This is a 4-part series focused on understanding the science behind skincare products so that parents of eczema children and eczema sufferers can better understand what goes into the bottle. For this series, I have Dr. Elisabeth Briand, R&D manager at Skintifique. Elisabeth holds an Engineering Master’s degree in food industry and a PhD in chemistry. Before working for Skintifique, she had 10 years experience in academic research as a physico-chemist, in France at Paris VI and Paris XI faculty of Pharmacy and in Sweden, at Chalmers University of Technology. In this interview, Dr. Elisabeth is helping us to understand the science of laboratory-tested skincare products.
MarcieMom: Thank you Elisabeth for joining me again for this series. I’m looking forward to this interview as it’s focused on safety and stability. Quite a few times I look at a product and wonder what will happen after the expiry date, and if it will spoil without visible change.
MarcieMom: Let’s first discuss expiry date. How is this expiry date determined? Is there a real need for an expiry date, as in will certain ingredients really spoil?
Dr Elisabeth: Every product sold in established market must pass mandatory regulatory requirements that are essentially designed to ensure safety of the products for consumers. Expiry date of a product is one of the aspects that is often covered by regulatory requirements. I will talk here more about products produced or sold in European Union, which is one of the most stringent worldwide. It means the product must pass several tests that prove it will not spoil during that period of time.
To ensure the safety of a product, you can strictly follow the regulations that are mandatory, or you can also add extra care to that aspect. Regulation is the minimum required, and you can always do better by putting yourself higher internal requirements.
In products produced and/or sold in E.U., you can have two mentions of expiry, one is an actual expiry date, and the second one is Period After Opening or PAO.
If a product has passed tests that will prove it is stable for at least 36 months, expiry date is optional, but you have to indicate how long this product can be used safely after it has been opened.
Some other products will display an expiry date. There are multiple reasons to indicate an expiry date. It can be because
- the products did not pass the test for a period corresponding to three year/ 36 months,
- it has not been tested for this long period of time or
- it has passed the test for that period of time, but for various reasons, it has been decided to shorten its shelf life.
In the last case, the reason behind is often to ensure a maximum of safety. The tests that mimic product aging are well known and well controlled but are still tests. Real life can be quite different than what has been modelized in a lab, and adding an expiry date is a way to ensure a maximum safety for customers.
Using a product for a longer period that is indicated may not be necessarily harmful, and the product can still be good, but you are on your own. There is no data to support the fact that it is safe or not…
MarcieMom: I suspect that an organic skincare lotion I bought may have got bacteria because after a few weeks of using, my daughter developed impetigo (or of course, the impetigo could simply be a complication from eczema and the scratching everywhere). What are the factors that increase the chance a skincare product will spoil? Is it the type of ingredients, where they are made and flown to, or what temperature they are kept in?
Dr Elisabeth: A serious skincare company will take great care of offering products with the best quality, to avoid risk of products spoiling.
The first factor that will induce spoiling of the product is the quality of raw ingredients used in the product and the quality of the manufacturing process. Having strict controls over these factors will help to avoid problems of contamination and oxidation, which are the most frequent causes of product degradation.
The quality of raw ingredients is obviously essential, as any contaminant present in the ingredients with contaminate the final products. Another source of contamination can be the material that is used to manufacture or package the product. Finally, the last main source of contamination is humans that work on the preparation of the cream. They must take great care of personal hygiene before working (washing hands, using single-use gloves, round cap and masks) and only do so under the highest safety and quality standards. The preservatives used in the skincare provide a good reassurance and generally protect the products reasonable well, but reducing the amount of microbiological contamination from the start, ie from the moment the ingredients are sourced and they are manufactured, is the best way to avoid spoiling later on. In E.U., manufacturers of skincare have to follow “good manufacturing practices” regulation, and at Skintifique, for instance, we have applied extremely strict criteria when choosing our suppliers of raw materials and our industrial partners, precisely so as to have the highest assurance on the quality and safety of our products
Stability tests are made to ensure a safe use of the product, but as I said earlier, these tests are designed to mimic quite standard situations. Real life conditions can be harder than what has been modelized. For example, sunscreen creams that have been forgotten in the car on a back sit, and stayed for a long time in a very warm environment, under the sun, have experience several cycles of heat/cooling, which is one of the harder conditions a skincare product can experience. These conditions exceed what have been tested in a lab, and the product can go bad earlier than what is said on the packaging. To ensure that a product will not spoil, you should keep them away from heat and UV. Putting them in a fridge can help keeping them, but may induce a change in the structure of the product (its texture won’t be the same).
MarcieMom: Thank you Elisabeth for sharing about safety and expiry dates of skincare products – next time when I’m offered the chance to visit a skincare company’s plant, I shall look out for these areas! Next week, we will touch on the stability of a product. Can’t wait to learn more!
p.s. Declaration of no self-interest – is that what it’s called? lol Just want to let you know that Dr Elisabeth left a comment on my blog and I felt she was very helpful. When I realized her area of expertise, I suggested that we collaborate on a ‘science-y’ series as I’ve always been intrigued by it. No money has changed hands, only time invested to bring this series to you all!