep them in cool, dry spaces, like cabinets or drawers.

Second, use the spatulas that come with products in jars! You’ve seen them — Korean brands love including spatulas with their jarred products, and those little spatulas haven’t been manufactured and included with the product just to be cute. Every time you dip your fingers into a jar, you’re introducing contaminants to your product, which will help it go bad faster.

What about the spatulas, though? If you’re using them and leaving them out, won’t they also collect contaminants? We like wiping down our spatulas or rinsing them after use, and we also recommend keeping a little spray bottle of alcohol with your skincare products — that way you can spray some alcohol onto a cotton pad and wipe down your spatula before using it, so you know your spatula is clean and sterile.

Third, this is an obvious thing, but, sometimes, the obvious needs to be stated — make sure you’re closing your products properly! Don’t leave your jars cracked open or your lids uncapped; make sure you close your products when you’re done with them, preventing oxygen and bacteria from collecting in your products. Doing so will help keep your products good and effective longer!

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